History: a photo essay plus a few thoughts

Back in the summer, #3 son, his three older children (seventeen, fifteen, and eleven), and I “toured” my home town. His youngest, only six, stayed home; she’ll have to get the genealogy tour later, when she’s ready. Son wanted the grandchildren to learn about where I—and by extension, they—came from.

I worried that in Pontotoc, Mississippi, a town nestled in the red clay hills near Oxford (the home of Ole Miss), there’s not much to see: the square, now virtually stripped of the old trees I remember, with its Confederate monument. The store my dad once owned, now an antique shop. A museum housed in the post office, itself an historical building. The house where I grew up, and the one where my parents lived later.

It turned out to be a drizzling, sticky day, and I must admit when we left the hotel in Oxford that morning, I didn’t have high hopes. I anticipated bored kids and a general disappointment with grandmother’s roots.

I was wrong.

As we drove through town, I pointed out landmarks: the square, the courthouse (hard to miss), my dad’s store, the store on the corner that had once been my uncle’s grocery, the flaking ghost of an old painted grocery ad still evident on the side of the building.

After the post office museum where we spent maybe half an hour and the women volunteers told the kids stories and connected with me—”Now, you’re so-and-so’s daughter?”—we stopped by the Presbyterian church I grew up in. I had emailed the church ahead of time and learned that its doors are never locked; we were welcome to drop by any time.  No one was there, but we walked right in.

I had not been inside that church since my grandmother’s funeral in 1994. Indeed, my last three visits there had been for funerals, so maybe that gloom had affected my memories of the place.

This time, I was stunned by how beautiful and meticulously maintained the church is: the polished dark woodwork. The breathtaking stained glass windows. At the back of the sanctuary, the tall folding doors with the same stained glass that, during my childhood, partitioned it off and made it smaller and better suited to the congregation. The only times I ever saw those doors open were for weddings and funerals. They are a magnificent work of art and architecture tucked away in this unpretentious place.

It had never occurred to me to ask about the history of the stained glass; isn’t that terrible? But history means more to me as I get older. I intend to find out, and I will certainly share it with my children and grandchildren.

We explored: we lingered in the prayer room at the back of the sanctuary, its walls lined with books. We went upstairs to the room where I dressed for my first wedding when I was twenty-one years old.

So many memories for me. The kids responded with curiosity, love, and awe. They listened to my stories. They opened doors, peeked in nooks, touched things–the books, the glass, the dark wood–not in a bad way, but as though they wanted to take something of this place away with them and lock it in their memories, too.

There’s a photo I didn’t share here: one of me with the three grandchildren, standing in the narthex of the church. That one is private, a connection to them and a precious time we shared.

If you have not “gone home” lately, I encourage you to do it. More importantly, go with someone you love. Share the place. Share the stories.

If this piece inspires you to remember, share a memory here in a comment. If it inspires you to write a post, share your link. I would love to read about your special, remembered places.

 

 

 

 

Hair Today—Gone Tomorrow?

When my husband needs a haircut, he says, “I think I’ll go get a haircut.” He breezes out the door and is back in an hour.

For me it’s a life-altering decision.

When I’m dissatisfied with my hair, it colors my entire life (pun intended). Bad hair puts me in a mood to match. So, back in the fall, when the haircuts weren’t working, they left me in a perpetual state of agitation.

But oh, change is tough. A woman develops loyalty to whoever puts scissors to her hair, let alone colors it, and rightfully so. Talk about trust issues. When the time comes for a change, it feels like betrayal. Just asking my friends for recommendations or browsing the yellow pages or scouting salons online felt like I was sneaking around.

Drastic measures

Changing hairdressers requires much soul-searching and justification, tallying grievances that make a drastic move not only desirable but also necessary. Here are a few of mine:

  • S/he cut it too short.
  • S/he didn’t cut it short enough.
  • S/he was running late.
  • S/he was distracted.
  • S/he talked too much.
  • S/he didn’t listen to what I said I wanted.

