From my childhood, I retain the image of my mother’s date book. It scheduled her days and chronicled her life: Saturday night dinner dances, birthdays of fringe relatives and friends’ cats. One entry was habitual and sacred, expressed by only one mighty four-letter word. Next to the Friday 3 p.m. time slot was inscribed “hair.”
The tone and tenor of Friday dinner was set by the outcome of the hair appointment and ranged from breezy to stormy. And the remaining six days of each week were dedicated to tending to the product of Friday’s main event. My mother pushed, prodded, teased and rearranged her coif, emitting grunts and groans audible through clouds of hairspray. No adult in my home smoked, for fear of sparking a lacquer-fueled fireball.
I don’t know how much of my childhood passed before I realized that washing the coif with soap and water occurred but once weekly—Friday at 3 p.m. Perhaps my biggest clue was my mother poking a pen, pencil or screwdriver far into the hair helmet to scratch a scalp itch, her expression transforming from agony to ecstasy.
My view of my mother’s hair dimmed along with the rest of my eyesight a couple decades ago. Now I rely on reports, which indicate that my mother has retained the quasi-bouffant poofy do with occasional “perms” from Larry, the itinerant stylist who invades my mother’s building. Larry is 90, a contemporary of my mother, and deeply rooted in the Jackie Kennedy model coif. He likely regards the building’s clientele with sixty years’ worth of wish fulfillment.
My mother has a weekly appointment with Larry, not on Fridays at 3, but on Tuesdays at 9. That is, until the Corona virus swept away all that is sacred. Larry unessential? Wrong!
During the six weeks without Larry, my mother occasionally referred to her hair as “needing a little attention.” After five and a half weeks’ contemplation, she sprang into action. When her Monday morning helper arrived for her weekly duties, my mother brought attention to that burning topic with hints, implications and innuendo. She inquired into Kathy’s hair-washing regimen: did she do it herself, with which shampoo, how often and how many times did she lather and rinse? Kathy, in turn, offered to run to Walgreens and purchase some shampoo, which she did. Then the two women sat at the dining table with the shampoo as the centerpiece and…regarded it…as if it were a religious artifact. As Kathy’s three-hour stint wore on, Kathy broke the silence with, “Would you like me to wash your hair?”
The decision made, logistics were evaluated, sinks measured, chairs arranged, surfaces prepared, towels fluffed and, voila, the deed was done. But, without that Touch of Larry, my mother wore the Garbo Helmet rather than the Jackie bouffant. Someone had let the air out of her topping.
But, by God, it was clean! It smelled herbal! It shone! It felt like silk! It didn’t itch like there was an ant farm on her head! Oh, sweet release! My mother removed her pillow case and slipped on a fresh one. Kathy palmed the old one on her way out, intending to boil or burn it.
My mother remains “careful” to minimize any coif damage produced at the intersection of hair and bedding. She has returned her kit of long-handled head-scratching implements to the kitchen drawers and tool box.
Now that the Governor has extended the Stay-at-Home” order for another four weeks, the question looms unposed: when’s my mother’s next shampoo? Has a new frontier been crossed, an old ritual set aside? Is shampooing now “as needed” or does “Thou shalt not touch…except on Tuesdays” endure? Does shampooing remain for the “help” or has my mother seized the power, that Do It Yourself spirit? Or will Larry become an “essential” person in the eyes of the State? Time and personality will tell and, thanks to the Governor, we’ve got thirty more days to find out.