Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beautifying G'ma

Her hair is longer than I've ever seen it on her head.  As a girl, her mom turned her auburn curls into Shirley Temple ringlets that fell down her back, impressing her friends and causing a minor uproar at home.  Her dad was a committed Socialist and wondered why his little girl was trying to be more special than all the other little girls in the neighborhood.  She remembers the argument.  She also remembers loving her curls.

As a young woman, posing for photos with her going-off-to-war brother, the shop owner asked if he could take one just of her.  He wanted it for the display in his window.  She remembers being surprised by herself every time she walked past the store.  Putting herself out there was not her style. Enjoying the celebrity was not how she spent her days. Still, she sits up a little straighter and smiles just a little brighter when she looks at this photo, some seventy years after it was taken

She was a stunner.  There's no doubt about it.

Now, nearing 90, she sits in the comfy leather chair to my right, waiting patiently for her turn at Jesse's station.  He's the perfect stylist; the compliments pour out of his mouth the moment he sees her.  "Hello, gorgeous!  Just look at you! You look fabulous!  And your hair... just look at your hair... it's so long.... don't you like coming to see me any more?"  She's caught up in his enthusiasm before she remembers why she's here.

Jesse's tall and handsome and charming.  G'ma is small and wrinkly and snarky.  They are a delightful pair.  I sit across the salon, watching him create order out of chaos.  He doesn't mind asking the same questions a dozen times.  He doesn't make her feel inadequate.  The first time he cut her hair,  she reminded him that she was older and wiser and knew just what she wanted. He told her that was fine. They were tentative around each other, using me as an intermediary.

Now she scoots her butt back in the shampoo chair, the two of them laughing at her inability to move gracefully and his reluctance to call her ass her ass. She used the word, teasing his propriety and accepting his arm gracefully.  She doesn't dwell on what she's lost; she accepts it as reality and deals with it.

I am so going to school on being an old person right now.
Everyone agrees that her hair is gorgeous.  It's thick and wavy and a shade of gold and grey that no bottle could ever produce.  She used to use a bluing rinse - a term that confused me terribly when I was a child - but now she manages to squeeze out a dollop of Matrix shampoo once a week and feels satisfied.  Vanity was never her style; clean and neat was always enough.

Hair in her eyes is annoying; hair on her shoulders is noticeable.  "Do you like it?"  "I don't dislike it.... what do you think?  You decide."  And so, I do.  A bit of layering, lots of trimming in front and over her ears so she's not annoyed by stray strands, and enough length so that she'll have something to style for the wedding. Even if she can't remember that it's my daughter who will be a bride in four months, her eyes light up at the thought of a party.  "You'll be gorgeous," we tell her. "You're such liars... but you can keep talking,"  is her reply.

And the truth is, she'll be gorgeous in my eyes and frighteningly old in hers.  The staff at the pod-castle all agree that she has the most beautiful skin; all she sees are the wrinkles.  Her blue eyes sparkle as she catches  a grammatical mistake; they still work is her response to the compliment on their beauty.

This is not now nor ever has been a woman who spent a lot of time on how she looked or on how she was put together.Changing fashions meant nothing to her.  Maureen, who cut her hair for 35 years before retiring and leaving her bereft, created the same style over and over again, year after year, every six weeks.  It was just how she looked.

Muscle memory allowed her to recreate it when we could find a stylist who could give her the basics, but then even that began to disappear.  For a while, her hair was a mess. I couldn't find anyone who would follow the contours of her head and the desires of her hair.  They tried to make her something she was not.  Both she and her tresses resisted mightily. It was a long haul until we found "the one."

It's not only technique that counts, as anyone who has ever frequented a salon will attest.  It's the interpersonal chemistry that seals the deal.  She may be a transplanted Brooklynite and he a Mexican-American hunk-and-a-half, but they light up the sky as they delight one another  "How're you feeling?" Jesse asks and I begin to laugh even before she replies, as I knew she would, "With my fingers!" 

Best of all, he's no where near retirement.

She's clacking her dentures and napping as he cuts, waking when he talks then dropping off when he's concentrating on the cut.  She knows what to do while she's in his chair and I smile as I relax into mine.  For this moment in time, she's a competent adult, taking care of business.  She knows that she wants the curls out of her face.  She doesn't want to take a lot of time to deal with her hair.  She wants it neat and not in her way.  Jesse's happy to oblige.
Washed and blown dry and hair sprayed, with just the right amount of product (none) to seal the deal, she smiles at her reflection in the mirror. Knowing that Jesse will be there in September to recreate the perfect pageboy takes all the tension out of the little voice in the back of my head, the one that's wondering if I will be able to do it for her on the big day.

It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a talented stylist to groom my mom. I'm so glad I found him.


  1. What an amazing love letter to two phenomenal people.

    Well done!


  2. He is in charge of all of our hair! An I am thrilled to say we are in excellent hands:).

    I loved this entry. So much.

  3. Loved this post too! :) If you find a good stylist, don't EVER give them up. I made the mistake of getting my hair cut last summer at Hair Cuttery. My daughter was getting her hair cut and I was waiting; so I thought why not? I cried afterwards. My hair looked awful. I have a stylist I've seen for the past eight years. I immediately went in to see him two days later so he could fix the damage. Hubby asked me what possessed me to go to someone else when I love my regular stylist. Learned a valuable lesson. Don't ever settle for second best--especially when it comes to your hair.

    Love Jesse's pink tie and shoes. G'ma looks beautiful.

    Megan xxx

  4. I am glad you all liked reading this post as much as I liked writing it. I do so love my mommy :)

  5. Ashleigh, My mom is 90 years old too and she goes to the hairstylist at her assisted living residence all the time. It's like she is a kid in a candy store. The last time we visited her, my sis and I almost didn't recognize her with her new hairstyle. Your mom looks great for her age. And of course, I love her hair.

  6. Judi, G'ma was as stunned as I was by her new look. So glad your mom is getting the glam on, too <3

  7. Exactly what a fantastic adore notice in order to 2 extraordinary individuals.


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