We’ve all followed the yellow brick road in some capacity, as either a movie of wonder, life’s destination or just entertaining a fantasy of what if. Some of the more analytical in our world, even ask where the red road goes, prompting laughter or deep thoughts, while waiting for Godot or Yoda…depending on your out of body experience. That being said, when the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion are gifted with humanity, something already there of course, we sense a larger picture…something far and above a balloon, and movie set, and we are right.
Raised in the 60’s and 70’s, I had parents that had seen war and depression, moved for greener pastures, and always put family first. I guess you could say they valued life, and in turn gave us values of a lifetime. There was also never a right or wrong to question. Knowing the Golden Rule, I followed it straight and narrow, years before it became metric, and nobody knew what the hell was going on. That was however, until I became a teenager and wanted to be beautiful, and there was no movie set, fairy godmother or wizard to help my quest.
There was instead, a family drugstore, where Mom and Dad had been going since it opened. The owner and his wife were wonderful, and played a major role in my life, after I required heavy medication, in an era when it was not readily available or understood. This kind man also allowed us to have a running tab, paid off at the end of the month, insuring we could afford my prescriptions. As I matured, primarily due to this generosity, I learned the best acts of kindness are never seen or given to grandiose presentations. Instead, they are silent, felt in the heart and given by the soul, and if you’ve ever done or received them, you know no there is never any lion.
However, even the best laid bricks of mice and men crumble on occasion, and a few of mine did just that, shortly after turning into a teenager. As I mentioned, my parents were old school, meaning when I left the elementary world, our experiences didn’t match up. It was a time when I wanted to wear mini’s and jeans, which were all the rage, but girls couldn’t wear pants, only skirts and dresses just above the knee. Likewise, I wanted to color my world, Chicago and New York style, in makeup palettes and brushes of Avon temptation, something else never seen in our home. You see, if you had a red dye No.4 lipstick, and a Helena Rubinstein compact nothing else was necessary.
Hoping to convince my mother of the value behind such cosmetics, which incidentally, would be barely visible behind the thick lens of my glasses, I accompanied her to the drugstore and showed her the colorful display of powders, shimmers, liners and sparkles. Looking at all that was before her, I’m sure the once young girl in her memories had a say in the matter, because we left with light brown mascara, a pale pink blush, and nude lipstick. Yes, I had the mother lode, and was going to be beautiful! Checking out was an almost religious experience, and one I have yet to forget in my aging brain…the day the scarecrow in the field finally burst the bubble of beauty.
As time went on, my desire for beauty continued, long after the initial cosmetics were gone. I never understood why my mother assumed it was a never ending well of glory, because she never asked if I needed more, and unlike my own daughters, a replenishment didn’t just happen when she went to the store. That was also when I discovered misplaced courage, and crossed the road of honesty, stealing what I needed. Sadly, there is nothing as driven as a teenager on a mission of self service, and speaking from experience; I never thought I would get caught, because after all…we had an account at the drugstore.
Once I had perfected my shoplifting, which couldn’t have amounted to more than a hundred dollars if ever calculated up, I was in the zone. Walking into the store after school, I’d look at several cosmetics and often drop two, replacing one on the counter and one in my purse. I’d also walk around the store with my selections, removing something from a package as I browsed, leaving the empty box on the shelf. It was a thrill, a satisfaction, and in the time before I wasn’t caught, a lesson sent by a higher power.
You see, the clerk at the store was a woman named Betty, and also a family friend, usually working when I arrived. We’d exchange pleasantries, and I would go off to look at what was new, and occasionally buy something, always leaving with more in my bag. Then one day, in a less than Hallmark moment as I was reading greeting cards, attempting to hide an empty mascara package, I looked up, and knew she saw me. My blood went cold. I started to sweat, and as soon as her back was turned, I left the store. I also never went back to steal. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, I expected my mother to say something, or at the very least comment, that there were charges on her account she didn’t understand. But it never happened…only silence.
Now if you are like me, silence is the great equalizer of life. It forces you to listen to your heart and soul, and allow your brain rip you a new one. Some people call it a conscience, but I know it as the oh shit moment, facing music only you can hear, while praying there won’t be a sold out performance with everyone you know. In my case, that silence continued for years, until one day, after I was engaged to be married, and then there were all kinds of police sirens. They weren’t for me though; they were for a 911 call at the drugstore.
Still loyal and conscientious, while working, Betty suffered a fatal stroke. I’ve always found it an odd comfort when people die doing what they love best, as if reaching the end of their yellow brick road, entitled to happiness. I still remember sitting in our kitchen, listening as the story unfolded, experiencing a mixed bag of feelings, as unrelated as stolen cosmetics in a purse, because after all that time Betty died with my secret. I had never acknowledged it, apologized or thanked her, and knew I could never make it right. It was in that moment, that the lions, tigers, and bears all came together, as my heart broke, my soul hurt and my mind knew the truth. I grew up that day.
As the years went on, the drugstore became a pawn shop, the family retired and we occasionally saw each other at church. I now see vintage ads on Facebook, for cosmetics I knew would make me beautiful, and I laugh, because it took something ugly to find the real beauty in life…something that comes from a pure heart and compassionate soul. Like my mother, I doubt Betty ever wore makeup in her life, but yet, I think she knew how important it was to a bespectacled young girl with pimples and a flat chest. She also let me tap my heels, free to go home, assured I knew the right road to take, and never to look back. You see, not all courage roars, and not all good witches sparkle, but the best ones watch over us for a lifetime.