I’m straying from the subjects of reading and writing and critiquing this morning. Please indulge me these few nostalgic moments as I’ve thought about my grandmother often of late. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m in my sixties now and the grandmother of five, or because my body’s changing. Yet again. Specifically, my hair. Although it still hangs well below my shoulders, the texture is coarser now, and my hair lacks the auburn highlights and sheen that drew praise from strangers when I was in my twenties and thirties.
And I am not speaking from vanity's viewpoint, mind you. I'm simply stating an irritating fact.
Hence, my ambling thoughts. I remember walking in on my Grandma Minnie one warm July evening. I guess I was eight or so then. She sat at her dressing table in the small bedroom in the simple wood-frame house overlooking a busy highway outside Trinity, Texas.
She always wore her silvery brown hair braided — at least that’s the only way I ever saw it, or remember seeing it — the woven cord of hair wrapped around her head like a silky crown and held in place with a few scrawny, black hair pins. This particular night, she sat on a bench and ran a brush through tresses cascading to her butt.
Closing my eyes, I recall the moment as if it's still in motion. I hear the crickets serenade from flourishing beds of roses and day-lilies outside her open window. I feel the sultry breeze as it breaches thin cotton curtains sewn from emptied flour sacks. I drink in the tinny smell from the bottomless tanks of minnows and earth worms my grandfather sells to weekend fishermen, and the tang reminds me of old nickels.
I must’ve gasped because Grandma Minnie looked up and smiled at me in the mirror’s reflection. It’s funny the moments we remember. The tenderness. Minnie Tullos’ gentle, all-encompassing smile lit her face like a welcoming beacon, and the love reflected there warmed me to the soles of my bare feet.
I only spent three weeks of one summer with my maternal grandparents, but I remember each day of those weeks as one of my childhood's best. My mother died when I was not quite two, and my stepmother had trouble relinquishing control.
But that’s another story . . .
Back to the point of my blog, and why hair plays such an important part in this snippet of melancholy. Grandma Minnie had a stroke in her late sixties, you see. My grandfather was forced to release this women he so clearly loved to the care of others. Paralyzed on one side and relegated to a wheelchair, my grandmother was moved to a nursing home on the outskirts of town.
I remember my first visit there. The shock at seeing her long hair cut in a short bob. More suitable to the care she required, but still shocking. It pains me now, all these long years later, to think how traumatic that moment must’ve been for this strong, self-reliant woman. That first snip of the scissors. How she must’ve looked in the mirror as the women fawned over her and worried what my grandfather would think, while she thanked them for their trouble with her perpetual grace, and smiled.
Grandma Minnie was a tall, big-boned woman. A woman who never pampered herself or spent time with a stylist or set foot inside a hair salon; a woman who, with Grandpa Fred, worked the land they cherished relentlessly.
She never wore fancy dresses or shimmering gowns. But, in her youth, Minnie Tullos’ hair was her glory.
Though I’m certain the hair-cutting juncture was handled with the utmost kindness — the staff at the home were always kind — I wish I’d been there. To stroke Grandma Minnie’s hand. To tell her the length of her hair didn’t matter and how pretty she looked. To fuss over her; to convince her that hair is just hair. It doesn’t define us.
But I wasn’t. I was a young mother, tending to home and husband and children. And . . . a wish is just a wish.
So, as I look in the mirror each morning and my once silken hair takes on that wild Gilda Radner Rosanne Rosannadanna look, I’ll say those words to myself. “Hair is just hair, Sharon. It doesn’t define you.”
Then I’ll think of Grandma Minnie with a pang of sadness, a twinge of regret — and smile.