White Shoulders A Christmas Tale Part Two
When I was young, I was hooked on the fragrance of White Shoulders. In high school, I loved it as much for its aphrodisiac effects. It drove boys crazy. Which by then was the primary goal of my existence. To attract the opposite sex. That’s when I started heavy-hitting Mom’s personal stash of White Shoulders from her Temple of Beauty. By now I had a Vanity Temple of my own, and my signature scent was obviously missing.
So when I turned sixteen it was no surprise that Mom gave me my first bottle of White Shoulders perfume. The real surprise was the actual present itself.
She saved it for the last gift, just when I was beginning to worry that White Shoulders would not be forth coming at all. Then slyly reaching under the table she pulled out a package, and noting my authentic surprise, handed it to me with a triumphant flourish.
It was a large, all-pink, ultra-feminine box, smartly tied up with a huge matching ribbon to accompany the sheer wrapping. Coyly revealing itself beneath the transparent cover was a small beveled-glass flask of real White Shoulders perfume. Nestled next to it was a much larger bottle of cologne in a coordinated pink box. Sitting next to this was a quilted box of powder, (pink, of course) with a huge cotton-candy powder-puff, all stamped and embossed with the proud White Shoulders Girl out in plain sight.
It was stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful, and once opened, I was loath to even discard the box, the wrapping or the resplendent attendant bow. So I kept the whole thing intact, painstakingly undoing it, using the perfume or powder, then redoing the whole thing again when I was finished, until it became too much of an exhausting hassle to keep it up, and I quit, which took about two days.
You see, by now I was in need of speed. White Shoulders had become my stock scent. I poured, sprayed and powdered it on like my name was Evyan, the perfume’s New York based maker. I wore it to high school everyday; even the teachers liked it, both sexes.
In my junior year I was wearing it when I first met Keith, a new good-looking senior standing outside our neighboring classrooms during a fire alarm. I’m certain White Shoulders was one of the things about me that distracted his attention that day.
Anyway he has kept me in the stuff, one way or another since I married him a year and a half later in 1965.
That’s why I can say with absolute certainty I was wearing White Shoulders perfume in 1972 in Fremont, California while cruising the isles of Lucky Stores, loading up my shopping cart.
Zinnia, my 3 year old daughter would have been sitting straight-backed in the child’s seat up front, short legs dangling, pointing to the items she wanted. Cap’n Crunch, Spaghettio’s with Franks, M & Ms.
By 1972, Keith and I would have gone through what I would later come to call The Conversion, a raising of consciousness born of the times, 1967, that changed our lives and thinking 180 degrees. I would have vehemently shunned these items by then. No Wonder Bread for my flower baby! Whole grain pasta and brown rice, barley and beans went into the cart. Tofu, and lots of it. Dried apricots and walnuts, instead of Butterfingers. Yogurt, instead of ice cream. Soy milk, instead of cow’s. Meat and cheese in mini shares, next to the kings and queens of real nutrition: fruits and veggies. All organic, when possible.
Ethnic Hippie would have been my dress in 1972, and still is. An orange and white tie-dye top and a long gauzy skirt of pink, yellow and green, Inca or Aztec-patterned, hand embroidered with shiny silver thread, made in India. Zinnia, our flower child, was in a lace embellished caftan I made for her by hand. Her baby ear lobes were pierced and garnet studded.
In 1972 Hair Peace was like a religion in our house. It’s when crew cuts turned into mid-back ponytails for guys, and girls nearly put Gillette, Clairol and beauty shops out of business, letting their hair grow long, wild, natural and free. Zinnia and I would have been wearing it just like that, mine semi-covering the beaded gypsy-earrings dangling just above my shoulders.
For two years we had shopped at this same Lucky Store. Apparently back then employees were paid a good working wage with benefits and retirement. People kept their jobs and every week I saw the same friendly faces.
The very first time I shopped there, one regular employee stood out. Donnie, was the name I saw embroidered on his shirt pocket. He was artfully arranging the eggplants and tomatoes in the Organic Produce Section, the part of the store where I always lingered the longest. At first Donnie stood out because he was a handsome young black man in the middle of what was then an all-white town and an all-white store.
Truthfully, I had never been around many black people in my life. My father had made certain of that. White neighborhoods, white schools, white stores, white theaters, white buses, white churches, white God, white shoulders, white world. That’s what I knew. This lifelong segregation bred a fear in me of some races and religions, and also deep curiosity. Somehow, even then, I knew what I was missing.
Always friendly and courteous, I think Donnie was shy like me, and so at first we didn’t speak much at all. What I knew about him was what I could politely observe. A silver wedding band on his left hand told me he was married. Zinnia, never shy, sometimes engaged Donnie in her baby talk conversations, which he understood. That’s how I found out he too had a toddler, a boy, named Aaron.
Donnie knew my name was Roxy (short for Roxanne, the name of one of my Dad’s favorite ex- girlfriends. Janine, my older sister. Same thing.) He probably discovered it around the time he first began checking groceries. One day I forgot to sign my check and he forgot to catch it. A few days later a letter came in the mail from Lucky Stores asking me to come in and fix it, and I had to make a special trip.
The thing about Donnie that first grabbed me was his beauty. Inside and out. His skin was like milk, a creamy dark chocolate. He wore his hair Obama style, close-clipped to his head. The foot-wide afros Angela Davis and the Black Panthers were wearing in Oakland and Berkeley at the time hadn’t arrived yet for a single black employee in an all-white superstore.
I could feel the inside part of Donnie was beautiful in the few moments our eyes locked one day in a smile, and we became instant friends. After that, it was like a barrier lifted between us. We overcame our shyness and were comfortable to be ourselves when we met.