A lot of you had my Mama for a teacher. Many of you have commented over the years about her resemblance to Doris Day, but what you may not realize was what was going really going on underneath that flawlessly coiffed beehive all those years ago…until now.
The situation she found herself in was nothing short of a travesty. It was the end of an era. It was almost the end of Mama, who was faced to live with what I referred to as “The Hair of Many Colors.” There was only one solution. It was unthinkable. It was almost unspeakable. It was — a wig.
“Me, wear a, a wig?” Mama stammered, the words choking her like a pair of invisible hands around her throat. Her face turned a peculiar shade of gray, her lips pasty white.
She looked at Irmalene, her beautician, as if she had just suggested Mama run nekked down the middle of Main Street. I glanced uneasily over at Irmalene. She had no idea what a can of worms she had just opened.
Since going back to school to get her Masters Degree, Mama’s Doris Day hair had been falling out in clumps. Big clumps. Irmalene concluded without a doubt that stress was the root of Mama’s problem. Mama didn’t look so well. Not at all.
Irmalene moved fast for a woman in heels. She grabbed Mama’s arm and escorted her to the fainting couch right before she hit the floor. So that’s why she put that thing in here. It was obviously essential when conveying such shocking news as this to her customers. First time I’d seen it in action. Good thing for Mama nobody else was ahead of her. I don’t think she could’ve waited long enough to wait for her number to be called.
That Irmalene was a cool one returning in two seconds flat with a doily covered serving tray. No smelling salts or nitroglycerin. Nothing for a mother who was in a shock-induced coma. I watched and prayed that Irmalene knew what she was doing. I didn’t know how much first aid training she might’ve had in beauty school.
Quickly removing a bottle of peroxide she poured some into a small bowl, daintily waving it underneath Mama’s nose with all the ease and style of a refined hostess serving a cup of hot tea. Mama’s eyelashes fluttered and she began to cough.
“She’s coming ‘round now. Just the shock you know. She’ll be fine in a jiff.” Irmalene smiled and nodded at me as confident as a doctor who just performed a successful open heart surgery with a nail file.
Sitting next to Mama Irmalene patted her shoulder, gave me a wink, and leaned in close and whispered, “Nobody will suspect a thing. Remember, only your hairdresser will know for sure,” she laughed.
Mama looked at Irmalene as if she was the devil herself. Mama knew better. She wasn’t sitting in some top secret room at the Pentagon, but in Irmalene’s Beauty Shop. The virtual nerve center of town. The Media Mecca. News would circulate about Mama’s fake hair before we made the three mile drive home. She knew it. Sure as she knew anything. She nearly fainted again.
Once everyone was gone Mama summoned her courage, “I’m ready.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
The shop was silent. It was unnerving. In my fourteen years, I’d never been in a situation as serious as this. The familiar clicking of heels came closer as Irmalene emerged with two beehive wigs upon white Styrofoam heads.
“Now Hun, these wigs are two of my best. G-e-n-u-i-n-e hair. Not that dyed imitation squirrel stuff. Be patient and take good care of them so nobody will suspect,” she whispered.
Those wigs had their work cut out for them. Mama’s patience had left the building along with her hair. Just last Tuesday she beat the bejesus out of a stubborn pot roast because it refused to cooperate.
After struggling a few weeks, Mama managed to take the situation in stride, following Irmalene’s instructions to a tee. As for those Styrofoam heads, they began to take on a human quality, especially after my sister, Kim and I drew faces on them–complete with big red lips, blue eye shadow and false eyelashes. “Hooker Heads.” We dubbed one of them Bambi and the other one Babs, eventually referring to the wigs as Babs and Bambi, too.
I was a high school freshman that year and clearly had enough problems without having anybody knowing I had parents too. Most of the time, I walked around like I had gotten here all by myself. Birth through osmosis. Course Mama would nip that notion in the bud–quick.
Eustis Harper was a senior at Cedartown High. Gorgeous and athletic he was easily worshipped by every girl in school. Myself included. Deanne informed me that he was working in the produce section of the grocery store.
“Saw him hosing dirt off the cantaloupes just yesterday,” she announced, tying her saddle oxfords.
Mama and I arrived the next morning where I hoped to have a “Eustis Encounter” myself though I didn’t know quite what I would do if I did. I mean how attractive can a girl make herself while standing inconspicuously next to a pineapple display with her mother hovering over her?
He resembled a Greek God in his porcelain-white apron and tie putting Chiquita stickers on the bananas. I nearly threw up.
“Look Mama, it’s Eustis Harper,” I whispered excitedly.
She took a good look at him—the up and down kind. Then to my horror, she walked right over forcing me to follow behind. Oh, God, was she was actually going to speak to him? It was too awful to imagine. What will I say? My high-pitched Gomer Pyle “hey” did little to help my case. If he thought I was mute, he’d soon realize Mama wasn’t.
“Hey, ya’ll,” he said.
Mama wasn’t so easily distracted by Eustis’ charm and good looks.
“Eustis, was it?” she asked, before embarking on her infamous, one sentenced conversations that allowed little time for breathing. “I’m Mama, everybody calls me Mama, and I sure would love it if you came over to supper sometimes for a fried chicken dinner, you like fried chicken, don’t you, oh, of course you do, everybody loves fried chicken, and why, my little girl here’s been practicing frying chicken since last summer, and if you don’t mind it a teensy bit rare, you’ll be in for a real treat, you be sure and drop in on us real soon, okay?”
She paused to glance up at his picture and added, “And say– has anyone ever told you, that you bear an amazing resemblance to Elvis?”
His eyes were spinning and his mouth ajar beckoning any fruit flies he might have missed. Still reeling from the rate of speed with which Mama could converse it usually took a minute or two for the average person to recover. Five minutes passed before the fog lifted in the banana section. Eustis could only stammer a weak, “Uh, I forgot the question, Ma’am.”
Upon leaving Eustis joined us at the checkout line.
“Be happy to take your groceries to the car,” he offered.
Apparently I’d made some kind of impression in spite of Mama. But there was a storm brewing outside and all Hell was about to break loose. The three of us started to the car when I felt the first drop of rain. The first bucket-full followed next. Water-Beehive Kryptonite. I took my eyes off Eustis long enough to catch a concerned Mama looking up at the dark sky above.
“Oh, Hell!” she mumbled.
They were the last words I heard that day. The day the Earth stood still in the Big Star parking lot. In a skinny minute, Mama jerked that highly coveted wig off her head, I think it was Babs, and frantically stuffed it into her purse dashing towards our car, her hair of many colors now out in plain sight for the whole world and Eustis Harper to behold!
I died a thousand deaths. Maybe two. My eyes popped wide and my jaw dropped. And as for Eustis, he too had taken flight in the other direction. There would be no date. No romantic trips to the parking lot. And sadly no more “magic moments” in the produce section.