Dead Hair

Dead Hair

My mother, just like my grandmother did, went to a small one woman beauty shop. Every Friday she had an appointment at 10:00 am. When my father retired he expected that she go just like his mother. The beauty shop was next to a closed gas station. The parking lot was mostly mud puddles with a few pebbles of limestone. On rainy days old cars and farm trucks parked between the puddles -not the lines like in a city parking lot. This was Jerri’s Beauty Shop; rented from a local realtor who refused to improve the septic system. Every month Jerri and Nancy’s café split the cost of having the septic tank cleaned out. Jerri was in early thirties- her clients in their 70’s, 80’s and who knows- a hundred? They were mostly women but a few widowed men and some recent divorced ones came to her. Sometimes the appointment schedule was changed by recent obits in the Robertson County Times; her clients didn’t move they just died. Jerri’s was a place with a yellowed tile floor, one swivel chair and two actual dryers that you sat under. In modern mall salons those archaic hooded chairs have all but disappeared. When I was young my father was worked out of state most of the time. My mother didn’t go to the beauty shop except when she wanted a haircut. She styled and colored her hair herself with a brush and a bottle of L’Oréal. Because she was so active and such an outdoors person her regular hair ornament was a red bandana tied around her forehead for a sweat band. My father retired at age 65. She was 64. The beauty shop appointments became a ritual on Fridays. At age 75 my mother had a tractor accident. I told my friends that you weren’t a redneck until you could say that your mother had an accident on a farm tractor. My father, who “operated heavy equipment” which translated meant he could drive anything, farm tractors, bulldozers, side booms and semi-tractor trailer trucks. He decided on a summer day that weeds in the fence row needed to be killed. He rigged up a platform on the front of the farm tractor so that the forks which were used to move large hay rolls could be slipped into a wooden pallet. On this he sat a plastic lawn chair. The boom lifted the platform up and down. The chair was there to sit in comfort. It was a plan. He would drive the tractor. She would sit in the chair and hold the can of Round-up. He would ease up on the tall vines and she would hold the 3 gallon tank with one hand and spray with the other hand. There was a big flaw in this plan. Neither the two secured the chair to the platform. Late in the afternoon almost sunset, after many cans of weed killer emptied, my father said, “Let’s finish out this row and then go home.” I’m sure she agreed- she always did. With one more lift into the air they were off to another rocky, uneven section of the wired fence row. He shifted gears and with his mind somewhere else he accelerated in a short thrust of speed. The tractor wheel ran over a rock and the chair tipped- my mother falling from the chair, from the platform onto the rocky fescue. She landed on her right shoulder. It was broken and she was in severe pain. This was the beginning of her helplessness. The surgery never connected the shoulder joint again. Seeing her without a blouse was to see her shoulder joint dislocated, dropped and hanging limp. She was right handed. “The first surgery didn’t work so why would I want to have another?” She said  to me when I asked her what her doctor said about the disabled arm.

She stopped going outside. Her flowers died. The birds didn’t get fed anymore. She stopped cooking. Paper plates became daily place settings. Now she couldn’t drive. My father willingly became her chauffeur taking her for her weekly beauty shop appointments. Sometimes I would pick her up. Jerri cut and styled her white hair. The bangs were yellow from nicotine. It had become thin and brittle. Her hair became a mask of sorts- to say that one can be presentable and viable with a “helmet hair-do.” If you look ok you must be ok. Sometimes I brushed her hair on days that she needed some “right hand assistance.” Over the months and years I noticed that her hair had changed its texture. For many months she was lying covered in a thin white cotton blanket, her back to mine in a fetal knot facing the wall as I stood at the side of her bed. It was painful to see her give up and hide. Some years after she died I ran into Jerri at the grocery store. I didn’t live there anymore and it was a chance to reconnect with familiar faces. I thanked her for taking care of my mother all those years, keeping up appearances is a big deal. People expect a certain face and attitude all the time. Demise and failure, even in sickness and in death, is to be avoided at all costs. There is always “The appearance of all is good” to be achieved. To lighten the subject I added my observations of my mother’s hair. She leaned over and lowered her smoker’s voice, “I can tell when they are going to die. I can feel it between my fingers when I cut their hair.” I reached to her and squeezed her hand. She was in pain too. All her clients seemed to die and the young ones didn’t want a “Jerri style.” In her career as a stylist I bet they never told her she would be able to be a fortune teller. She knew what “dead hair” felt like.

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