REDHEADS AND FLASHY CARS
Seeing the trailer for The Quiet Man awakens a few memories. There stands Maureen O’Hara with her green eyes flashing. Those have to be real because I don’t think contacts had been invented yet. The memories triggered are not about green eyes, though, but about red hair. You see, my mother was a redhead. A real redhead, not the burgundy head that comes from a bottle, but what I guess is called bright red. She also had the freckles to go with her hair and the alabaster skin underneath that caused her to turn bright red after more than thirty seconds of exposure to the summer sun. I’ve heard that complexion called “peaches and cream.” After being in the sun a little while, it was more like “peaches and strawberries.” In other words, she did not tan but went straight to burning and peeling.
I would not call my mother a classic beauty, mainly due to the presence of the Griffin nose which has a tendency to dominate one’s face. That proboscis would dominate the entire face of Mt. Rushmore. If I were going to compare her to a movie star of the “Golden Age”, it would be a redheaded version of Geraldine Page who, by her own admission, was a bit plain. Luckily, my mother also had the Griffin height making her a statuesque woman. If she were not my mother, I would also describe her as full-figured. She was very shy; so shy, in fact, that she allowed her grades to drop enough in order to not have to give a valedictorian address her senior year in high school. Armed with all of this information I was shocked, appalled and quite amused to discover newspaper clippings of a local beauty pageant sponsored by Springs Mills as I went through a cedar “Hope” chest after her death. Had I not asked myself the question, “Why did my mother keep this?” I would not have given it a second look. There was my mother, along with four other young ladies, and she was in…Gasp!..a two-piece bathing suit! The suit featured the Springs Mills logo “Miss Springmaid” – a pinup-style milkmaid, with a lot of cleavage and leg showing. I think the term “cheesecake” would be applicable and that would be the milkmaid not my mother. My shy mother was vying for the title of “Miss Springmaid” to represent Springs Mills, a company that made cloth for sheets and foundation cloth which an advertisement agency described as “for hip-harnesses and breast-holsters.” My mother’s suit bared her legs and midriff and accentuated other key attributes. There sure was a lot of skin being displayed! Thank God, I saw no belly button. Oh my, who was that young woman with the “come hither” look? Rita Hayworth or Lauren Bacall? She wasn’t even a redheaded Geraldine Page. Oh no! It was my MOTHER!
I guess that until that moment I had never thought of my mother or rather my parents as young people with the same drives and desires as any other young people. Even now I have an urge to blind myself for those thoughts but I don’t think it would erase them. According to my Aunt Joyce, Eldora was quite popular and was pursued by many suitors until Ernest swept her off her feet. My parents romantic? I just can’t see it…but then again I was not adopted. At five-foot-six I find it hard to believe my father could have swept the floor much less Mom off of her feet. He did have a kind of dashing look in those photos from the Thirties and Forties. I don’t even know how they met but would guess it would have been through friends or work. With no online-dating services or hopping music clubs I don’t know how people actually met during those days. Church? What an interesting concept. In the same box as her clippings I found the letters they had written to each other while Dad was island-hopping in World War Two. I’m happy that they knew mail was being read and censored but the “R” rated versions were still “tres” uncomfortable. With silk kimonos contained in the same cedar chest I am trying to purge the thought of Mom playing dress up as a Geisha girl. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAh!
A family member related a story that made me both uncomfortable and thankful at the same time. While still in high school my mother and several of her younger female cousins were taken with a very, very distant cousin who was, like them, attending a large family reunion. He was described as very attractive with piercing eyes and a strong jaw to go with a very charismatic personality and rich baritone voice. There was a mention of a smile that would “make your knees weak” so I am guessing that this storyteller might have been smitten, too. According to her story he also had “very wavy hair that appeared to have been styled.” He was driving a very flashy red convertible. It might not have been red but red fits the story. This “flashy” young cousin was taken with my mother-to-be and asked if she might go for a ride with him. As you would expect during these times, he asked permission to take her for a ride in what I hope was his car. My grandparents, after some thought and discussion, refused to grant their permission citing that they felt he “might be a little too fast and flashy for Eldora.” It turns out this “flashy and fast” distant cousin would slow down and become the much beloved and revered “Reverend Billy Graham.” While he does have really nice hair, I’m glad not to be his son Franklin.