White Gold

Her skin was always so soft. Everyone noticed. It didn’t look like 95-year-old skin. We attributed this wonder to decades of Nivea cream application and joked about how we should contact the company to offer up my mother as a model for commercials. She was living proof of the powers of Nivea cream. She pronounced it nih-VAY-ah, and only the German-made product would do. Most of the Nivea found on store shelves in the United States was a different formula (made in Mexico for the American market), and my mother immediately could tell the difference by its feel and smell.

Every trip to Europe doubled as an opportunity to replenish the stash. All traveling friends and family knew exactly what they were required to bring back. Fortunately, we discovered a few stores in the U.S. that carried the imported cream — Karl Ehmer and Bright-Glo, in New York City — so we no longer had to rely on transatlantic voyages to keep Mom well stocked.

Once Mom moved to Massachusetts, every trip to New York always meant a detour to the latest store we confirmed had a supply of the precious goods on the shelf. Eventually, we figured out that Mom could call one of the stores and get them to mail it to her, even though they weren’t in the mail-order business. The owner was kind enough to take her credit card over the phone, package up the cream, and then make the trip to the post office to send it to her. As the demographics changed, many of those import stores in my mother’s old neighborhood closed, and finally the last store disappeared. However, one of my mother’s aides came to the rescue. She found an online mail-order company that carried the imported Nivea. What a relief.

I haven’t mentioned, however, how I detested the smell. Even as a child, I told my mother I would only kiss her goodnight before she lathered up. She applied the cream morning and night, also using it to clean her skin — she would rub some on, use a tissue to wipe the skin clean, and then apply a fresh layer. She spread it not just on her face, but covered her entire body in the white salve. Only her hair was spared.

When she died, there were several unopened tins remaining. I gave a few to Mom’s aide, who gratefully accepted them. She was used to the smell, having helped Mom shower and grease up afterwards for over five years. I took a few home, not knowing what I would do with them.

After staring at the blue canisters on the bathroom shelf for several months, I took one down, carefully pried off the metal lid, and slowly pulled back the foil covering. I bravely took a sniff of the thick white emulsion. Oddly, the smell didn’t seem so terrible. I decided to give it a try. After all, the cream had served my mother so well. I cautiously spread some on my cheeks. Not bad. I started using it regularly. Had I simply gotten used to the smell? Admittedly, I do not apply it with the same rigor as my mother.

I am now carrying on the tradition. On my last trip to Germany, I found myself stuffing several of those blue tins into my suitcase. I am hoarding them. Nivea application has become part of my post-shower routine. I can only hope that I’ll live to 95, and with skin as supple as my mother’s. Dipping my fingers into the white gold and applying it to my face, I feel my mother watching approvingly.


Image: Nivea Cream by bettybl, licensed under CC 2.0.

Madelaine Zadik
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  1. Your writing always takes me to that place, that moment, that experience that you describe. Wonderful…Congratulations.


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