Tuesday, June 26, 2012


No, this isn't about a Broadway musical with full-frontal nudity. It's about hair. I've never figured out why hair is such a big deal, but it is--at least to most of us. Certainly it always has been to me.

When I was in 5th grade, the nuns at my boarding school cut most of my hair off and gave me a perm. They called it a Poodle Cut, and claimed it was fashionable. That year, our school's yearbook contained a photo of one of the senior girls with this caption: "She favors long, billowing hair." I don't remember her name or her face, but I remember that caption. And I remember her hair.

I was born with red hair, which probably embarrassed my mom since red hair was not in either family. But it soon fell out, and the resulting look, combined with my colic, earned me the nickname Baldy Sour. Nice, huh?

When my hair finally grew in, it proved to be worth the wait (and the insults). I was blessed with really gorgeous hair: platinum as a child, and later the color of butter. Thick, too. And shiny. (See above, at age 25.) For decades my hair was my best feature. Some days it seemed like the only good feature I possessed. It was my jewelry. I kept it long to maximize the effect and to hide behind. Most of the time I stayed away from beauty salons.

Women really shouldn't hang on to long hair forever--not unless they are willing to do the old-lady bun thing at some point. Old-lady buns and twists can be flattering if they're done right, but long hair is heavy. We don't realize just how heavy it is until we cut it off and our necks breathe a sigh of relief. For me, that happened in my early sixties. Pictures taken at my 60th birthday party show me with shoulder-length hair. I looked okay, but then at some point after that, I didn't.

The vertical lines of long hair drag the face down after a certain age. That's the best way I can describe the phenomenon that turns an attractive, long-haired woman into an old hag. Or, to state it more positively, cutting an older woman's hair brightens her face. Unless, of course, it's cut to resemble a man, or a child, or someone who had to be institutionalized.

That's frequently the way I saw my salon haircuts. My daughter once called me a "salon slut" because I could never find a stylist I wanted to stick with. I went from salon to salon, pictures clutched in my fist, reciting my preferences. "I want to look like a writer," I said. Or a photographer. Or, "I'm a creative person, and that how I want to look." In other words, don't make me look matronly. Or frumpy. Or a member of the Christian right. But that's the way I walked out of those salons almost every time.

I decided my voice was possibly to blame. I know I have a good speaking voice, because people are always commenting on it. I also know I sound calm. Sometimes calm is a real advantage. "Your voice was very good for her," the maternity nurse said to me after I'd coached my daughter through childbirth. But calm is never what I was going for with my haircuts. Nevertheless, calm is what I usually got.

I had a few good hair days. Weeks, even. My profile pic on this blog is an example. I liked that cut. But I hate to tell you how much "product" was involved in creating the look. I never thought of myself as a product kind of person, but by the time I was finished with my style primer, root lifter, and texture paste, no one would want to run their fingers through even my bangs.

Okay, I should get to the point. The point is that it took me all these years to realize that a hair style can make a face look good, but some styles make the hair look good. I made this discovery at the Yale reunion earlier this month. I had bronchitis for a couple of weeks before the event, and by the time I decided I could make the trip there was no time to get a hair appointment. I wasn't sure I wanted one anyway, as they almost always made me look (or feel) worse. So I chopped some off the bottom and took my too-long top layers and a can of Sebastian Shaper spray (very light and flexible) up to New Haven.

I received four compliments--separately--on my hair at the reunion. Before that, I don't remember the last time someone complimented me on my hair. All of the reunion compliments came from women (clearly, they had no ulterior motives). One mentioned my great haircut, but she had imbibed a fair amount of scotch beforehand. The others just talked about my hair. How soft it was, how natural. The beautiful color. (The color?? Which color--the grey or the once-was-blonde?) Listening, I was as surprised as I was delighted. Did I mention it poured rain most of the weekend? And still they thought I had beautiful hair.

I'm keeping the look. My casual non-style probably doesn't flatter my face, but it's enough for me that it flatters my hair. Although my hair is nothing like what it used to be, it's nice to have some part of it back. And today, when I was outside mowing the lawn in the wind, it actually billowed. I'm certain of it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


When I was a child we often vacationed with family friends and their boys. Boys were drawn to my dad, with his sense of humor and ability to get a game going at a moment's notice. The game could be anything—horseshoes, badminton, cards—but it usually involved a ball. We often played a game in which we threw a ball at the porch steps and scored base hits and home runs, but sometimes we just played catch.

