Open Thread: Everything My Mom Knows About Makeup She Learned From Growing Up In A Funeral Home

And as a result, she wears VERY little today. A tale of unusual technique.
Publish date:
May 9, 2014
open thread, funeral home beauty, mother's day

I knew that my mother Lauren’s childhood home in Cleveland was a curious place. It was opulent, it was on the second floor of a building that that had no windows on the first floor, and the hearse parked in the lot seemed a tad strange? I didn’t fully grasp that it was a FUNERAL HOME until I was a little older, but by that time, my grandparents, Nannie and Papa, moved into a totally normal house in a different part of the city.

Clearly, growing up in a funeral home is not an easy place for a kid. (Or anyone; look at how the Six Feet Under folks turned out.) But my mom is totally well-adjusted. Honest! She just isn’t super into makeup; that I am so into it is entirely random. Mom loves skin care, hair stuff, and perfume, but makeup, she can take or leave.

And I never gave it all that much thought beyond, "Oh, she's a hippie at heart," until recently, when I was home visiting. We were looking at some old photos, and she explained why. It was so crazy, I asked her to write it all down for me:

"My Mama, Kay, was a beautiful lady: tall and stylish, and she had lovely hands. Before she met my father, she worked in the cosmetics department as a hand model, at Cristman’s, in downtown Joplin, MO.

"My father, Chuck, was as handsome as Mama was beautiful. He, too, was tall, trim, athletic, artistic, AND a terrific photographer. He left the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he was studying to become a portrait painter, and joined the Army shortly after the US entered World War II. After basic training he was sent to Camp Crowder, in southwestern Missouri, which was a POW camp for German officers.

"These two talented people were active in USO, where a mutual friend set them up on a blind date, on New Year’s Eve, 1943. They were married four months later on April 23!

"With the end of the war, Dad returned home to Cleveland (Mama teased that I was born exactly nine months to the day after his return). His father, my grandpa, asked him to join him in 'the business' -- the funeral business -- and he did.

"I, and my little sister, Robin, and our littler brother, Brian, grew up on the second floor, directly above the funeral home. I never gave much thought to that what my Dad did to earn a living was weird; unusual, certainly, but not weird.

"Anyway, Mama and Daddy were very social, had a large and varied circle of friends, and entertained or went out, often. Dad, being the artist that he was, usually -- well, always -- 'put on' my Mother’s face. Out would come her makeup case, which contained anything and everything under the sun he needed to make her look even more glamorous: pancake foundation, tiny pots of rouge, loose powder, eye shadow and liner, mascara, lipsticks, as well as all the necessary brushes, puffs, sponges with which to apply it all!

"Robin and I would sit near the dressing table watching the proceedings with awe and curiosity, hoping for a puff of powder to dust our faces, or to receive a spritz of Mama’s favorite Lanvin fragrance as they swept out of their bedroom, and on into whatever excitement their evening promised.

"Fast forward to my teenage years. I wanted to experiment with all the brushes, lotions, pots and potions awaiting our coming of age in the late 50s, early 60s. I don’t remember when we started being asked out; our parents were pretty strict about who we were going to be with, where we were going, how late we were allowed to stay out -- typical Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best behavior. Dad’s rule of thumb was if he hadn’t gone to school with the boy’s parents, then they weren’t worth our time.

"Now, naturally, we wanted to look good for these 'dream dates.' But until we learned how to properly apply makeup, and not look like clowns, Dad insisted on making us up, too. So out would come Mama’s makeup case.

"However, the only way he could apply the glamorousness -- whether Mama's or our own -- was if we were lying horizontally. You know, playing dead! He was, if you recall, a licensed funeral director and embalmer; all his clients were supine -- and silent!

"And so my association of makeup with lifelessness."

RRRRRT. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! I had to re-read it a few times. I even texted her to double-confirm. But yes, to recap: My grandfather applied my grandmother's, aunt's, and mom's makeup while they were flat on their backs. SO MANY QUESTIONS. But back to mom:

"These days, as a-woman-of-a-certain-age, I wear bit of blush, a smudge of eye shadow, a touch of mascara. Simple -- and carefully applied, however, with the much-needed high-magnification mirror -- not at all clownish, and most important, full of life."

And that, dear readers, caps off our Mother’s Day coverage. I hope you enjoyed reading everyone’s stories as much as I did (all the feelings!). Thanks extra to Christine, Alyssa, Rachel, Trista, Tiye, Beth, and Alle for sharing.

Now, you. Talk about your mom, talk about your weekend plans (do they involve your mom?), talk about funeral homes, talk about your current beauty challenges. Open! Thread!