A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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sees the old woman — wheelchair bound, pushed by her daughter — glance
out the window, and goes in back
to fetch a shower cap. The woman tugs her daughter’s shirt and says, almost
inaudibly, It’s raining.
And it is raining. Barely. But clearly it wouldn’t take much rain to collapse
the woman’s hair back
to what it must have looked like when she came in here — that is, not so much
hair as the gray wisps
hair turns into if you live long enough. Without a word, the hairdresser
begins fitting the shower cap
atop the woman’s head, going around the edge with her pointer finger,
one by one tucking in curls
like a pastry chef piping rose after rose around the bottom of a cake, the frosting
flowers almost magical, blooming
in pink blush. When the hairdresser steps away, the woman’s hand lifts
to feel the cap there,
and her daughter asks too loudly, You’re all right now, Ma? And I wonder,
should I feel hope
that there exists, anywhere in the world, compassion for an old woman’s curls,
that she’ll arrive back
at the facility, perm intact, that some aide may carefully remove the cap,
letting her have a day or two
of however hair returns her to herself? Or is it something else I should feel —
that life unravels into such bathetic necessity, sprayed, teased, and blow-dried
to prop up an animal
surely near its final days? And then I recall, from the seat where I await
my haircut, that my own mother
had her grayed, chemo-thinned hair cut two weeks before the cancer
took her, and that, when we said
how good she looked, she smiled sardonically but seemed to sit a little higher
against the pillows
she was propped on. Though she couldn’t lift herself, not even to eat,
she seemed to rise.
Benjamin S. Grossberg
Benjamin S. Grossberg’s poem “The Hairdresser” [July 2020] made me think of my mom, who passed away last year at the age of eighty-nine. Two months before she died, I took her on her last trip to her hairdresser, Darlene.
Since my mom had lost her independence and was at an assisted-living facility, the weekly trip to the hairdresser had become a focal point on her calendar. And even though my mom was not one to talk much about personal issues, Darlene had become an important confidante.
Although my mom’s hair was wispy, Darlene was able to puff it up, and she left with some sense of normality in her life.