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  • "You look like hell! Go put on some lipstick! "

    From the age of 5, this command from my mother was a common occurance in my life. My mother wore a red lipstick, much like the one her sisters and her mother wore. The small gold case holding the deep red, nearly black, waxy color inside. The color and scent of crushed red roses. If one were to put on this lipstick, which I dutifully did the pigment would last for days staining every surface my lips touched with a watermark of red lip print.

    Lipstick is the signature of the women in my family. These red lipped women were that of a passionate and highly accomplished coven of Lebanese feminists. Beginning with my great grandmother Essene, who supposedly attended the Sorbonne, coming from an aristocratic family in Jounieh. My grandmother, Alexandria, a gifted couture designer and seamstress, who was disowned by her family for marrying my grandfather, Nicolas and not agreeing to her arranged marriage. They moved to Connecticut and raised their 4 daughters there, Selwa (seen in this photo with Yvonne and a tiny me) Evelyn, Yvonne and Renee.

    Alexandria left Nicolas when he refused to give up his mistress and drove across country alone with no money to begin a new life in California. My mother stayed on, working for my grandfather, embezzling as much cash as she could get away with and sending it to her mother in Los Angeles where Alexandria worked as a fine seamstress for couture designers squirrling away money, and buying apartment buildings on the westside.
    She never married again, but had a lover, Joe, who was an oud player, for many years.

    Selwa became a very successful clothing designer and in fact created the original Star Trek costumes and I believe single handedly began the velour clothing rage that swept the late 60's.
    She was an accomplished musician, piano and oud, a painter and had 5 husbands, 4 of which were all named Nicolas.

    Evelyn was Howard Hughes' personal bookeeper. She married 3 times but her last husband Chester was the most memorable. He was from the Ozarks and had one arm. He wore suspenders. He had one eye that drifted off in another direction and a face that even I at a young age noticed that it described a possible marriage of 1st cousins. He adored Evelyn. She collected coins and rare succulents and in her back yard, she composed these sort of bizarre tableaus of succulents with Barbie and Ken dolls, GI joe and Midge all in shall i say provocative positions. This I believe is where my cousins and I first learned about sex. She was incredibly literate and very very funny.

    Yvonne, well you'll have to read the earlier story about her. Let's just say even though she was the middle daughter she was certainly the most powerful and dominent.

    Renee married my uncle Ted at 16. He was a professor of political science and worked for Nixon. They had matching black and white T Birds, a mid century home in Bel Air, a boy and a girl, a black poodle and a white poodle. He taught me chess, let me use is Hassel Blad camera, played Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk for me and taught me how to garden. He showed me that men could cook just as well as women, could nurture possibly even better. He looked like Jiminy Cricket. Renee became a poker player and made Nativity Creches out of paper mache. After Ted died, while pruning a rose bush, she married a year later and moved to Vegas.

    I had never in any moment of my life with these women ever seen them without lipstick. Even as they all were aging, dying or ill, there was always the lipstick case near by. As if to say that no matter what you did or had to face those lips had to be ready for action. A powerful image that stays in my mind was a visit that Selwa, Evelyn and Renee made to our home while Yvonne was dying of cancer. They came together to say good bye to her, the middle daughter, the power house. Yvonne was gravely ill, but wanted to have everything just right, so I fluffed up her bedroom, brought in a bouguet of roses from the garden, and moments before the sisters arrived, she said to me, "Baby, would you bring me my lipstick ?".
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