Figuring out a hairstyle
  • Nappy and loving it
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    Juggling Act

    Straightening my mother’s hair

    I almost couldn’t stop laughing a couple weeks ago when my 80-year-old mother, recuperating at home after knee replacement surgery, asked me to straighten her hair.

    At first, I thought she was joking, but then she told me it would be too painful for her to go to her beautician. She ignored my protests that I really didn’t know how to straighten hair, that I didn’t want to burn her hair or her skin, that my niece would do a better job. But she insisted and I agreed, reluctantly.

    Straightening hair has created many memories in my family over the years and my three sisters and I still chuckle about some of our experiences. As a young woman, Mom had dreams of being a beautician but didn’t get any formal training. She did the hair of friends and then, she had four daughters. Bingo! Of course, our hair was always pressed and styled.

    On Saturday evenings, we would wait our turn for my mother to wash our hair and sit us with our backs to the stove so that she could better reach the smoking and sizzling straightening comb. It seemed that she didn’t want even the smallest hint of hair to escape the heat. We were always uneasy that she would burn our ears or neck; a few times she did.

    By the time I left for college, attitudes about black hair were changing and I embraced the I’m-black-and-I’m-proud movement toward natural hair. So I’ve worn my kinky hair since my freshman year, moving from the Angela Davis-style big Afro to shorter Afros and then to locks. I haven’t straightened my hair in 40 years. It took my mother a long time to accept my decision. So it was ironic that she turned to me to straighten her hair.

    On Hair Day, I could hardly believe it when my mother pulled out the same straightening comb she used during our childhood. She sat in the kitchen, with her back to the stove. She gave me some instructions, and I went to work.

    I remained calm. I didn’t burn my mother. I didn’t go after the tiny hairs around her ears and neck.

    When it was done, my mother was satisfied. But as soon as she’s able to walk better, I urged her to go back to her beautician.

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