And so, after agonizing for weeks and then acting on a whim (if I didn’t act on a whim I would never, ever pick up the phone), I called a hair stylist a friend had recommended. I figured it would be weeks before I could get in, but NO. He had an opening the following Saturday. “Noon,” he said.

“Noon?” I repeated, stupidly.

“Yes. Noon.”

“I’ll take it,” I said.

For two nights before that appointment, I had nightmares about haircuts gone bad. I vacillated between guilt and terror. What had I done? Well, I had betrayed a perfectly good hair stylist, that’s what.

It’s only hair.           

When Saturday came, armed with my photo of Helen Mirren with short hair, I set out. I gripped the steering wheel hard. I had sweaty palms. It felt like a trip to the dentist. I told myself, it’s only hair. 

The salon was small and quiet, only a couple of customers on Saturday at noon. I tried to appear nonchalant, like someone who tries out a new hair stylist every other month or so, but I must have been ashen because the stylist zeroed right in on my case of nerves.

“It’s going to be okay,” s/he said, like a parent reassuring a kid with a skinned knee.

I considered bolting, but I didn’t. I wondered, sitting there, waiting, why haircuts make me so nervous. And then I remembered.

The monstrous machine

The Bad Perm
The Bad Perm

When I was a little girl, I had really pretty hair. In most photographs, it’s shiny and clean and nicely curled, usually with a big bow. But my mother must have gotten tired of taking care of it. That’s the only explanation I can fathom for why, when I was three, maybe going on four, she took me to the beauty parlor over the drugstore, up the same stairs to where the doctor’s office was. I had been in that beauty shop before with my mother. Somebody had probably trimmed my hair. I’d seen women sit under the permanent wave machine, a monster of a thing with long tentacles that attached to their heads. I’d never dreamed it could happen to me, but that day, it did. My mother apparently wanted my hair short and carefree. Somebody cut my long hair off, and then I sat under that machine, breathing in the awful permanent wave solution fumes, those fumes and fear and humiliation making me cry.

I remember that, when we got home, I refused to look in the mirror. I don’t remember ever looking, although at some point I must have. I couldn’t have avoided mirrors for the long time it took for the awful frizzy perm to grow out. You can see for yourselves in the photo how bad it was. 

What possessed my mother? I have no idea. Whatever it was, she must have felt guilty because by my fifth birthday, my hair was long again, and pretty.

Back to the present

Of course, the encounter with the new stylist wasn’t perfect, either. There were a few problems:

  • S/he was running late.
  • S/he cut it too short.
  • S/he talked too much.
  • S/he didn’t listen to what I said I wanted.

I’ll stick with this stylist for a while, though. After all, I’ve made the break, and making up is just too hard. I’ve already gone back a second time, and this time, I let this new person, this person I hardly know, color my hair. Now that, my friends, is trust. And, would you believe—I like it!

Do you have hair horror stories? If so, share them here!

Looking for Change

Come April, this blog will turn two.

Well, that’s a bit of a cheat. I created the blog back in 2010, wrote a few scattered posts, and then abandoned it. It came to life again as the result of  my participation in a “platform” challenge in April 2011. During that challenge created by Robert Lee Brewer, I learned a lot about social media and blogging in general and met many kindred souls.

I began the “new, improved” Writerly Life blog with the idea that it would be about what the tag line says: the writing life–how I was/am living it–and writing craft. But over the past year, the blog seems to have gone in a different direction. My posts have moved toward more memoir and personal narrative than writing advice.

So as I approach the blog’s birthday, I’m thinking about change and direction: Is it time for a new look? Maybe a new title and/or tag line? Should this space be primarily a “writer” site that deals with writing craft and issues? Or should it be a place for memoir and reflection? A mash-up of both? The memoirs and reflective essays often tend to tie in with my writing life, so there is that.

I would love to know where you think The Writerly Life should go from here. I hope you’ll participate in the poll below. If I haven’t covered a suggestion you’d like to make or if you’d like to elaborate, please leave a comment.

The blog is for you, you know. Help me re-establish its identity.

(You may choose more than one answer.)