The Compact

True Story.

We have all heard of women who would not leave the house without their make up on. But, what if the house were on fire?

The smell of acrid smoke woke me up out of a dead sleep. I jumped out of bed and ran to the hallway. Thick smoke, waves of it near the ceiling. I opened my 87 year old mother’s bedroom door and shook her awake. “Mom, Mom..wake-up, there’s a fire! We have to get out! When I was sure she was awake, I ran to the telephone that was in the living room. We were alone staying in my cousin’s condo in Palm Beach. I called the fire department and ran back to help my mother out the door.

She was in the bathroom. She had locked the door. I could hear her Max Factor aqua compact opening. I recognized the soft sound of her lipstick tube being taken off. I began pounding on the door, frantic, “Forget about your make-up, for God’s sake! It’s life or death, here!”

But, no good. She just ignored me and opened another container, probably her Maybelline blue eye shadow.

I rushed back to the living room and the increasing smoke and for a minute I think I literally ran around in circles. Do I leave her? No, I can’t do that! Do I stay? No, that’s not smart. The firefighters at the door got my attention. They came in full gear, axe, helmet and just about the same time, my mother came out of the bedroom with her new pale blue robe, lipstick bright red, (Revlon “Fire and Ice”): “Hello, boys! What took ya’ so long?”

The fire turned out to be a smoky, but minor electrical fire, but the lesson for all time was some women would rather die, literally, than leave the house without their make-up on.

(© Pat Coakley 2008-This story is recorded in podcast form. To listen click here. To subscribe to weekly podcasts, “Waving of Drowning?”click here.

(My mother should have met “Amberfireinus”, an occasional reader of these posts. See her entry for May 3)


14 comments on “The Compact”

  1. oh my goodness…your mom is quite the character. thanks for the chuckle this morning.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment! My mother died 10 years after this story. The photo shows how she looked at 26, 46, and at month before she died. Her Max Factor compact was open on her bedside table, the day she died, hardly a speck of powder left!

    Again, thanks for visiting.

  3. she was definitely a beautiful lady. i use a compact as well…cover girl though. i will definitely be visiting your blog again…you are a wonderful writer.

  4. This is a really amazing story, and quite well-told. I love the compact/image photograph. Your mother and mine share the same idea about leaving the house without their make-up. My mother (72 next month) has changed her cosmetic style over the years, but definitely not her vehement connection to them!

    “She was in the bathroom. She had locked the door.” That’s the piece I love best in your story. The fact that she knew to lock the door, that otherwise, you’d have been able to come in and stop her. Amazing. I also love that you knew exactly what products she was using and in which order. Lovely writing.


  5. Hello, Stacie, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment. One of the blessings of this new world of technology is the sense of community of shared experiences! You probably won’t find it surprising that as my mother’s daughter, I never quite lived up to the “appearances” part of things. I ‘ll write soon about going out to do errands and suddenly realizing, after seeing some odd looks from people in the post office, that I still had my white dense wrinkle cream on my face. My mother turned over in her grave, I can tell you that.

    Thanks for visiting.

  6. Ok… thats it. You made it to my blogroll! This is an amazing story. I could totally see my own mother doing the same thing! How utterly sad! What is wrong with us where we would rather die than be seen as imperfect versions of ourselves?

    Thank you for the link. That was sweet of you. My writing isn’t anything as witty as yours, but hopefully people will find something in my words.

    Cheers to you Pat. A woman unfraid to live life without a compact….

  7. Thank you, amberfireinus! However, It’s not that I am unafraid to live life without a compact–it’s just that sometimes I forget to live with it. AND, that Dr. Freud, is where my mother and I went off the rails! That, and being born with thick, naturally curly hair BEFORE hair conditioner was invented. ‘Ouch’ just thinking about it. Many thanks for placement on your BLOGROLL!

  8. What an incredible story and how true, so often we value our appearance more than ourselves, be it our inner selves or our lives for that matter… Thanks for this & Ta Amberfireinus for giving me the link it has made my day :D

  9. Pat – my hubby’s grandmother was the same way until she passed over at ninety-seven. My own grandmother never wore make-up once in her life, I take after her now that I am over ‘it’, as in vanity, I guess. LOVE your blog, I have added you to my Facebook profile. Will check for you on the Facebook Network Blogs. Essa

    • Nice to see you back again, Essa! I am still vain but it doesn’t seem to work for me in any self improving way! Now, what’s up with that, Dr. Freud? But, oh, well Thanks for adding me to the Facebook profile. I’ve never signed up for that or my space, do you think I should?

  10. A friend sent me this link. As a man who has some humility, in case anyone is interested, I am totally put off by makeup in a woman–the more that is used, the less I like it. If it is very subtle, well, OK. Having said that, everyone has a perfect right to dress as they please. But it makes me sad to read this story. The fashion industry, including those who manufacture cosmetics, will stop at nothing to make women insecure about their natural appearance, in order to sell products. Phooey!

    Bill from Woodstock, NY

    • Bill, welcome! I agree there is much sadness embedded in this story. When I look at some older women who have had plastic surgery and have gone through hell as well as money to have it….and then, they lose abilities to show emotion? Honestly, that to them looks beautiful? But, it is a real real pressure on women. I’m not immune to it but on some days if you met me, I’d maybe scare you a little bit without any make-up on! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  11. Ha! If you saw me in the morning before shaving and brushing my hair, and putting up my pony tail, you could easily mistake me for one of those guys who used to sell Geico insurance on TV. OK, cave persons can be beautiful. But lots of bad books are sold that have attractive covers…

  12. Pat – I noticed my daughter placed your blog link in her notes after I shared it w her. I had to read this again. Yes, I think you could sign up for facebook then place your blog on there under life, women, fun, some of those topics. you will get readers little by litter from there as well. Essa

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