Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To Cut a Long Story Short

"Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. Most things are judged by their jackets."
-Baltasar Gracian

When I was sixteen I took some rather important exams at school; on the eve of the results I said to Mater that I wished to have my hair cut. The cut was to be as significant as the event that called for it: no here-and-there snips for me, but a serious shearing of hair.
At that time it was long enough to tumble down my back. I requested a clipping that would leave my hair at just above shoulder length.
Mater hesitated that evening, and she frowned, but bravely set to work.
I was full of optimism as I perched on a wooden chair in the warm kitchen, as the scent of dinner was fading away with evening.
We are still uncertain, so many years later, how Mater was able to bring my hair length to my earlobe with just two random slashes of the scissors. A jagged incision, at that, and one which I only discovered by looking into my mother's eyes. Those eyes could not hide the truth, certainly not when they were brimming with unshed water.
Chunks of my hair floated to the kitchen floor in exaggerated slow motion.
Mater had made some sort of ghastly mistake and left me stranded with a crooked edge of hair that was irreparable- at least before school the next morning. It was no ordinary school-day, either, but on the very occasion that I was to join a new class one week later than my classmates. All eyes would have been fixed on me anyway, an intruder striding awkwardly into a classroom full of people who had already assigned themselves companions for life.
My lack of decent hair- and self-awareness of such- would without doubt cement my status for the rest of the school year and quite likely beyond.
Mater wept then, and professed her deep regret at ever touching my head with a blade, and vowed never again to listen to me when I asked for a haircut.
I understood that she would have traded places gladly with me as I set off for school the next morning with dread in my heart, the artfully tucked-in wisps of hair betraying me in the cruel breeze.
I could hardly be angry at my mother.
If it were a kinder world, my hairstyle would not have mattered to my classmates, and therefore not to me either. Mater had tried her humble best, and I tried mine to remember this: people are more than their hair, more than their outward appearance. We too often turn away without scratching the surface of our fellow men, and so much potentiality drifts away like stray hairs on a breath of wind.
Indeed, there were lessons that night, for both Mater and I.


Beth said...

This certainly brought junior high feelings right back up to the surface. I'm so sorry for the young you, but expect that the inner strength you leaned on in that episode is part of what makes you so very strong and special today. Most of us have been there and would never want to go back! Your poor mother--she probably still feels your pain.

Delena said...

This too brought back memories.I think I was 6 or 7 when I decided I just had to get my hair cut. I couldn't go to a hair stylist though I had to go to the barber with my dad. Why he let me sit in that barber chair I really don't know...My hair was so short that I put on a baseball cap and hid in my closet for almost a day until my cousin dragged me out. After that I really can't remember much more about this haircut. I do know I never went to a barber again!
I love your writing. You have a way with words that draw me in.

hele said...

Oh, what a beautiful and moving story.

When we were little my sister decided to play hairdresser on my head after which the real hairdresser had to clip what was left shorter than most of the boys in my class. I also mourned my hair for a long time after.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Beth, thank you. Everything you said is so thoughtful, especially about feeling sorry for the young me... I do think it made a difference to me, in how I regarded what others think of me.
I feel worse for Mater now, as she remembers it more sadly.

Del, Thanks for your good words about my writing. Oh, dear- how awful that you felt you had to wear a hat to cover it! There's nothing worse than being so young and having to hide in a closet for how your hairstyle turned out...

Hele, I can well imagine that you mourned your hair. How sad... having hair shorter than boys- not beneficial to popularity ratings, I fear... I love your words: "the REAL hairdresser..." -that made me smile in an otherwise sad story!

Jaime said...

I often wonder where children and teens acquire such cruelty. If someone is different in any way, they become a target. I suppose it's fear, but that doesn't make it any easier for those that are singled out.
My heart goes out to you and Mater. Thank goodness hair keeps growing! Could you imagine if hair was like teeth and after a certain time it just stopped growing??

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Jaime, I never thought of it like that! You always have a refreshing way to look at things. I suppose if hair didn't grow back, people would become accustomed to having less emphasis on hair... perhaps. We can't be sure. Interesting thought ;)

I agree with you- people aren't very good at accepting differences in others, children especially.

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