Sometime in the early 1990's before her death, I traveled "home" again for a brief visit. I was, at the time, doing bodywork/massage/therapy in my private practice while still working on call as a nursing supervisor. I was also involved in a women's spirituality group and sat on a board of directors that produced women's festivals and gatherings. And, in my spare time, (which there was little of!) I also led a women's body awareness workshop weekly. Although sounding as if I were constantly on the go (and basically, I WAS!), my life was very rewarding and fulfilling...doing many of the things I most enjoy.
One of the various group projects I engaged my clients in was the making of plaster cast face masks. Purchasing multiple rolls of actual CASTING MATERIAL (the old fashion kind the doctor USED to put on broken bones...and I still have an entire BOX of this stuff in storage...sigh...), my "group-ees" would carefully construct plaster face casts of each other and then decorate them in a theme that would demonstrate "who" was behind the mask...it was a wonderful, messy project that everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy. We would then hold *circle* and each client would be given the time to explain their decoration(s) and the meaning BEHIND the mask. I even had one of my clients lay the casting over MY face so I could also produce my "mask":In my travel back "home" to visit my mother during this *era* of my life, I decided I wanted to cast HER face...something deep inside me compelled me to this endeavor. But I knew my mother, being the stoic, Germanic character she was, would probably not "readily" jump on this idea...as a matter of fact, I could pretty much bet she would loudly decline and declare the idea as just another one of "her feminist crazy daughter's notions". I had to use *something* that I knew she couldn't resist...so I chose my orphaned nephew!
My eldest sister had died in a car accident about 7 years earlier and my mother was practically raising my sister's two boys...grandsons she adored and would go to the ends of the earth to provide for. I convinced my youngest nephew, Tom, to "ask grandma" to comply with my request...and, as predicted, my mother agreed...grumbling, but agreeable. LOL
Tom and I laid my mother on the floor face up and began to carefully place the strips of plaster over her face...gently and delicately. I remember thinking this was one of the few times I had ever TOUCHED my mother's face as an adult...we were not a "touchy" family (and I now remember lovingly and gently washing her face and hands while she lay unconscious on a ventilator just before shutting down the machines). To this day, I still recall my mother relaxing into the moment and almost falling asleep during the process...it was a snap shot in time that I treasure.I took the mask back to Houston with me on the plane and did complete the smoothing plaster process with the intent of eventually sending the casting to my nephew when he was older...after all, it was only his tiny, lispy voice that persuaded my mother to participate in the first place! I thought he would one day possibly feel the same connection I had felt to his grandmother/my mother during the process of making the mask. I even *intended* to decorate the mask before sending it to him.
Nearly 15 years have passed since I cast my mother's face that warm August evening. I still have the mask...it has been sealed away in *Pandora's Box* (see previous posts) all these years. It has only been since opening *Pandora's Box* this past month that I rediscovered it...tucked safely away next to the mask of my face. I have taken it out of the trunk and held it...I've tried it on my face...it doesn't fit (oddly, the plaster casting of MY face still fits...even WITH my now fat, chipmunk cheeks!). I have stared at it and also gazed at old photos of my mother this past week trying to *find* the person behind the mask.
My mother wore many masks during her short time on this earth...we ALL do. It is a strangely unique experience to hold her "face" in my hands, knowing I am only holding a smooth, chunk of plaster...yet knowing my mother's face was behind it.
Maybe now I am ready to *decorate* her mask...to give it depth and color and meaning. As I remember her today, I am acutely aware how much her *mask* has softened over the years...how the darker colors I once thought belonged to her have brightened...how lines have smoothed and blended...how unique the shape of her face was and how truly one-of-a-kind her *mask* remains.