The Meaning of Hair in My Life

Woman blow drying her hair

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.

13 thoughts on “The Meaning of Hair in My Life

  1. Thank you for sending this. I will respond in a longer fashion when I am not in the middle of classes in another town. It is great. I never knew hardly anything about you when we were in the same town! I love your experiences. They are so detailed and hilarious sometimes. Nat


  2. Thanks for your reaction, Natalie! I guess there are so many details about a person’s life that it is hard to know much. This story is about details over many years, but events can also all be reported at once, in an odd way. Yesterday on a walk, I encountered a neighbor walking her dog, and she told me about two close neighbors who have died of cancer in the same month, and a third who has been in intensive care because of flu for over a month. Then a third person materialized out of nowhere and told me about his health problems, why he closed his shop, what he’s doing now. We also discussed the heavy rains, and flooded streets in our area. In forty minutes, I had learned more than our small local newspaper would report, and I was within a block of my house! I had to go home to process all that in peace and quiet.
    Hope your classes are going well!


  3. Love it! Cheers me up! Updo! Laura did you ever think Of that long in front Shoulder length bob? You would look more gorgeous! Miss you So.

    Sent from my iPhone



    • So glad it cheered you up, Kathi! I’ll have to think about the long bob you’re suggesting. It does look pretty, but how would you put it in a pony tail? Miss you, too!


    • Dear Pam, I am so happy to hear you enjoyed the story! Knowing people enjoy them makes it all worthwhile. Thanks for reading my work! Good luck with your painting and writing! xoxo to you and Ken!


  4. I loved this, Laura. It rang so true. You do seem to have had a lot of good hairdressers though. I’m not sure I have!
    You’re right. A hairdresser can be a sculptor.


    • Thanks for your reaction, Penny! It’s good to hear from you, and I’m glad you liked the piece. Hairdressers can be difficult to find; I guess I have been really lucky, looking back on all those talented people. Good luck with your search!


  5. RE: ” 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.”

        I remember the story about Lucille Ball (Lucy). As an actress she always had perfect red hair. She may have had some shade of natural red hair; I don’t know. But I heard that her true last words on her deathbed were, “Where’s my red dye.”
        When my Father was dying in the hospital, my Mother urgently called the nurse. “He needs a haircut and a shave. Can you get someone. You can’t leave him looking like this,” she said stroking his face. He was mostly bald and high on pain-killers and I don’t think he cared about his hair.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Doug, Thanks for your response to the hair history! Wow, it sounds like your mother and mine had some commonalities for sure. And Lucille Ball, too. Perhaps it was partly generational. You and I would probably not say that sort of thing as someone lay dying. Hope all is well with you! Best, Laura


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