Face to the Sun

I counted the dots on the roof of my mom’s 1970 Buick.

The tan can.  Tan on the outside, beige on the inside.  I don’t really know what the rest of the inside of the car looked like.  I never checked.  I only sat in the front for as far back as my memory will go. The sidecar.  The wingman.  The quiet soldier.  Or, I sat on the hump, in the middle, when the three of us traveled together.  That would be my sister, my mom and me.  I later learned that that seat was termed “sitting bitch,” at least in my neighborhood.  I hated sitting bitch.

On those days and others where I was just out of my mind with boredom, which was a lot, unless I could be entertaining someone and as a kid, my sister made that nearly impossible.  Singing at the top of my lungs – or at all – was met with “don’t sing unless you know the words! Ugh!”

Followed by my mom, lit cigarette in one hand and a firm, white-knuckle, grip on the wheel with the other saying “That is how she learns.  That is how we all learn.  You just keep doing it until you got it.”

Then, I would make what is now known as “duckface” in her direction with my head dancing back and forth, as if to say “Yeah!” If singing was hard while sitting bitch in that car, then dancing was impossible.  On those days, I would rest my head back on the seat and count the dots on the roof of the car.  Hundreds of little, tiny dots, and I never even got in the back.  Come to think of it, I was always a counter of things whenever I was bored.  I would only get so far before I zoned out, which was the real high that I was looking for, if we are being honest.

I can see her. My mom.  Her short, dark hair – not like you might imagine when reading a story about a mom with short dark hair, because it is usually “magical” in some very specific way.  Perfectly coiffed or amazingly shining and flowing in the sun – you know, something perfectly sensory.  When you read the words, you immediately think mom with short dark hair.  My mom was a hippie at heart, a little bit preppy cheerleader in her soul combined with “we don’t have a pot to piss in, but I am still sort of on trend, motherfucker” attitude.  She read fashion magazines, which she got from coworkers when they were finished with them or from doctor’s office waiting rooms.

She also let us take the Highlights magazines, which was perfect, because we would do the hidden picture search together and it was more fun when we could scream “I found it! I found it! There!” at home.  In the doctor’s office you just nudged and smiled. Boring.  Count dots.

She didn’t have to try very hard, my mom.  She was beautiful.  To me, she just glowed and oozed kindness.  A softness about life and mistakes that she was unapologetic for, but with a strength inside that you did not question.  I didn’t.  I know now that it is really hard to be both of those things with a true sincerity of spirit.  It takes a lot of work to hold on to that softness after just a few serious attacks on it.  For some people, it just takes one.  But, my mom – it was just so clearly right there.  I always felt safe with my mom.  Always.  I know there are times when we were in real danger.  I mean, looking back now, it was a house of cards every single day.  She did not allow us to feel any of that, while maintaining real honesty with us at the same time (that’s the hippie part). My trust ran deep, my love ran hard and my feeling of security was bold.  It freed me up to be a very, very bold child – in voice, in spirit and in confidence.  Life may have tempered that a little over time for me, but back then my mom let it fly.

Her short dark hair was never coiffed, because if it were, it would look super weird.  She would just run her fingers through it and there you go.  It looked fantastic.

No product, no blow-drying.  She did buy a shampoo called “Gee, You’re Hairs Smells Terrific!” once and we laughed so hard every time one of us would say it to each other.

Like belly laugh, almost pee your pants laughter.  She thought it was the funniest thing.  She also never wore make up.  She loved a purchase with purchase. I mean, she loved any sort of promotion, really, but she never, ever wore make up.  Back then, a purchase with purchase was like a huge, full-sized 57 eyeshadow palette.  She had so much make up that she never wore.  We would play with it.  She taught me how to wear it.

She reminded me that I should not wear it every day – only on special occasions, because “then people expect you to always look like that, which is totally unrealistic.  When you don’t wear it they go “oh (sigh-frown combo face).” If you don’t wear it every day they say, “Look at her! No make up and so pretty.” Then when you do wear it “holy cow!”

This was a lesson from Clair.  They all went just like that, with anecdotes and impersonations of what others would say, or something like that, but with a longer, drawn out backstory.

Whenever I think of that Buick, I think of the windows rolled down, the radio playing anything and everything.  My mom’s hippie, cheerleader, trendy, but un-styled hair blowing ever so slightly with cigarette in hand, popping her gum (think hippie, not hillbilly), smiling, singing, face in to the sun.  Me, with a side view of her beautiful profile and perfect skin.  It didn’t matter if I was, snuggly, sitting bitch or sprawled out with my feet on the seat next to her.   I was happily sitting face to the sun, laughing along or blissfully counting the dots.

My mom is alive, by the way.   She will read this and say via text or email or comment “it’s really good.  I love everything you write.”

She may or may not ask me why I wrote about her in the past tense, but I know she will wonder.  Then, she will come up with reasons for it in her head, feel a certain way about that and never say a word.  Different than the days of the Buick, when she would ask a million questions, talk your ear off, tell you her opinion and tell you again in a few minutes and again in an hour, just in case you didn’t hear her before.  Very different than when she would look at the vastness of the world and the beauty of it with that softness of which I spoke, as well as the harshness people can show, reminding you not to judge a person, because you don’t know their story or even not at all, just period.  Very different than the laughing from our soul, because of the love of us – even with all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles – is enough to keep us all on the brighter side of it.   I have had to adapt to a new view. The Buick Years are now a story on a page.

If she were to ask me, I would say “I guess it’s because you no longer have your face to the sun.”


Colleen O'Neill

Colleen O’Neill

Born and raised in Chicago, Colleen began her career as an actress at the age of eight, where she fell in love with craft service and a $38/day paycheck.  It wasn’t until a bit later that she fell in love with the actual craft of acting.  Colleen has also been writing since she was a kid, starting with her signature, angsty pre-teen poems always illustrated with her drawings of various one-eyed girls.  She is hoping to make those in to a compilation for angsty teens who think they are perpetually misunderstood, which she clearly understands.  A graduate of the Second City Conservatory, Colleen has written and producing shows in both Chicago and LA, she is one of the founding members of the sketch comedy group The McGillicuddys and producer & founder of the all-female sketch show “Slippery Handles,” which shares the name of her blog and her most current work-in-progress of short stories and essays from her “slippery” life experiences. “Slippery Handles” originated out of Colleen’s experience in searching for the funny in a not so funny battle with cancer and lupus, ultimately coming out a survivor, and has grown in to a life motto. Colleen’s current projects include work on her book, two pilots and producing the feature film “Blind Faith.”  Her credits include TV, Film, Commercials, Print and Theater. Colleen does a bit of stand-up now and then.






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