Jen Mc Clure was standing behind the Mary Kay table as I walked into an event. I made note of her extraordinarily genuine smile as she greeted me. I glanced down at the perfume bottles trying to remember the name of the scent my mother used to wear. The thought quickly escaped me because my phone was ringing while I was trying to videotape. It was my mother. When she calls during the day, I am automatically caught off guard. I always wonder if everything is all right during the seconds that I see her name and number scrolling across my phone.
I told her I was at an event and that I needed to call her back. She lovingly kept talking. I smiled and thought about how much I missed her. What mother cares about what you are doing at the moment? Not many, especially when they called to tell you they are flying in on Sunday because they have some business to take care of in Michigan. I only had one day to prepare.
I was enjoying myself while also processing my mother’s arrival. It meant I would have to clean my house, prepare for a guest, change my schedule, pick the dead leaves off my plants and give her my undivided attention. I had not seen her in three years. My mother works for Delta so I knew this could be an option, the pandemic brought her annual visits to a halt.
I went back inside and was again greeted by Jen, whose eyes seemed to sparkle as well. I was flustered and preoccupied as I thought, “My mother is coming to Lansing in one day. Did I vacuum today? Did I remember to buy creamer? Does she drink decaf still?”
You never stop growing when you love someone. Our relationship never stopped evolving and my love for her never faltered despite family shenanigans. Anyhoo, what family does not have a bit of drama?
While thinking about all of this, Jen came over and spoke to me for a minute. I felt so connected to her.
As I was thinking with my scattered brain, Jen flashed her perfect smile with lips perfectly filled in with ruby red Mary Kay lipstick. As she walked away, I marveled at her purple furry boots.
The MK Flashback
I looked back over at Jen’s table lined with her products. I started envisioning my mother when I was a child. There was Mary Kay before Michael Kors. Avon and Mary Kay were the first businesses that a woman could consider while also raising children at home. My mother sold both. She taught me about entrepreneurship before there was even a word for it.
My older sister and I would sneak into the cardboard Avon box and take a little square cotton perfume-soaked swab of Sweet Honesty and rub them on our wrists. Even as they dried up, we would soak them with drops of water. It never quite worked but the idea of putting on perfume made us feel grown-up and fancy.
My mother then moved on to Mary Kay as an Independent Beauty Consultant in the early 1980s. I attended her parties, mixed eyeshadows, set up the 2-sided mirrors, and inserted the foam trays for her potential clients. She would unfold the little pink washcloths dip them in warm water and wring them out to wipe the cleansing products off of their faces.
But as a little girl, I loved it when after the faces were cleaned, moisturized, and make up was applied, the perfumes were presented. All of the fancy bottles filled to the top with glorious smells. I loved watching the women spritz perfume on their wrists and inhale the fragrances.
My mother wore Mary Kay’s Angelfire. Its production has been discontinued years ago. They say that memory and smell are intertwined. I began to smell my mother’s perfume as it was on her soft chenille bathrobe. I turned around to see if anyone was there. I glanced at Jen who was enjoying the event and thought for sure she knew my mother would call and was some type of angel and left a whiff of perfume in the wind.
I recalled my mother leaning over me to fix my hair, which was always susceptible to the slightest bit of humidity. I would always lean in to get a whiff of my mother’s scent as the chenille fabric swept across my face. A floral woody musk fragrance wafted through the air. All I knew was I loved when she did my hair. I always was the one that had to get my hair touched up, brushed or my bow retied.
I loved the way she smelled but as a child, I disliked the fact that my hair was different that my siblings. All it took was waking up in the morning and my hair was a frizzy mess. On that day, I learned that I was the blessed one because my unruly hair made my mother spend more time with me. She was always gentle and kind when I carried the “barrette pan” to her. It was a repurposed cookie tin with brushes, combs, barrettes, rubber bands, bobby pins, and everything else you could think of. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world when she would brush my hair back to neatness.
The Whirlwind Trip
I was preoccupied with her arrival and left the event early. My mother arrived and was true to form. I was to be available from the time I picked her up at the airport until the time she left. I made coffee, had her favorite snacks ready, warmed coffee, retrieved water, drove her around, made it to three appointments on time, and took her to Lucky’s Steakhouse and Alcapulco’s. It was her best trip yet to Michigan.
On the way to the airport for her return flight, I set my timer to 20 minutes as soon as we arrived at Horrocks Farm Market. It is my mother’s favorite store. We checked out the outdoor flowers. A willing woman took our photo. We picked up some lobster bisque and a fresh roll, with 5 minutes to spare. We made it to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids for a direct flight back to Atlanta. I swear I smelled the Angelfire scent as I gave her a long tight hug, even though I knew that she had not worn it in decades.
When I returned home, I called Jen and told her how much she impacted me. She said that she wasn’t going to bring the perfume but at the last minute she decided to add it to her table. I ordered some Mary Kay gifts from Jen to be mailed to my mother as a surprise
For the first time in my life, I realized that the process of fixing my frizzy hair so frequently was not a negative. I just got to spend more time with my mother, which was a positive. How did I miss that profound revelation earlier? Emotions and scents are processed in the limbic system. Maybe I just needed to think about that process as an adult rather than as a child. This visit changed my whole perception of my hair journey, mother-daughter relationships, the serendipitous meeting with a Mary Kay Consultant, and my sense of peace.
When I told my mother the story she said, “You really love your mother. Everything is revealed when it is supposed to be not when you think it should have been.”
I agreed by saying, “That is so true. Thank goodness they have products for frizzy hair now. One childhood trauma resolved by the scent of Angelfire on a chenille bathrobe memory.”
Her laughter echoed through the phone and she said was going back to watching her show.