For years, my sister blamed me because her hair wouldn’t grow in the front. It wasn’t my fault; I was only ten when I took the marcel iron to her hair to give her bangs. And she’d let me do it. It never occurred to me that her hair wouldn’t grow back. You see, I’d wanted bangs, and I’d watched Sister Brummett do them at the beauty shop, and my ten-year-old self figured I could do it too. I just needed to practice, and who better to practice on than my little sister? Mama had a straightening comb and marcel iron, but I didn’t want her to do it. She always burned my ears or the back of my neck.
“Be still! That didn’t hurt.”
I’d scrunch down in the chair in front of the hot stove holding my ear with a towel, figuring that I’d rather have burnt fingers than burnt ears.
“Grandma Austin always blows on it. Can’t you blow on it too?”
“Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
I’d hated getting my hair done. It was thick and coarse and at one point, I got it straightened every night. It would swell up in the morning due to the Georgia heat and humidity, so in order to keep me looking like somebody loved me, mama would warm comb it every night. Only her warm comb was really hot, and I really didn’t care about looking like somebody loved me, I just wanted bangs, and the only way to get them was to get my hair straightened. A few years later, mama let our neighbor Lorraine give me a French perm (I still don’t know what that means), and I could have bangs anytime I wanted. Only by that time, I didn’t want bangs anymore, I wanted Debbie Allen waves, or bouncy feathered hair like Janet Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes. I had neither.
In later years, my best friend Peaches’ mom Miss Ruby usually did my hair, and while I was mainly concerned with healthy, strong hair, Peaches was always talking me into doing something crazy. One time, I cut it all off and had to go to the barber shop every week to keep it lined up. Another time I decided that I wanted a red streak, and fried my bangs with peroxide and bleach. It grew back. It always does, which is why when I decided to cut all my hair off last year, I wasn’t worried about it. What I didn’t count on was having a head full of gray hair before I turned 50.
Ok, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t have a head full of gray hair, but definitely more than I thought I’d have at this age (47). I’ve had gray hair for a long time. Well, silver really. Miss Ruby found one little silver hair right in the middle of my head when I was 21. When I expressed a little concern she said, “Don’t pull it out, or ten more will grow back!” I knew that was unlikely, but I left the lonely silver strand alone.
More recently though, I’ve noticed more and more silver strands. They didn’t bother me much until a few months ago. I was at the beauty shop in Edith’s chair (she’s been my stylist for about ten years), and she was putting the finishing touches on my hair. The lady waiting at the shampoo bowl said, “Oh wow, look at that salt and pepper hair!” I looked around, wondering who she was talking about. Slowly, it dawned on me that I was the lady with the salt and pepper hair. I was mortified. How had this happened? I’d always thought that salt and pepper hair was sexy as hell on mature women. Had I become one of those women? Yes, yes I had. While the sexy is in the eyes of the beholder, there’s no doubt that I’ve reached the age of maturity and that the hair has gone from dark brown to salt and pepper.
I’ve embraced the transition. I’ve got gray in my eyebrows and at least once a month, I pluck a silver hair from the side of my neck. I joke with my mom that I have more gray than she does and it’s true. She still gets her hair colored, but I refuse to cover my silver hair. I rather like it, and I think the short hair cut just accentuates the salt in my salt and pepper hair. I still love to experiment with my hair, (although I’ve given up on the bangs), and believe it or not, my sister still asks me to do her hair when I go home. Her hair has grown back, but every now and then she’ll remind me that I’m the reason she was bald in front until 11th grade.