In the 80s and 90s, my mom used to buy her makeup almost exclusively at Merle Norman. Yes, there were Avon and Mary Kay ladies and drug stores, but she insisted on going to the brick-and-mortar storefront that was Merle Norman.
Before the age of online shopping, we’d go every couple of weeks to the “city” about 45 minutes away – family lived there, too, so it wasn’t a trip exclusively for vanity. But while in town, we’d often stop at the Merle Norman store to pick up Mom’s foundation, concealer, and eye makeup.
I can still remember the signature rounded font and mauve packaging – mauve is such a 90s color, isn’t it? – and her black liquid eyeliner. I was always fascinated as I watched her slide it thick onto the rim of her top eyelid. Her eyes were too small, she always told me, so she never went without her eye makeup. It was washed off in the mornings with Pond’s cold cream and promptly reapplied. Her skin remained youthful all of her 57 years, so the regimen must’ve worked.
On occasion, it would irritate me that we’d have to drive to that part of the city just to go to Merle Norman – I was in a hurry to get to the mall or to see cousins or go to a movie. I selfishly wondered why she couldn’t get her makeup at Wal-Mart like the rest of the world.
Then one day, when I was older, she told me. Without making it a production or assigning it too much weight, she let me in. As I remember it, she mentioned almost in passing that a friend treated her to a makeover at Merle Norman years before – when she was a brand-new widow at 29 years old.
After losing my dad in a car accident when I was a little girl, my mom suddenly faced life as a single parent with two little faces looking to her for normalcy, hope, and well … everything. Mom had been injured in the accident, too. She broke her jaw, which had to be wired shut for a while. She endured her own painful recovery, while absorbing the loss of her first love and high school sweetheart – my daddy.
In the hardest days of her life, Mom smiled
and hugged and held on tightly to God and to us.
So what did a friend do? Took her for a makeover. As a result, Mom was forever loyal to that company that helped a young mom face a hard new normal with a fresh look.
I grew up a lot that day – the day I learned of Mom’s love for Merle Norman. It wasn’t the pricey cosmetics, and it certainly wasn’t the convenience. I better understood how strong she was. As a five-year-old, I couldn’t fully appreciate her faith and tenacious spirit to keep going – how she made life happy, birthday parties fun, and our home safe. In the hardest days of her life, Mom smiled and hugged and held on tightly to God and to us. My seven-year-old brother and I didn’t know any differently.
And I learned something of friendship, too.
Sometimes we have to take care of the surface things to touch the deep hurts. Grief can’t be rushed, but it can find comfort in a makeup artist’s chair and the generosity of a friend.
Sometimes we have to take care of the
surface things to touch the deep hurts.
Loving well means doing something for a hurting friend even if they can’t name their need because the grief is too thick. You may try and mess up, but keep trying to love them anyway. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. Instead, say nothing at all.
Just sit. Do. Cry. Pray. Hold their hand. Love their children. Make them feel normal, if even for a few minutes.
Mourn with them. And be ready to rejoice with them when they’re ready – but please don’t rush them.
I never begrudged another trip to Merle Norman again. In fact, I’d do anything to ride shotgun with her just one more time.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You were beautiful.