Cold Cream

The last time I visited my hairdresser S we were sharing photos and there was a photo on my phone of my Mom sitting looking out the window. S had tears in her eyes. “I used to cut her hair right there.” She is one of those kind souls who came to visit my mother and cut her hair. My Mother was always so appreciative of S, as she used to travel to her own customers’ homes and style their hair when they could not come in. S said what everyone said about my Mother, “she was so sweet and kind to me.”


It didn’t dawn on me until that moment that I’m not usually around people who knew my Mother. Everyone in Mom’s life is gone now. Her siblings, her friends, her former customers. Being with someone who knew her, especially someone who knew her most recently, was like sharing a special secret with someone.


For the first time in a long time, I felt okay. I left there and thought I would run some errands. My first stop was to be a beauty supply store to buy Queen Helene cleansing cream for my face. It’s the cream my Mother would use every night to take her makeup off and cleanse her skin. My Mother never slept with her makeup on and always attributed her beautiful skin to that cream. I believe her skin would have been beautiful no matter what, but she was never without it.


My jar was empty, and has been empty for a while because I just couldn’t bring myself to go back to that store. As I walked past the perm rods, my stomach lurched and my eyes stung. When I reached the shelf where the Queen Helene sat, I was in a panic. Silly isn’t it? It’s a jar of face cream - but it’s so much more than that.


As I started for the cash register, I froze when I caught sight of the Barbicide liquid. That strange green liquid that would fill the cylindrical container on her station with the removable tray she would place her combs in after each customer. I could see her in my mind, putting her combs and hairdryer away when I would pick her up from work. She would say, “Okay, let’s go!” And we would shuffle off to the grocery store and lunch.


I was holding my breath as I made it through the transaction. “No, I don’t have a card.” My legs went weak. “No thank you, I don’t need a bag.” I was almost running when I reached the door, but I made it. When I reached my car, I felt like I could breathe again and felt a little proud of myself for being able to go in there.

While I sat in my car, I felt comforted by the weight of the jar in my hand. I hadn’t noticed it before, that familiar feeling. Strange how inanimate objects have that ability to connect you to memories. That night, before bed, when I opened that jar and saw the perfectly swirled cream, and smelled that familiar aroma that I had known for as long as I could remember, I cried. Was it the return of something that was very much my Mother, or was it from missing Mom? Probably both. I took one of her pink washcloths out of the closet, ran it under the warm water, and as I dipped my fingers into the container I thought, okay Mom, let’s hope it’s the cold cream.