The Meaning of Hair in My Life
For years, I did not think hairdos very important. My mother was always after me: “A little brushing would help,” she’d say. Always. For near the end of her life at the hospital before a serious surgery, when I held her hand and knelt at her side, she said, “There’s a hair brush in my purse.”
That said, standing in the shower today and washing out my hair stylist’s nice work because my hair was dirty, I began to remember the talented hair-doers in my life. And to realize that the truly talented man or woman who can cut and style hair to accentuate the beauty of a face and head, is a rare find. That person is an artist, a sculptor of live matter, which one could argue is, although impermanent, a harder feat than sculpting clay.
I inherited the first talented stylist in my life from my mother, bless her heart. When Mother moved away from home to go to college, she found Mr. Johnson, who could successfully tame her curly mass. I was in eighth grade when my grandmother stopped cutting my hair and I went to Mr. Johnson. I was at that awkward adolescent stage: skinny as a stick; hair long, stringy and straight; nose bulging outward; eyebrows resembling large fuzzy black caterpillars; pointy chin. He took a quick gander, smiling calmly, and said, “You need height—here.” And put his hand up, touching the top back of my noggin. “Would you like to try a short cut?”
I nodded. He cut. At school the next day, kids oohed and aahed. I felt like a real person again, instead of a worm.
Mr. Johnson retired the next week.
The females in my family eventually discovered a man and salon half a block from Mr. Johnson’s old location. The new stylist was Turkish and had come to the city to study engineering at the university. He took up hair cutting to help pay his expenses. His engineering eye was put to use: he was a geometric genius. He gave up the college degree, kept cutting hair, and grew an empire. My mother called him Mike the Turk, which for her was a term of great respect. He was a very quiet man, gentle of demeanor, with a fine mustache, and a beautiful Turkish wife who sometimes sat near in her perfect hair.
After Michael’s engineering, people would say to me, “Wow, great cut! You look like Cleopatra!”
He cut my hair from the time I was thirteen until I was twenty-nine, when he soured on American life and moved his family back to Turkey. My mother told me he was going to help an uncle run a paper factory. “But how are we going to go on without him?” she said.
There followed a mediocre period, until a housemate directed me to Tony, who had been a professional ice skater at one point. Tony was a slim thoughtful type who knew how to cut a diagonal and put the leap back into my do. During my sessions, he and I often talked about writing because his wife was a writer. Sadly, after a few years, we lost Tony to AIDS.
There was a feeling-lost-and-looking-for-the-right-person phase.
I married and moved to the country for nine years, and my husband and I cut each other’s hair to save money and fuss.
When we made the big move to Verona, Italy, I was ready for a change and I chanced on Severo. He was a charmer, a small man with a substantial salon and a boutique price. I told him I had had a long dry spell; he could see my hair looked like an old-fashioned mop.
“Can you do it really short?” I asked.
With a flourish he began, and the salon’s eight hair cutters and gofers stopped what they were doing and stood at the sidelines holding their breaths, as the floor filled with my locks. Voilà! I was transformed by that pixie cut—it made me a vera Veronesa. A real Italian. I had style with a capital S.
Alas, we were in Italy only one year. We next moved to Switzerland where I mispronounced the French word for hair and told a man named Bernard to cut my horses.
Then we packed our possessions one more time, got on a ship and docked in England. And here in a backwater, after a year of disastrous English results, just down the street in my small town, I unearthed Jayme.
Jayme is my first female haircutter. She is a lively chatter-friend, tall and slender, who did Fine Arts at A Levels; a determined young woman who has not had an easy life. She has taught me that bangs are called fringe in the UK, and much more. She cuts my entire family’s hair, and after she cuts mine and styles it, when I meet acquaintances on the street, they say, “Your hair looks nice.” And they give it a second look, a stare, and say, “Oh, your hair is so beautiful. Oh!”
Last week, Jayme texted. “I am moving to Loughborough. I will be happier there in a different salon. I appreciate your custom and would love you to follow me but I understand if you can’t. Love, J.”
The answer of course: We’ll follow her! Over the hill and through the woods, if necessary!
To read more of Laura Grevel’s work, click here for A Texas Ranching Adventure.
And click here to read Turning 40 at a Tupperware Party.