Let's Hear it for the Girls (and look at those 3 perfect heads of hair)

Let's Hear it for the Girls (and look at those 3 perfect heads of hair)

My grandmother was only 20 years older than my mother and 23 years older than my aunt and they were all very strong women so I grew up in a very matriarchal but very close trio of women. My father, uncle and grandfather may not have even realized those three ran the show but everyone else knew it in spades. My mother, Anne (on the right), her sister, Mary Lou (in the middle), and their mother, Lou (on the left), ran their households with a firm hand. A firm, extremely well manicured hand. And a very well coiffured head, done to perfection weekly. Without fail.

In fact not snow, nor sleet, nor rain, nor any family calamity save the death of a close relative (very, very close relative) would interrupt their weekly beauty parlor appointment. Not many things could interrupt a beauty parlor appointment. That. Simply. Would. Not. Happen. And they all three used the same beauty parlor lady, they would pay and tip her the same amount (pre-agreed upon, and absolutely no diverting from the amount). Although my mother, being the strongest willed of the three, was known to break away from the hair-do herd and occasionally tip more to break into line if needed, or sneak off to try the new girl in town or go to New York or Atlanta for a fancier update or some other slight upsetting of the hairdo apple cart. One time later in life Mother and Mary Lou got into a huge fight when Mother switched beauticians without letting Mary Lou know. I don't recall the exact details, but they didn't speak for a while over that one. It was bad. Really bad.

The hairstyles of this generation of Southern women have been well documented and it's been said that the higher the hairdo the closer to God. This may have been the case with some southern women but not so with the middle class women of my mother's family. If their hair was too big or too high they might be thought of as one of those church folks who spoke in tongues or handled snakes. Now there's nothing wrong with that kind of religion but we were just plain ol' vanilla Methodists who didn't believe in anything all that religious except the religion of looking great from 11 to 12 Sunday morning and the gospel of getting out of Church no later than noon or we would get up and leave Church en masse. Seriously. I've heard this threat made to more than one long winded Methodist minister who has recently arrived to our church.

As important as religion is, we digress from the hallelujah chorus of southern hair. During one period of time Mother decided her graying hair should be dyed gold. Not blonde but gold. What the hell? She had a thing for gold jewelry - a big thing - so maybe that was her inspiration? I'm not sure but I asked her about it many times and she never could explain it to me probably because there is no explination. Her sisters in hair fashion placed their vote of no confidence by not following her golden lead - a first for the 3 of them who usually had similar looking heads with Mother normally leading the way. For a few years Mother was Sister GoldenHead Surprise - the 70's version of a funky James Bond Film. I tried to embarrass her into changing it by saying, "Could you dye your hair some color that's found somewhere in nature?!" but she was undeterred. I was at the smart ass teenage phase of life in those days. Some may suggest I'm still there at 59. Especially my mother.

I remember when I was a child our neighbor, Mrs. Thompson, dyed her hair a light shade of lavender and when I'd ask my mother about the odd color in front of Mrs. Thompson, she'd shush me and quickly push me out of the room. Now I understand why. Back then it seemed a very natural question to a 7 year old for a very unnatural hair color.

At the end of my grandmother's life, when she was in a nursing home and unable to speak or walk, I would visit her and her beautiful, vivid blue eyes would sparkle as I told her I was going to take her to the beauty parlor and then I'd push her wheelchair down to have her hair washed and curled and also have her nails done. She still loved that simple pleasure at the age of 98.

Sadly, my aunt had a massive stroke while sleeping at home, but ironically she'd had her hair done earlier the day before as if she had somehow knew what might be coming. She was freshly coiffed, so when the EMTs came to her house to take her to the hospital her hair would be in good shape. A girl has got to be prepared. She'd go to the hospital one last time - the same one her father had built fifty five years before and the same one where her husband had delivered thousands of babies and where she been so many times with both of them, with a perfect hairdo. So southern. So appropriate. So Mary Lou.

About a year before she died, Mary Lou called because she was very concerned about a problem with my mother, who was already living in a nursing home. She said it was terrible...something she hated to have to bother me with....but it couldn't wait...and she had to say it. I was sitting on the edge of my chair waiting for the worst as she informed me that the beauty parlor at mom's nursing home wasn't doing her hair correctly and I was going to have to drive her back from Tarboro to Wilson every week to get Judy, her hairdresser in Wilson, to do Mom's hair. Since Mom could no longer stand or even walk, that would have been quite an ordeal.

I started to object but Mary Lou continued undeterred, "But, Tom. A woman's hair is everything to her. It affects everything she does. It can make or break her entire day. If her hair is wrong, everything is wrong. Your mother just can't live the rest of her life with bad hair. It will make every day awful. She will be miserable. We have to do something. She cannot have bad hair. It will ruin her life!"

I was relieved it wasn't something worse but I lovingly explained I couldn't bring Mother back to Wilson once a week and if they put 30 braids in Mother's hair with pink plastic clips on the end, that would have to be OK. We both had a good laugh at the visual but she still believed with all her heart that Judy needed to be in charge of mom's head for the rest of time. Together we called the nursing home and had a talk about doing mom's hair a better way. Things improved and Mary Lou OKed Moms hair from there forward.

So now my aunt is gone and I'm the keeper of my mother's hair. Oh. My. God. Paying my mother's bills and taking care of her finances I can handle. Buying the supplies at Costco and delivering them to Tarboro-no problem. Dealing with the nursing home and help-easy. Going over regularly for visits-a piece of cake. The hair and nails....that's a big one. A really big job. I need Mary Lou!!!

Some days when it's time for her appointment mom doesn't want to get up to go to the beauty parlor but her sister's words are ringing loudly in my ears as I encourage and cajole her to get up and go. My mother was always so proud of her appearance. OK, vain is more like it. She always wanted to look her best and she always did. She wanted to always be the best. So I have to be loving and kind and say something every loving son would say:

"Mother, look at yourself in the mirror. Do you want to look like that for another week?! Hell no. Your sister and mother will come back and kill us both if you hair looks like that for 6 more days. And your permanent is gone. It's time for you to find a boyfriend. There's gonna be someone for you at the cocktail hour this afternoon. I'm sure of it. Girls in wheelchairs are in this year. Get up and get going! We've gotta get your hair done."

She perks up a little, laughs and cusses at me in that endearing way she always has. Her aid helps her as she slowly gets up to get ready to do what she's done once a week for every week of her adult life. She's the last one of her family posse left to do the weekly beauty parlor appointment. In a few hours her hair will be washed, permed, curled and coiffed and she'll be good to go for another week. And her mother and sister would be very happy. And I'm happy. And most of all, she'll be happy. And life goes on. As it should. As it always will.


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