When I was young, the kitchen sink served as the shampoo bowl and my mom performed the duties of the technician. My mom’s ideas about haircare for a young girl were very basic and that was probably because her skill set was very basic. She cleansed my hair and conditioned it. Once it was dry, she would sit me in a chair and she would perch herself on a bar stool and get the stove warmed up for the pressing comb. I used to wish she would straighten my hair and put some curls in it. Nope. She would straighten it, then part it down the middle and put it into two pigtails. I had a permanent part down the middle of my head from wearing this same hairstyle every day for years. She did allow me to choose what color hair bobs I would wear or if I would wear any at all. I used to wish she would consistently send me to a beautician at a real shop. Unfortunately for me, trips to the beauty shop and hairstyles with any type of curl or wave were reserved for special occasions like weddings and Easter. I think fancy hair completed the lace and patent leather shoes I wore for those special occasions.
I remember when she decided that I would begin regular beauty shop appointments with her friend who my daddy called “the hairdresser.” The hairdresser lived in the neighborhood down the street. In the discussion about why she decided that I should go to the beauty shop, my mom said something about learning that she had a pinched nerve in her left hand and because of it she burned my hair. She said she never wanted to do that again. What the what? You burned my hair? Well, I really didn’t know how she knew she burned it and I wondered whether anyone else could tell that she burned it. At any rate, I was excited about the announcement that I would be going to the beauty shop every other week. “Yes!” I thought. This was a time for celebration until I realized that she was in cahoots with the beautician and the permanent part would possibly be there the rest of my life. Shampoo, condition, dry, press and part it down the middle. Shampoo, condition, dry, press and part it down the middle. Really?! Yes, really. Every other week my mother and the beautician achieved the goal of healthy hair with age-appropriate styling.
I was definitely my mother’s child because I was pretty limited in the hair styling business myself. I found myself filling my daughter’s head with pigtails wrapped with cute, colorful hair bobs and bows. When she was about three, we used to sit at least twice a week and watch the movie “Jungle Book” while we did hair. We would collect the bucket of hair bows, the comb, the brush, a pillow or a kid-sized chair for her to sit on, and some snacks. It was quite a production, but it was necessary. We knew all of the songs from the movie and we sang and quoted movie lines while I did hair.
I think it was middle school when she made it know that she was not hearing the healthy hair, age appropriate styling talk. I reminded her often that I was not a skilled “hair dresser” and that someday a beauty shop would be a necessary part of her life if she wanted diversity in hair styling. As much as she did not want to spend her time in a beauty shop, she was forced to go through the rite of passage that is the African American beauty shop experience. She quickly learned that she could get some homework done or pretend to look at hair design books like the other women in there who were really eavesdropping on the other conversations happening in the shop. And, in the age of cell phones and text messaging, we engaged in text message conversations about whether certain wives tales were really true or why somebody didn’t comb out their curls before leaving the shop or the day that women in the shop realized Miss So and So had a weave. We can share each other’s beauty shop experiences from many states away because of the cell phone. The camera phone enhanced the beauty shop experience by allowing us to share pictures of our new do’s. I have even been able to keep in touch with my favorite beautician in the Midwest when my girl was in her chair.
I am proud to say that my daughter demonstrated more hair skills than I do. She has done a pretty good job with her own hair. But, she ain’t no technician. One of the best family memories we have relates to the evening my husband was preparing for work and announced that he needed somebody to give him “a line.” I was usually the one to give the line, but that evening our daughter said, “Oh, let me do it.” To my surprise, he said, “Ok. C’mon.” What?! I followed them into the bathroom so that I could witness her coming of age moment. She was about to perform one of the most important hair care rituals for African American men (or at least the one’s I know) – “lining him up.” The hair cut is not complete and the look isn’t fresh if the edges are not crisp.
“So, where do you want me to put the line,” she asked. He said, “Right here” as he pointed to a spot just behind his right ear and even with the top of the ear. She said, “Ok” and prepared to give him a line. I left the room for some reason and when I returned I saw the line going across the back of his head stretching from the top of the left ear to the top of the right ear. Oh my gosh! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I wondered what was going through his mind as he sat there when she made the first cut and he knew there was no going back. How did he sit there and let her meticulously cut that line across the back of his head on a level up near the crown of his head instead of near the nape of his neck? She was proud of her work and he apparently didn’t have the heart to tell her to stop. He let her work her barbering magic on his head knowing that he had to report to work within hours. All I could do was laugh out loud. I think my laughter was the first signal to her that something was bad wrong with the line. She stopped and said, “I did what he said.” Yes, she literally did what he said. Then, she said, “I was just trying to help.” Laugh out loud. Oh wow! He never made her feel bad for the barbering mishap, but it was clear that she needed to direct her energy toward being a good student because she was not showing much potential as a barber. It was a good thing that her daddy had time to shave his face and his head before reporting to work.