Thanks for visiting my blog. This blog chronicles a mostly 4-year journey of love, life, and loss. It's now time to retire. However, feel free to browse and read through the posts.
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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Spring of Hair

“The snowbirds are back from Florida,” Marsha says. “The winter was pretty rough on us since the students all left for Thanksgiving.” We're seated in Marsha's salon, in the back rooms of the Hanover Improvement Society on 23 South Main Street. Like most buildings in Hanover, the Hanover Improvement Society is a maroon brick structure with white windowpanes, featuring quaint shops with names like “Pink Alligator” and “Khawachen” and 50% sales for clothing from the winter months. It has stood here for ninety years, with a bronze plaque commemorating twenty-one men who worked “to improve and maintain the quality of life” in Hanover. Marsha’s only been around for the last fourteen of those years. She tells me about her major clientele during that decade – the snowbirds – Upper Valley residents who hibernate in Florida for the winter months, before coming back north when the snow thaws and the sun begins to glaze the sky. They come back now like spring, as the trees lining the cement sidewalks begin to bud, and business creeps back to hair salons in Hanover, to Marsha’s salon, the Ivy League Cuts formerly known as the Ivy League Cuts and Tans. “We’ll start getting a lot of students coming in for haircuts now, and the alumni on the big weekends come in here too. You’d be surprised how much hair people have,” Marsha says. Her mouth pulls into a smile, and for a moment the wrinkles below her cheekbones disappear.

Marsha lives twenty minutes away in Enfield, but she's been driving up to Hanover for close to thirty years now. She began styling hair down at Hilde’s salon on 83 South Main Street, working for the woman with a German name. “Hilde's retired now, lives down in Florida,” Marsha says. I tell Marsha about my Florida, the perpetual spring in Eldoret, Kenya, when my mother styled hair to feed her children. When I would sit on the floor between her legs, head resting on her laps, and she would massage my scalp, before twisting the kinky mass of my hair into cornrows. “I wish I knew how to braid,” Marsha says. She runs her fingers through the blond hair that she’s pulled back into a half-ponytail. “You know we had a big problem a few years ago ‘coz there was no one in Hanover who could do your type of hair.”

My type of hair. Afro-kinky hair. Natural hair. Needs coconut oil, shea butter, hair conditioner, glycerin, tea-tree oil, and moisture. Lots of moisture. Condition three times a week, shampoo and treat once a month.

“We do all types of perms, curly perms, regular perms, long-hair perms, spiral perms, piggy-back perms, and we use different rod sizes – big rods, small rods,” Marsha says. Her own hair goes through a three-step process. Wash, dry, curl, and voila! Thick, blond, luxury. No perm required. I tell her about my first perm, when the chemical broke the protein bonds and turned the tightly curled bulk into a straight mane that yearned for the small of my back, like Marsha’s blond hair, only black. My mother made me take out my perm before I came here, saying, “Hair salons are expensive in America. Where will you get the money to keep your hair straight?” Marsha nods. “They’ve hired a lady down at Hilde’s salon now who works on your type of hair. She comes up from Boston every two weeks or so. You should go down there, check out the place.”

Four years ago, Marsha discovered a tumor in her head. “It was the size of a tennis ball,” she says, “I was having these headaches all the time and I thought it was menopause ‘coz of my age. I even went to see a counselor, a lady upstairs,” she says, pointing to the ceiling. “They told me I must have had it since I was a child.” The tumor grew through more than fifty years of spring, through two husbands and seven children and fifteen grandchildren, through the styling at Hilde’s salon to the styling at the Ivy League Cuts, through the ages and the aging until four years ago, when it became a tennis ball and landed at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, benign. “I had a full-blown seizure before they found it. I was lucky they put me under a CAT scan as soon as my husband took me hospital,” she says. She traces an imaginary line from her forehead to the back of her head, using her finger to show me the scars. “Then I had three surgeries total.”

I come back to Marsha’s salon the next day, with braided hair. I walk down Main Street, past the mid-day traffic that flows like a seasonal river, past the monument dedicated to the men of Hanover who “served for the cause of humanity” during the First World War, past the wooden benches in memory of Hanover’s departed businessmen, to the Ivy League Cuts, to Marsha. I find her combing through the curls of a white-haired woman, recently come up from Florida. When she’s done with the styling, she helps the woman get up, dress into her coat, and walk slowly, painfully, into the arms of a middle-aged woman who I imagine is her daughter. After they’ve left, Marsha and I sit in the rectangular salon with its whitewashed walls and hardwood floor, where the oval mirrors reflect my face and Marsha’s back. The tubs of Paul Mitchell hairspray and Kenra hair conditioner on the shelves and wooden workstations stand over us like sentinels, as do the black-and-white posters of young male models in buzz cuts and bob cuts. Marsha faces me from a black swivel chair, and I face her from the lime green couch next to the entrance. “I’ve been styling her hair for as long as I remember,” she says of the woman who just left. She’s a wealthy widow, the wife a doctor who consulted with the surgeon who took out the tennis ball. “It’s hard seeing your clients grow older.”

I listen to the woman who has styled the children who became parents, and the parents who became grandparents and moved to Florida. I listen to Marsha as she tells me about the years of cutting and perming and styling, when Hilde’s daughter grew up and Hilde retired to a condo in Florida. “Hilde talked of leaving the salon to me, but Margot’s her daughter and she took over the place. I left to open my own salon. I just wanted to do something for myself,” she says. Then spring came and went, and the tennis ball happened. “I sold this place before the surgery, just in case anything happened,” she tells me. Her recovery lasted seven months. Seven months when she had to learn how to walk and how to talk. How comb through white-haired curls, how to cut and perm and style.

When I leave the salon I walk up Main Street, leaving behind the woman who lives in Enfield because Hanover is too expensive, who feels like passing out every time she gets her fuel bill, who’s worried about parking space and parking prices, who threw out her credit card to prevent impulse buying, who wonders about the minimum wage at $7 an hour, and the grapes that cost $3.99 a pound, who’s seen Meryl Streep and Steve Tyler down Main Street, who’s styled more snowbirds than spring can remember. When I walk up Main Street, I don’t notice the bronze plaque with twenty one names or the wooden benches dedicated to Hanover businessmen or the monument for veterans who saved us from the war of men. I think of my mother in Eldoret and Marsha in Hanover. I think of Afro hair and blond hair and curly perms in spring, the memory of us all bouncing in my head like a tennis ball.

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