I remember when the only two beauty potions on my grandmother’s dressing table were cold cream and Vaseline. I can’t remember the last time I saw a jar of cold cream, but I do know it was (and may still be) used for removing makeup and softening skin.
This got me thinking about how my grandmother stayed so soft and looked so good, before the days of alpha hydroxy, La Mer, and hair products that promise remarkable (even if costly) results.
My grandmother only washed with Dove soap. She said the advertisement was true: A bar of Dove was ¼ cleansing cream. Then she would slather her face with cold cream. Sometimes it seemed about an inch thick, but by time she went to bed her skin just seemed to have soft sheen that today we might call dewy.
I can still remember her sitting in front of her vanity mirror, the one with the three panels brushing her hair. I would sit on the bed and watch her. I think this is how I learned to count to 100, as grandma said for healthy shiny hair, and to get the natural oils from the scalp to the ends, 100 strokes was the magic number. When it came to washing her hair she used only baby shampoo, the others she said, were full of detergent.
Each morning she would put Vaseline on her lips and her eyelashes. It was better than ChapStick for lips and she said it kept her lashes thick and soft. Something we might want to try before going for a swim. It will make anybody’s lashes look darker and the water will bead up on your lashes and might stay better than waterproof mascara.
Grandma never indulged herself with professional manicures or pedicures, but when the skin on her hands and feet got dry and calloused she’d take that Vaseline and put a thick layer on the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands and then put on a pair of white socks or white cotton gloves.
Inside one of the vanity drawers was the product she couldn’t resist: red nail polish. There, lined up like soldiers, were Revlon’s three bestselling reds: Fire and Ice, Fifth Avenue Red and Cherries in the Snow. I can’t tell you that I was able to tell the difference between these three reds, but I loved to watch her paint her nails. Sometimes she even left the moons of her nails unpolished. I remember how she balanced her pinkie on the vanity top for precision and accuracy.
When my grandmother removed that polish she went into the kitchen where she kept the rest of her beauty products. The red polish, which she constantly wore, had the unwelcome effect yellowing her nails. So she would soak them in lemon juice, and if they were still yellow she’d add a bit of bleach and then they’d return to that fleshy tone of a pale, healthy pink. Afterward she’d mix herself a glass of Knox Gelatin because she said, it made for stronger nails.
When she made sauce on Sundays and finished with the garlic and onions she’d squeeze a lemon over her fingertips to neutralize the odor and then chew on a fresh twig of parsley, because after all the tasting of that sauce, it freshened her breath.
And after a long day she poured half a bottle of milk in the tub and soaked, because she said if softened and moisturized her skin. After bathing she’d pat on some baby oil mixed with rosewater, and she smelled so good.