Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lip Traditions

[Posted by reader_iam]

Over here, they're talking about ChapStick, and lip-balm addiction:
So how many ChapSticks at a time do you buy and where do you stow them? How badly do you panic if you go on a trip and discover you've forgotten to pack one? Tell us how much you love ChapStick. And if you don't rely on ChapStick, what do you use?
My answer:

In winter, when out in the cold, or for serious chapping, it's Carmex, hands-down. I don't have a lip-balm addiction, but when there's serious chapping involved, nothing else will do. I have those little containers of it in both vehicles, both bathrooms, and both bedside table drawers. The stuff is indestructible, it keeps forever, and it never gets nasty-waxy like that pretender, ChapStick, which makes up for the way it tastes.

You could say it's a family tradition. My parents swore by it. My father first learned of its virtues when he was a teen-ager, living in Wheaton, Illinois and taking the train into Chicago on weekends to gig in clubs. The way he told it, some old guy who blew a wicked horn looked over one night, reached in his pocket and tossed a jar over the heads of the brass section to my father, that night playing tenor sax through bleeding lips.

Fast forward a few years, and a small-town Hoosier girl meets the guy from near Chicago on her first day of class at DePauw, a small liberal-arts college in Indiana with an excellent music department. A Methodist and a Hoosier farmer’s daughter, she’d grown up using some sort of udder balm also employed on the farm animals, with apparently satisfactory results. But by the end of the year, she’d converted to both Episcopalianism and Carmex, and thereafter never looked back.


Mostly a misfit as a kid, I spent a lot of time reading and dreaming and pretending to be famous people, including—improbably—Olympic athletes like Suzy Chaffee.She later skied her way into pop-culture infamy as the fluffy “Suzy Chapstick” ad character. This development I found embarrassing, from the perspective of the feminism my mother had been carefully inculcating in me. How could she sell out her specialness that way? Be so cheesy and trivial, just for the bucks? And for a product so manifestly inferior to Carmex! Not to mention one having a bit part in, of all things, the Watergate break-in and hence the toppling of an ignominious presidency. (Of course, the latter had nothing to do with my Suzy disappointment at the time. But what a great piece of political trivia! It begged to be worked in, somehow.)

But Suzy ChapStick was just theoretically embarrassing. I still longed to carry ChapStick in my pocketbook, like the other girls, or some cool, flavored, roll-on gloss, new at the time, rather than one of those ugly little pots. Who cared if they didn't work nearly as well? More personally embarrassing was my father's commitment to spreading the Good News about Carmex. Now, Carmex is available everywhere. Back then, it wasn't available in Delaware, at least, where we moved in 1971. This meant that trips back to Illinois to visit my grandparents included a trek to a local Walgreens (or two, or...) to stock up. Even the prospect of an old-fashioned malted couldn't offset a pre- and young teen's discomfort at being associated with anyone who'd buy pots of Carmex by what at least seemed like the dozens. Especially when she knew that, back in Delaware, they'd be handed out like some sort of magic potion, to musicians budding and past bloom, as well as others, along with a re-re-re-re-telling of that long-ago Chicago conversion story.


Kids can be so hard-hearted and touchy and unforgiving about essentially harmless parental quirks. They tend to get funny, later--especially when you discover you've adopted some of them as your own, if not to the same degree. I find myself suggesting Carmex from time to time, and I overheard my first-grader recommending it "as the very best" to a friend of his during a New Year's houseparty. I had to chuckle, because until last summer, he insisted on using only Burt's Bees lip balm, which--not being the purist my father is--I kept on hand especially for him. (I do like their lip shimmers, myself.)

In the end, blood tells, I guess.


Just for fun. (Skip the top part and scroll down to the reprint of a 1993 San Francisco Examiner article.)

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