After evening had arrived, around the time the owls started to wake up in the Piney Woods, my grandmother would disappear from the living room. When she returned, she was always ghost-faced, wearing her nightgown and robe. As she kissed me goodnight I could only smell the cold cream on her face — a smell I started to love because, to me, it was hers. It was comfort.
“I think I want to try some of that,” I remember saying once, when I wandered in the bathroom to watch her apply the stuff. “But you don’t need it,” she answered, then reached her clean hand to pinch my smooth cheek. “You don’t have to worry about wrinkles.”
And she was mostly right; I didn’t have to worry about wrinkles. Though if I had thought a little about sunscreen in those years, maybe I wouldn’t worry so much about them now. Maybe, but I doubt it.
Now I am of the cold cream age. But whereas my grandma had one tub of the thick, white stuff, I have a collection of bottles and tubes, moisturizers and serums. I’m pretty good at ignoring what magazines promise to be the best new wrinkle creams. But if a friend recommends one — especially if it’s a friend with great skin — that’s harder to pass by. And when anyone who is a dermatologist, has recently had lunch with a dermatologist, or once went to a bar mitzvah with the cousin of a dermatologist, points me to a product, I might as well open my wallet and dump the cash around my feet.
Not long ago I was talking with a friend, and she wondered if it is more complex to get older now. Like all these options — the creams, serums and surgeries — are making the process even more difficult. I don’t know if I’d say that’s completely true. My grandmother may not have had the same options to put on her face — but what had to be worked out in her heart was just the same.
And I think even now, in this messy, modern, masked world we live in, there are bright spots to be unearthed and found. Moments when the path forward feels simple and clear, when we have hope that we can escape these chains we so often put on ourselves. I was sitting with my youngest son not long after he went back to school, talking about nothing that really mattered, until suddenly we were talking about something that did.
“What if I put on my mask like this?” I asked, flipping the strip of cloth upside down so the pattern was upside down. The joke wasn’t funny, but I smiled anyway, like you do when you are passing time with someone you love — someone who would never actually judge you based on your unfunniness.
“I can tell you’re smiling,” my son said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He leaned forward so he was right in my face and touched the wrinkles around my eyes.
“Even with your mask on, I can see when you are smiling.”
The smell of cold cream wasn’t in the car. The owls weren’t calling out. But there might as well have been tall trees of East Texas outside the car. His words were telling me not to worry about the wrinkles. For the first time in a long time, I thought about taking the advice.