The Pedicure

Lots of things can be addictive. There are, of course, the most common like booze and drugs – legal and otherwise. There are food addicts, exercise addicts, and gambling is a big one for some people. I guess just about anything can become an addiction for someone somewhere on the planet. Mine is getting pedicures.

When I was a little girl, my mother taught me how to groom my nails. She was a big believer in teaching proper hygiene techniques at an early age and then vigorously monitoring the activity until achieved to perfection by her children. Every part of the body needed to be cared for in specific ways and that included keeping one’s nails neat and tidy at all times.

Before I learned how to trim my nails myself, it was a weekly torture to endure my mother’s treatments. She’d hoist my little arm underneath her large bicep, pinning it against her torso so escape was impossible. There was never any bloodletting, but the close croppings always left my fingers a bit sore at the quick. When it came to toenails, however, she was amazingly gentle by comparison.

She used the same wrestler’s hold on legs as she did on arms but was careful not to make a wrong move. She wasn’t risking an unintended or intentional kick to the jaw.

As I grew up, I practiced my nail technician skills on my mother’s hands and feet, always employing tender touches to please her after a day of cleaning and cooking for her brood. The application of floral scented lotions on her work-weary paws and claws gave her comfort.

From the hours I spent tending to her feet, I could have been certified in all 50 states as a professional by the time I was 15. Instead, I was her in-home unpaid handmaiden, if you will, happily toting basins of warm water into the living room where she would soak her feet while watching her favorite TV program and smoking a Winston.

For many years, keeping my toenails neat and tidy was good enough for me. Then I had my first pedicure.

I’d like to say that I was a teenager or young adult when I first experienced a professional pedicure, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Years ago, nail salons were foreign in our little patch. Big city hair salons may have offered this type of exotic service, but not our neighborhood hairdresser. Oh no, she cut hair, applied blue rinses to white hair, and gave the tightest permanent waves money could buy. But taking care of nails was done at home.

Today, our modern societies sport nail salons on every corner. Such evocative signage as “Paradise Nail Salon,” “Supreme Nail Emporium,” or “Hot Nails” dot the landscape and have become an industry unto itself. You can even go into your local big-box low-priced retailor and, before you buy toilet paper – 100 rolls for five dollars – you can get your nails lacquered. No, I was well into my adulthood before I could cost justify spending money on nails I could take care of myself. Call it Yankee thrift. But the reality is, I was as close to being a professional as one can get without graduating from beauty school.

Then something totally unexpected happened. The company for who I was working took a bunch of management types on a corporate retreat. Part of the program offered the females in our group day spa treatments. Cost was no object. We could select any of the numerous services from simple manicures to full body massages and, yes, pedicures.

It would be almost obscene for me to describe the pleasure I felt as I plunged by tired dogs into a fragrant pool of softly bubbling warm water, dressed in a plush terrycloth robe several sizes too large, surrounded by aroma therapy, dim lights, and non-verbal attendants. Oh, the rapture divine. In that hour, I became a pedicure addict. Cost be damned. I’d sell my costume jewelry at a yard sale to pay for this kind of legal euphoria. Thusly baptized in eucalyptus waters, I’ve never looked back.

In my mother’s later years, whenever I would visit her at the nursing home, we would often laugh at the money I spent having my feet professionally cared for. In her mind, it was criminal – in mine, it was therapy.

I never really stopped taking care of my mother’s feet. As she sat in her wheelchair, immobilized by illness, I gladly massaged her feet with lovely creamy lotion as she drifted in and out of wakefulness. She’d softly say, “That feels so good.” I’d say, “You taught me how to do this, Ma.” She’d reply, “It’s a good thing.”

By Marilou Newell


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