Does anyone play catch anymore? Perhaps it's too simple for today's kids: A person throws a ball and another person catches it. On the surface, not much stimulation there. But there's fun (and a certain satisfaction) in a good throw or a good catch, and fun, too, in bad throws and crazy misses. Plus there's the interaction between the players. Catch always, it seems, involves banter—a narration of the undercurrent of competition that exists despite the lack of an official winner or loser.

I was thinking of this today as my son pulled garlic thinnings out of the soil and lobbed them to me over the garden fence. At first I couldn't seem to be able to catch any of them, and I wondered if I'd lost my hand-eye coordination (at this point, nothing would surprise me). But then I started snagging them out of the air (as my dad would have put it). We bantered. We laughed. He threw. I caught.

When we were done I went over to the outside faucet to rinse the garlic bulbs off. My son called to me that he had one more. It was a long throw, and when I caught it between two fingers I yelled "Yay!" How many opportunities do we get to yell "Yay!" in an average day? People really ought to play more catch.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Another Three Days at Yale

Five years after my first attendance at my late husband's class reunion, I returned to Yale this past weekend for their 60th. This time I'd looked forward to doing the whole four days, but after two weeks of bronchitis I decided to drive up on Friday instead of Thursday, giving myself another day for my cough to subside and for me to get more rest. I wanted to be able to dance, eat, talk, and traipse all over Yale, just like last time. And I did. I had a wonderful weekend.

When I was in First Grade, our class took a walk. I don't imagine we walked very far—maybe around the large Queens block—but a permission slip was required. My mother signed the slip and sent it back to school with me that morning, but when it came time to hand it to the teacher I was too shy to stand and walk to the front of the classroom. So I stayed in my seat and didn't go on the walk.

I thought about this Saturday night as I sipped a good malbec under a huge tent in the middle of Berkeley College at Yale. At one end of the long tent, a trio played music for dancing, and couples took advantage on the raised floor alongside the musicians. At the other end, three aproned students cheerfully tended the open bar. In the middle, hundreds of happy reunioners sat at white-clothed tables or walked about, table-hopping. Every one of them wore a smile.

I smiled too. I knew the wine and the lobster dinner I'd consumed weren't entirely responsible for my feeling of well being; most of the credit went to the people at those tables and on the dance floor. Joe's classmates and their wives have been very kind to me. I met quite a few five years ago, and many more this time. And this is where my thought about shyness comes in.

It occurred to me that if I'd been shy I would have missed out on meeting so many of them. Here's an example: I arrived at the class dinner Friday night with a couple of fellow widows. By the time we'd gotten drinks at the bar, most of the tables had filled up. We found space with some other people at a table on the end, in the path of a breeze. Rain was approaching, and the temperature was dropping. My friends were wearing jackets and blazers; I was wearing a lacy 3/4-sleeve cardigan. I would have been freezing at that table. I told my friends I was going to throw myself on the mercy of strangers, and I set out to find a table with an empty chair. It took me longer than expected, but the reward at the end of my search was an excellent dinner partner I never would have met otherwise. Our conversation ranged from saguaros to sudden loss, and it was one I'll remember. I'm glad I didn't miss out.

The married gentlemen of the Class of '52 are true gentlemen, not inclined to ask a single woman to dance. But being the gentlemen they are, they won't turn a woman down if she asks. I proved this theory Saturday night with a lindy, a foxtrot, and a rhumba (and expressed my gratitude to their wives).

I met some of the nicest people just by asking if I could follow them to an event. No one turned me down, and we had some good conversations as we strolled past Yale's beautiful stone buildings.

At the class dinner one of the speakers mentioned that they'd need reunion photos for their website. I brought a camera, and figured this is the least I could do for the class that had invited me to share their event and paid my way. So on the last night I became the self-appointed "official" photographer. Another widow offered to be my "assistant." She followed me around, writing down names as I snapped pictures. We got to meet a lot of people this way.

So now I'm back home in my old farmhouse on a sparsely-populated dirt road, grateful that the first-grader paralyzed by shyness managed to grow into a pushy old broad. I'm thinking this is a quality I should be able to use more often than once every five years. Beyond the perimeter of my acreage are people—people who write, people who garden, people who enjoy laughing, games, music, and the company of other people. Singers. Scientists. People who know how to do things I never heard of. I think it's time to plan how I might meet some of them.