Friday, January 13, 2006


My older sister Hilda had a daughter named Dolores, whom we all called Sissy. She was just two years younger than me and we were close friends. When we were about 11 and 13 years of age, respectively, we began thinking of our spiritual lives. We decided to honor every church in our small town with our presence. So, every Sunday, rain or shine, we trotted off on the two mile walk to town to attend the Church of the Moment.

After one visit, we realized we did not have hats. Hats, it seemed, were worn by all of the church matrons and we did not think we should be any different. So we embarked on a quest to find hats. Hats, in a farmhouse, are hard to find, unless they are the straw variety. We decided finally that we would have to create our own hats. So we did. With some veiling stolen from a dress we found in my sister's closet, with a piece or two of felt, we created what we thought were fairly passable hats.

Because we wanted to make a good impression, we dressed in our best clothing for church services. We decided to wear makeup, to make ourselves look more presentable for the Lord. We also looked so pale that we applied lavish handfuls of stocking makeup to our faces. Stocking makeup was worn during the war and afterward to take the place of silk stockings, which were impossible to buy, since our silk was being used for parachutes.

The stocking makeup was the predecessor of today's spray-on tanning liquid. One smeared it on the legs and hoped it looked like the filmy romanticism of sheer silk. Actually, it had a tendency to turn bright orange when it met up with human flesh. So there we were, in our homemade hats, dressed in our best clothing, with our glowing orange faces, heading for church.

Our first church was the Baptist Church. The minister, whose name I remember well....Wilbur Webber...stared at us repeatedly as we sat in the front pews we had selected because we had gotten there early. It was ironic that the subject of his sermon seemed to be Women Who Adorn Themselves.

According to Rev. Webber, women who adorned themselves were confused sinners, who were slavering makeup on their faces for the wrong reason. I swear, as he talked, he kept staring at Sissy and me, sitting there as we were with our bright orange countenances, lips highlighted by my sister's lipstick, brows darkened to deep charcoal.

The Reverend droned on. Women should leave simple, godly lives, he said, and forget becoming objects of desire, luring men with falsehoods and frumpery. I glanced over at Sissy. She had her hands, clutching a tissue, up by her mouth...and was wiping off her lipstick. Next, the same hand came up and pulled off an earring, then the other earring. She was doing her best to unadorn herself, as Reverend Webber stared.

Finally, the interminable service ended and we stumbled outside into the fresh air. We decided on the way home that we were undoubtedly not cut out to be Baptists. We would try a different church the next week.

The Catholic Church made such an impression on us that we walked around the house for days afterward, dishclothes wound around our heads, two budding nuns walking with hands serenely folded in the robes of their housecoats. We took new names. I was Sister Augustina Angelica. Sissy was Sister Agatha Benedicta. We were so angelic our dedication lasted only a few days and we could hardly wait to shed our habits and go back to our normal selves.

Hubert had a lot of fun with our religious devotion. He teased us unmercifully and laughed at our headdresses. He genuflected and bowed every time we came into view. We found him annoying. It was difficult to immerse oneself in a spiritual search for truth with a pesky, teasing brother constantly poking around. So we gave up the religious life and went back to being teenagers.

Somehow...and I do not remember the circumstances...we joined the Rainbow Girls. Now Rainbow Girls are a subsidiary of something, be it the Moose Club or whatever. I do not remember what it is or how two farm girls ended up there. But, after we joined, we had to undergo the "initiation".

We had no clothes for the initiation, but some woman in town donated two old evening gowns for us to wear. They didn't fit too well, but we enhanced them with generous smears of our orange makeup and applied a discreet amount of rouge. We had no shoes fit for the occasion, so had to wear our oxfords, club-like white and black shoes built for walking distances, not wearing with evening gowns.

The initiation consisted of marching around in a circle holding a candle and vowing allegiance to something, I'm not sure what. We dutifully followed the other girls, dressed as they were in their demure dresses and their Cinderella slippers. One could hear us as we marched, clump, clump, clump.

After we were initiated, we lost interest in the Rainbow Girls, even though we received postcards from our "Mystery Mother" for many years. Now, we were embarked upon a business venture. We were going to get rich quick, selling Cloverine Salve.

Cloverine Salve was a cure-all for skin ailments. It came in a little tin the size of tinned shoe polish, and somehow we sent away for it and ended up with hundreds of tins of salve. We were supposed to sell it. Our problem was in finding someone who wanted it. We trudged up and down the neighborhood, dressed to the hilt like the businesswomen we were, complete with homemade hats and orange faces, desperately trying to sell our salve.

We did sell some of it, but most of it was finally packed into a closet and used to cure all ills in the family for many years. Itchy spot? Cloverine salve. Chapped hands? Cloverine salve. Pimple? Cloverine salve. I'm sure a few tins of it still lie around somewhere.

Sissy and I never gave up our quest for adventure. We moved from one idea to another, positive that each would lead us to marvelous discovery and satisfaction. We ran in the orchard and played in the fields, hatching ideas that would lead us to either riches or fulfilment, or both. We didn't ask much of life, only that it be interesting. So, we moved from one venture to another until we finally left that enchanting world of childhood behind us and grew up.

It was a magical time, childhood. It was free of financial worries, neighborly spats, gloomy weather, and freezing rains. If it rained, we didn't care, we just walked in it. Cold might freeze our hands, but could not chill our spirits. We were aglow with youth and exuberant with plans for each day. Would that I could have tinned that glow like the Cloverine salve and could reach in the closet to pull it out. Would that I could don orange makeup and become instantly beautiful. Would that I could have grasped childhood with determined hands and held on to it, never letting go.