written by Mary Katherine
I walked in to get my haircut and a small Persian woman introduced herself. My former stylist had moved back home, she explained. Her name was Nina and she was taking over Michelle’s client list.
I quickly liked Nina. She had a quiet beauty about her. She asked me what I did, and I explained that I was a mother who enjoyed writing. I talked about Mom Babble and her interest piqued.
“It is a mother’s blog?”
“Yes, that’s what people call it.”
“I wish to tell you about my mother.”
So she did. She told me about a woman whose laughter makes men stop in the grocery store. Who sleeps with her hand balled up by her mouth. She walks like a ballerina and keeps secrets, and smells like comfort food. She never judges, and is soft and lovely. She has a strong faith.
“My mother is my best friend,” she added.
I asked if she would get to see her mom for Thanksgiving and she paused, setting down the scissors.
“My mother passed 17 years ago. But it feels like a yesterday.”
I saw a sadness fill her brown eyes. Nina shook her head as if to get rid of a thought, then picked up her scissors. She continued clipping in silence, and I realized she was trying desperately to maintain her composure. After a few moments, she drew a breath.
“I no longer celebrate this holiday. It only reminds me that my childhood is gone. It is gone, along with my mother.”
And then I understood.
Because I had just returned from a weekend with my best friend. We have the same laugh. The same ski slope nose and black hair. She cooks me southern food and takes me for pedicures and we drink sugary lattes together.
And when I’m with her, I feel like a child.
Our relationship has the depth and width of my entire life. She was there for burp cloths and Easter baskets and stitches and puberty. Boyfriends and college plans and wedding dress shopping. She was at bedside for the delivery of my son. My mother isn’t just my best friend. She’s the vessel that holds my childhood.
Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”
Perhaps that is true….or partially so. You see, that kingdom exists within our parents. And when they are gone, childhood becomes a memory. A story you tell your own children as they yawn and wiggle in their carseats. A book stacked neatly on a shelf, that is treasured for the story it contains. To be read and told and treasured, but never lived again.
I wanted so desperately to get out of that salon chair and call my mama, but instead I sat in the heavy silence that marked the end of our transaction. I watched as Nina pulled my black locks straight. There was so much to say, but I couldn’t find the words. So I ran my fingers through my freshly cut mane and smiled.
“It’s a fantastic haircut. I love it.”
Nina smiled with pride, handing me a mirror so I could inspect the final product. She spun the chair left and right, until I placed the mirror in my lap and said thank you. Then she walked me to check out where, for once, I happily paid salon price.
I wanted to hug this woman, but she didn’t give me the hugging vibe. I wanted to tell her thank you, but the truth was those words–like the generous tip I scribbled on the receipt at checkout–would feel insufficient.
So I left with a wave and heart heavy with gratitude. Nina was already greeting her next client by the time I walked out of the door. No doubt, her business was going to be successful.
She was really good at cutting hair.
I got in my car, snapped the seatbelt and took a selfie of my fresh new ‘do. I added the picture to a text message, and scrolled down to the M’s in my contacts to select a recipient: Mom.
I paused for a moment, then deleted the message. I hit the button that beckons Siri and spoke with a shaky voice: “Call mom.”
It only took two rings for a familiar voice to answer.
“Hey, mom?” My voice cracked again, and I was a little embarrassed that it was giving me away.
“I was just calling to say I love you.”