Bobbie Helen Shumake has never been one of the “pretty” girls. She was always rather plain, except for her amber eyes, which shine like honey-held-up-to-the-sun, and her palest-of-pink/blonde hair with a natural sort of glimmer to it, tamed into a big curly pile on the back of her head.
She’s always been lanky and wiry, with long slim boy’s legs and arms corded as those workout-women who count out edamame one by one. She was the best athlete in all the school, climbing that rope in the gym faster than any boy, and never touching it with feet or legs. Once, when the Lady Globetrotters came for a charity game in Expedia, her coach-who-knew-their-coach got them to let her play in the game, and she was wonderful---scoring several times, and clowning a bit, just as the pros did.
She’d married a really nice Bubba of a guy and their four boys were exactly like their Mama---long and lean and living for every sport, every season.
And the most faithful fan and loudest-shouting supporter at every game, no matter the sport, was Bobbie Helen. She and Harold were tailgaters, water-carriers, team-parents, and rode late into the night on more preposterone-filled buses than any other couple in any school. To the whole town, they seemed to live their lives in a state of elbows-and-pranks and rollicking hilarity--- bemusing most, and providing many a tale of their crazy doings around the county.
Long into parenthood, she was still known for her antics and sense of humor, and the time she got tired of wearing that dang brassiere right in the middle of an Elvis concert, right there in the front-row-balcony of the Memphis Coliseum---that grew into a legend that almost, but not quite, eclipsed the TV appearance of Mac MacIntire, who drunkenly wagered his pants at an Ole Miss Game that time, and whose wide flat behind was captured full-screen by ABC SPORTS, just as he left the stadium in blazer, tie, and boxers.
When the Thirty-Fifth Class Reunion was coming up, Bobbie Helen approached it with more trepidation than most---she knew all those pretty women would be there---those Homecoming Queens and those Miss This and Miss That, and even with just her hometown friends, she thought she was starting out behind, to begin with. All those laugh lines from all that joking around for so many years were evident around her eyes, and since she laughed at most everything in life, mostly at herself and her foolishness, she decided to skip the Avon Lady and all the little bottles of Youth This and Renew That at Paynes’ Drugstore.
She thought this was serious enough to just take a splurge, and go to Memphis for the Big Guns: Merle Norman. She didn’t want just a wrinkle-remover---she wanted a Wrinkle-Corrector, one of those clear, instant-apply things that simply smoothed away the years in one swift application.
She bought the best they had, and tried it out for a few days beforehand, and dad-gum if she DIDN’T look younger. She could tell the difference right off. And when she put on a little base and powder, well, she looked really nice. She’d always been confident of her figure and knew she looked good in her smoky-green silk dress with her hair up, so on the evening of the party, she applied the stuff as directed and stepped out, right pleased with her appearance.
And if she’d left it at that, she’d have been a nicely-maturing lady, with glowing skin and beautiful eyes and an infectious smile. But when both Geneva Grace Crossland-Holloman and Karla Kay Fullilove Morgan walked in at the same time, with their three-hundred-dollar haircuts and their handsome husbands-from-off, Bobbie Helen reached into her purse for the Youth Stuff and rubbed a little bit more around her eyes.
Then another few women chattered their way into the room, and she felt the need to renew the application just a teense more. She dabbed dots of the stuff on her face and smeared it surreptitiously around every so often. And then, after sipping a Mai Tai or two, she grew less secretive with her efforts, snapping open the little bottle of viscous glue and squirting a bit on her fingers before swiping it around her eyes and down the small grooved parentheses flanking her lips.
As the evening grew later and the chatter more lively, the band even louder, the Mai Tais flowing and the smoke hovering like bayou mist, she grew unheeding of her motions, as she gave a big squeeze of the gel into her palm and massaged all around her face with it, as unconsciously as if she were sitting at her vanity with the Pond's, talking to Hairl over her shoulder.
Her night’s worth of effort had the effect of leaving her countenance at the end of the party quite shiny and rigid, resembling one of those bank robbers in the clear plastic masks, rendered grim slick statues except for the eerie bit of life in their eyes.
At the Swirl-a-Curl the next week, Bobbie Helen told the story on herself, laughing fit to bust.
“And when we got home, I was all the way in there hangin’ up my dress when I caught a glimpse in the mirror, and I said, ’My-y LAWERD! Hairl!! Why ditten you TELLL me?’
“And Hairl says, ‘But BAY-by, it come on suh GRADUAL!’”