Memorial Day: A ‘Hair’ Piece (Part 2)

Alice and I were two of four daughters growing up in the 1960s when hair was a revolution. My mother’s practical and aesthetic notions of hair were of the previous generation. She preferred our hair bobbed and easy to care for, and since we inherited her thin, fine locks, that was what often looked best on us. Somehow Alice managed to get permission to grow hers long when the rest of us didn’t. Since there was more of it, it seemed thicker, more luxurious than mine. I begged to be allowed to brush it, comb it, braid it, style it and pet it. It was a special bonding time between us, and my affection for Alice was cemented during the hours I spent grooming her. Our other sister competed for this opportunity for devotion as well. We sometimes quarreled over who would be allowed this privilege. Alice enjoyed arranging hair as well, and learned how to cut it, too. She cut our brother’s hair and our father’s hair. When she died, at the age of 20, this task was passed on to me. The summer that she died, she also cut my boyfriend’s hair. I swept it off the porch and stuffed it in a red, heart-shaped pillow I made. Jim became my husband 4 and a half years later.


Alice and Mike - summer 1979

Alice and Mike – summer 1979

Jim’s hair was a true marvel, not just to me, but to everyone who knew him. It was thick, curly, blond and the crowning glory of this California dream man. In his late teens, he had the “surfer dude” look: in the humidity of the ocean air, a front lock would fall down on his forehead just like Superman’s. When he took a job in the 80s, it was shorter, casually parted in the center, and more like Huey Lewis’. He didn’t have to use “product” to achieve that decade’s big hair, while I was perming and mousse-ing like crazy. As he aged, he very gradually acquired some gray strands at the temples. He died at the age of 47 of heart disease and complications from diabetes. Our priest remarked at observing his body in the funeral parlor, “Look at his hair – barely gray and still as stylish as a Ken doll.”

 Jim in England

My father died of Alzheimer’s disease two years later. He was thirty years older than Jim ever got to be, his emphatically straight hair a dazzling white. As a young man at IBM, he parted his hair to one side and kept it meticulously short and neat. When he moved to California, he began to comb it straight back from his forehead and let it grow a little longer in back. As a teenager, I would cut it for him while he sat on the redwood deck in the back yard. I only needed to even the ends at his neck and trim around his ears. As the clippings fell to the boards at his feet, he would reflect on the change in the color mixture. Each year, more gray and white, less dark brown. The most wonderful aspect of cutting my father’s hair was that I was allowed to touch him, to smooth and caress his noble head. This was as intimate and affectionate as I could imagine being with him, and it was like knowing God to me.


Grandpa George

Grandpa George

My daughter Susan visited me the other day. It was our Mother’s Day and Master’s Graduation celebration, in a way, but really just a lovely, rainy day to be together, talk about her upcoming wedding, do a jigsaw puzzle, cook a meal, drink martinis and listen to jazz. And play with her hair. When she was in high school, I would fashion her hair into an “up-do” for proms and homecoming dances. I could probably do a decent job for her wedding day; why pay an expensive stylist? We began to experiment. Her silky soft, light brown hair felt like her baby’s locks in my hand. The wispy ends of a layered cut growing out gave the outline of that toddler hair I remember so well, framing her youthful, round cheeks. The tactile experience of this person whom I love stays with me, in my mind and memory, in my fingers, in my heart. I will have wedding photos soon to go along with the graceful curl in her baby book and the little red heart pillow, strands of love and memories woven together over time. A satisfying memorial, to my mind.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss

Photo credit: my little brother, aged 7.  I set the shot up for him on my Canon AE-1 (a gift from Jim) and asked him to do this favor for me so that I'd have a picture to take away to college.  What 7 year old kid would take a photo of his big sister kissing her boyfriend?  A sweet, generous one.  Thanks, David.  Always grateful.

Photo credit: my little brother, aged 7. I set the shot up for him on my Canon AE-1 (a gift from Jim) and asked him to do this favor for me so that I’d have a picture to take away to college in 1980.

January 7, 1984

January 7, 1984

July 3, 1992.  Recovering from open heart surgery.  Mom tries to kiss it better.

July 3, 1992. Recovering from open heart surgery. Mom tries to kiss it better.

December 2008.  Eyes wide open.

December 2008. Eyes wide open.

The Kiss.  What a photo challenge!  How do you participate in a kiss and take a picture at the same time?  Or if you’re not participating in the kiss, why are you photographing it?   Are staged kisses different from spontaneous ones?  Should kisses be documented, or should they be private?  How many kiss photographs do I even have in digital format?

Well, that last one became the deciding factor.  I have others in hard copy of my kids being kissed: as babies, on birthdays, at graduation and that kind of thing.  I even have one of Hershey’s kisses that my husband arranged on the floor in a heart for the anniversary of our first kiss.  These few tell a timely story, though.  Five years ago today was the last day I kissed my husband.  It was the day after Valentine’s Day.  We went out to dinner at a local bar & grill, came home and watched TV, kissed each other good night and fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  The clue to ‘why?’ is in the third photo.  What’s different about the fourth photo?  Different guy…and my eyes are open.  Thirty years with Jim, full of youth and fairy tale and children and love and kisses, and I was often dreamy and often afraid.  Four years with Steve, and I’m learning to face things, be aware, and take greater responsibility.  Intimacy is even better when you’re fully awake.  IMHO.

Oh, You Kid!

I spent a lovely afternoon with my daughter yesterday.  Despite being in grad school and already a real adult, she still has a wonderfully childlike nature.  I was waiting for her in the park on the square, and she managed to park her car and sneak from tree to tree without me noticing her, in order to come up from behind and grab me in an ambush hug.  Needless to say, she makes me smile and feel like a kid myself.  We wandered over to Aztalan State Park, where the wide open spaces were calling to me.  When I was a child, my dad used to take me to the Morton Arboretum.  I’d see fields of dandelions and expanses of grass that made me break out into a run, or a gallop, or a skip.  I just had to propel myself into the middle of that lush landscape, wishing I were a wild bird so that I could skim over the entire scene.  What happened to that energy, that joyous surge?  I still feel it in my brain, although the rest of me is greatly slowed down.  I invite you to step into this place as if you were 7 years old again….how does it feel to you?