The “Holiday Season” is so laden with memories, for everyone, some good, some bad, many religious, many not. These days it is impossible to escape the Christmas marketing, but if one allows oneself to go back in memory, it is possible to recall simpler times, both good and not so much.
I remember sitting on my parents’ bed for hours in the weeks leading up to Christmas, poring over the Sears Wishbook, concocting an impossibly long list of desires, then whittling them down to something Santa might be able to deliver (while still allowing for the wishes of the many other deserving children awaiting his visit). I don’t remember many of these well-honed desires, except for one: my Budding Beauty Vanity—oops, I mean, my Hostess buffet.
I so wanted the “Marx Budding Beauty Vanity,” which the next-door-neighbor girl had; SHE had the Budding Beauty Vanity, with its plastic makeup and grooming tools (brush, comb, manicure set), jewelry, and toiletries, an inset lid that lifted up to reveal a discreet compartment for storing all the goodies, and a sculpted-tufted Styrofoam hassock that opened to store even more treasures.
I am pleased, now, that my parents didn’t cave to my unrealistic desire to become a “lovely lady” like the girl next door. Whether due to their sincere efforts to place less emphasis on external, superficial qualities and girly-girl pursuits in our home than what was going on next door, or whether they simply couldn’t acquire (or afford) the coveted, trendy Christmas request, I did not receive the Budding Beauty Vanity.
Their substitution of the “Little Hostess Buffet” was a lot of fun, too, with silvered plastic cutlery, candlesticks, napkin holders, and a 3-piece tea service, plus 4 place settings of plates, cups and saucers, and some molded plastic “crystal” fruit dishes and goblets. Along with a few bright pieces of plastic fruit. I’m sure my loving parents, whether by choice or of necessity, calculated that food preparation and presentation, while mostly (and still) the domain of the women of the houses, was an essential life skill to survival, both physical and social. It was certainly a domain of endeavor less predicated on a certain “skill set” of natural attributes than the budding beauty game.
My dad told me more recently that the buffet was a bitch to assemble in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve (a parental passage my husband and I made late one bitter December 24th in 1997 assembling our own firstborn’s kitchen set). I was recently astonished to locate the ad that had created and intensified my desire for this product on the internet, and to hear how the catchy tune and the shots of a little girl putting on her makeup and dabbing perfume alongside her mother’s grownup vanity, still catches in my memory, and my heart. The emulation of a distant, glamorous mother, the studied, gracious “salute” introducing an elegant set and the pampered world it suggests, the elusive promise of a transformation of self, all spring to life in my being once again. “A little girl, becomes a lovely lady with a vanity all her own….”
But this is really a reflection on memory, on how a long-ago, mostly forgotten, childhood desire, sparked by a crudely manipulative advertising campaign, can open a deep channel of recollection, bringing a whole world of feelings and experiences to life, leaving a middle-aged woman singing an old jingle for days while she quietly makes peace with a piece of her past.
Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse