Lips and Tubes

My left hand gripped the steering wheel, my eyes on the road, as I reached for the slender tube in the car console.  I could recognize the very familiar feel of the Chapstick container:  short, smooth, with a small ridge where the cap starts.

I adeptly removed the cap with one hand and smeared the tube’s slippery contents over my lips.  Then I slid them left and right to spread out the Chapstick.  Snapping the cap back on, I dropped the tube into the console.

Chapstick has an honorable history in my life.  Mommy kept a tube in her Sunday purse; her conservative religion did not allow lipstick so Chapstick was as close as she could come to pretty lips.  When the sermon was particularly boring, my sisters and I got squirmy.  Mommy would constantly shush us, then finally hand over her Chapstick.  We’d each put it on our small lips like it was ruby-red lipstick.  We’d feel beautiful with our “lipsticked” lips and settle down for a bit more droning from the pulpit.

One time when Mommy was not paying attention, I took her purse from the pew beside her, intent on finding the Chapstick.  Instead, on top was a long, soft thing wrapped in Kleenex.  I pulled it out, opened it up and didn’t know what it was.  I waved it at Mommy; she glanced over and with a look of panic grabbed it from me and stuffed it under her leg.  Then she grabbed her purse and whispered in a voice I knew meant business, “Don’t you EVER take my purse again!” I didn’t understand that I had pulled out a sanitary napkin and was waving it around where the people behind us could see. Her anger surprised me.  But we all settled down that day without our Chapstick.

Chapstick of the ‘50’s, however, was not what it is now.  Always encased in a black tube with a white cap and white writing. The contents were hard and waxy.  To apply Chapstick you had to press hard on your lips.  Once the stuff was applied, it felt like you dipped your lips in molten wax and let it dry.  But the lipsticks of the 50’s were not much better, as I found out as I entered my teens and applied it secretly in the school bathroom, so you just accepted the waxy feel as part of the beauty regimen.

Now Chapstick has expanded its tube colors and content flavors, and it is soft and moist.  Tubes are red, blue, pink and green.  Flavors include peppermint, cherry, root beer and lemonade.

These progressive product changes were not due to the Chapstick Company’s generosity to its consumers, or its creativity, but to competition.  Burt’s Bees threatened Chapstick’s market dominance, with its honey-colored tubes, multi-colored caps and smooth insides that promised “the real taste of honey and natural ingredients.”  Chapstick responded, after years of black tubes and hard waxy sticks.

It is an amazing observation of human existence that we have a product to make such a tiny part of our bodies soft and moist.  And lips – why so important, I wondered.

Except for kissing, a thrill in its own right and a topic for another time, lips are pretty much useless. I can’t name a single biological function that they provide.

People with thin lips can eat and taste as well as those with full lips.  Ditto with drinking, whistling, singing and talking.  Even though pre-K teacher tell children to make their lips round for the o-o-o sound, a slit in our faces would be able to make the o-o-o sound as well.

Am I missing something?

Horses don’t have Chapstick, or lips either for that matter.  They have what people call “lips” but they are not lips like ours.  Theirs have no color change from the muzzle to the lips, In fact, horse lips are like the afore mentioned slit in the face. The slit works perfectly well to delicately take a piece of apple from an outstretched hand, or to grab a whole mouthful of grass before it is ripped off with a closing of the teeth and a quick sideways snap of the head.  Horses’ lips are a human invention, an attempt to make the horse anatomy more like ours.

Our unique human species does have distinctive lips, for no obvious reason.  We moisturize, color, purse, tighten and smile our lips.  They form a part of our facial expressions.  But a slit would do just as well.  Mouth and eyes, that’s all it takes.

Could we communicate feelings just as well without lips?  I think so. But until we evolve into lipless robotrons, we will need cases of Chapstick in all flavors and colors to keep our useless lips beautiful.

4 thoughts on “Lips and Tubes

  1. I continue to be amazed, not only with your beautiful writing but your memories of years ago! I’m sure I was right next to you on the pew that day, but don’t even have a glimmer of what you remember. On our first trip out west with our children we discovered a brand of lip gloss that many use there to combat dry lips in that climate, but yes, it’s Burts Bees for me these days!

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  2. Well done! A fun read and chapstick has become a generic name “use” for nearly all brands now. It is much like Kleenex instead of “tissue”. We often ask for a Kleenex when what we want is a tissue, not necessarily that brand. So many things like that. All for another “conversation”.

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  3. Chapstick in some iteration is a requirement in my life. Kept in every handbag, pocket and on every nightstand plus those kept by my reading spot. I was always told that we had those thin English lips.

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