Stories of My Mother, #3

Georgia_O'Keeffe

Many years ago I worked with a Chicago theatre ensemble. As ensembles are wont to do, we made every effort to cast our play productions from within our own pool of ten or so actors. An enormous pool of talent existed there, no question; but some of the corp were definitely more versatile in their range than others. None was more versatile, even chameleon-like, than one of our actresses – Lindsay.

When she walked in off the street, with her white-blonde hair, pale blue eyes and inevitable cigarette, Lindsay possessed the demeanor of someone whose strong preference was to remain unnoticed. She offered her greeting, her authentic questions about my own health and well being; then took her seat and immediately seemed to recede, as if she were striving to become one with the chair that held her.

Lindsay could use this trait to amazing advantage on the stage, in roles where she could appear, no be, so worn, and weary, and shrivelled up into some deep phantom of a former self, that her 20-some years seemed completely impossible. On the other hand, Lindsay could walk onto the stage and take your breath completely away. She was radiant, stunning, utterly beautiful.

My mother had this – whatever this is – that comes from some well deep within, and is able convince anyone who looks upon you that you are, in every way, beautiful.

My mother never worked at being beautiful, and in fact, would have considered doing so a shocking waste of time and a bewilderingly superficial focus. She came of age in the late 1930’s and early 40’s, when the makeup regimen of a serious, athletic college girl consisted of dabbing a puff of compact powder on both sides of one’s nose – exactly twice – and applying a good coat of lipstick.

My mother took very little time to get ready each morning. A couple of fast brushes through her hair, dab dab on her nose, a quick and artfully drawn mouth, a glance at both sides of her face. But like Lindsay preparing for the stage, by the time she finished this simple routine, a beautiful woman stared back at her in the mirror.

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Photos of Georgia O’Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz

In memory of Lindsay

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