Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How now, slim brow

Peering into my lighted magnifying mirror (with which I have a love-hate relationship), I noticed—not for the first time—that my eyebrows are getting skimpier. There are also a few white hairs among the brown, which, because they’re nearly invisible, only intensify the look of a fading brow.

This requires more skillful application of taupe pencil or brown powder or whatever product the make-up gurus are touting these days—not to mention the clear brow gel that we curly-headed lasses need to keep us from looking like late-middle-aged werewolves.

But here’s a sixty-something’s irony: The eyebrow concern I’m focusing on today is the exact opposite of my childhood issue. You see, I was one of those tweens with a unibrow. The hair wasn’t bushy in between my eyes, but it was certainly present and noticeable. This was before I was allowed to tweeze, and I wasn’t all that bothered by it.

Once, at camp, we were sitting around a campfire, laughing and having a great time. A girl I was particularly fond of was next to me, and we were teasing each other good-naturedly. (I haven’t seen her since and I couldn’t remember her name if my life depended on it.) Then she stopped and looked closely at my face. She put her index finger up to my brow and drew a line from right to left. “You have eyebrows all across your head,” she said, not unkindly. And in spite of my usually poor self-image, I took it for the friendly statement of fact that it was meant to be. But I couldn’t get to the age of tweezing fast enough.

Eventually, I learned to tweeze my eyebrows. (An early harrowing scene in which my mother tried to tweeze my older cousin’s eyebrows while said cousin screamed in pain—a bit too dramatically, I realized later—made me vow never to let anyone else pluck mine.) I have enjoyed adequate eyebrows ever since…until now.

When I mention this to my contemporaries, they commiserate but are quick to point out that, on the plus side, they hardly ever have to shave their legs or underarms anymore. Such is not the case with me. It’s so unfair.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Don’t believe a thing I say…

…and don’t take that title literally either. I caution you though to listen with a grain of salt when I tell a tale from my long-ago past. While I, like many of my peers, can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday or what movie I saw on TV a week ago, we’ve always seemed to be able to describe vividly things that happened to us 30, 40, and 50 years ago. Even events in childhood can leave a lifelong impression if they made us happy or were particularly upsetting.

But now, when I dredge out an old—very old—story or statement of fact (I thought) and it’s pointed out to me that I have the details wrong, I start doubting all of my memories.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a high school friend. When our conversation got to our guilt over not getting the proper doses of physical activity, I recalled how my grammar school gym teacher called me and others who couldn’t do our chin-ups “motor morons.” I started to relate how that label affected me ever since, when my friend interrupted.

“That was our high school gym teacher, Mrs. [whatever her name was]. And I was a ‘motor moron’ too!” This friend had not gone to grammar school with me, and if she remembers being so labeled in high school, she must be right about when it occurred. I had been occasionally telling this story in recent years, and all this time I was blaming the wrong teacher. Although I’m over the motor moron accusation, now I’m worrying over what other memories my mind has screwed up.

Even more disconcerting are the times I start relating an incident of the past only to realize I can’t remember how it turned out, or in what order events occurred. When my best friend and I wrote a silly love letter using a fake name to Ricky Nelson, we taped two aspirins to the top of page two because, we wrote, “you may get a headache after reading this.” But did we actually mail it? (I used to know that, I swear.)

Sometimes I’ll get hung up long before the end of the story. I start to describe what I enjoyed most on Sesame Street while awaiting the birth of my first child, and then I remember reading recently that the wonderful PBS program debuted in 1969—when my daughters were 5 and 2. How can that be, when I’m picturing myself watching the show in our one-bedroom Skokie apartment, one hand on my mounded belly? If that memory is tangled up in my mind with another one, I suppose I’ll have to drop that bit of nostalgia from my repertoire.

So, with the exception of my December 13 post on my reaction to Hebrew at five, I advise you to raise an eyebrow when I begin to reminisce. Listener beware: I think someone reshuffled the cards in this sixty-something brain.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What makes a 5-year-old laugh—then and now?

Last night, at our Chanukah celebration, I watched one of my 5-year-old grandsons giggle softly as his father chanted the Hebrew blessing after lighting the candles for day two of the holiday. Although he’s heard these words many times before, this time it made him snicker. I didn’t get a chance to ask him if it was the words or something else that seemed funny, but it reminded me of an occasion long ago.

I was also 5 years old, and I was attending my older cousin’s Bar Mitzvah party. He began reading his Torah portion aloud, in a sing-song voice, and it must have been my first taste of Hebrew because I thought it was the funniest string of “gibberish” I had ever heard. I began to giggle. The odd, alien syllables—some with a “ch” sound (not unlike throat-clearing)—were hilarious. My laughter must have been infectious because I heard my slightly older cousin next to me start to laugh too.

I have no recollection of my parents or other relatives shushing us, but someone probably did, with some serious scolding. After all, why would I remember this incident and not the dinner, dancing, gift-giving, and hugging of that night? But the important thing is that I did remember it. I also teased my cousin, now in his mid-70s, about it recently. I’m sure he was amused to find out that all I can recall about the momentous occasion of his “becoming a man” was that he spoke in (foreign) tongues.