Last weekend marked the second anniversary of my mother’s death, a woman who was reputed to be such an imp in her youth that she caused her father to lose all his hair. Saturday, however, I was thinking more of how she tried to help him overcome his baldness, my favorite bit of family folklore.
Like all good tales, it should begin, “Once upon a time,” so please indulge me. Once upon a time, I remember my grandfather showing me an old snapshot of a dashing young man who sported an abundance of dark hair. To my amazement, he claimed that was himself, “Back in my courting’ days,” he said with a bemused grin.
Seeing that photograph of him in his prime, I could easily imagine his dismay at the loss of those luxurious locks.
“I had nothing to do with it,” my mother protested. “It was purely coincidental.”
But I’ve been told that, about the time my mother entered her teens, a family friend suggested Grandad paint his head with tincture of iodine, vowing that scientists had discovered the red-orange liquid, normally used for tending childhood scrapes, was a hair restorer.
Could it be true? Grandad wanted to believe it. So after much deliberation -- and mindful that iodine leaves a stubborn stain -- he asked his youngest child, my mother, to apply “just a small spot” of iodine on the top of his bald head.
Mother, the mischievous, was quick to oblige. And for the next few days, her father kept their experiment hidden beneath his ever-present hat, an article he wore year-round as protection against the Arkansas sun.
Then, the weekend brought its traditional round of Saturday night baths. And on Sunday morning, the whole family trooped off to church, where the hat, of course, had to come off. With quiet dignity, mother’s parents took their customary seats is the very front pew. My mother, meanwhile, joined the other young people seated in the last row of the sanctuary.
Services started. All eyes swung to the front and Grandad tilted his head back for a better view of the raised pulpit.
Snickers and giggles erupted behind him, drowning out the preacher’s earnest words
“Sh-h-h!” Grandad shushed loudly, turning to glare at the tittering youths.
My mother insisted that she and the rest of the youthful contingent tried to display the proper reverence.
“But when everyone focused their attention to the front,” she exclaimed in mock horror, “there on the top of my father‘s bald head, undimmed by Saturday night‘s conscientious scrubbing, was my masterpiece. A heart pierced by an arrow!”
As I remember Mother’s laughter, I think about what a disappointment I must have been, a child who was always so serious, she told everyone I was twelve years old when I was born.
I hope I’ve redeemed myself, however, with what my editor refers to as the “sly humor” in my recently released novella, BORDER HEAT.
Hey, Mom, look at me now.