I’m Going Away
It’s been a hard day, in most ways a perfectly horrible sunny June day in Nineteen Forty-Nine. At least, it’s been hard since lunch.
Right after the salmon sandwiches which were good, my mom sent me to school with fifty cents and an ugly order.
“You’re to go to the barber after school, young lady and don’t forget this time! No more excuses about sore ankles or missing the budgie! Of all the silly things I ever heard! Now, don’t come home unless you get that hair cut!”
Without a haircut I couldn’t go home? Oh, no …. if I didn’t go home I wouldn’t get to Port Elgin …. if I didn’t get to Port Elgin …. well, nothing was going to keep me, Edna Hawkins, from Port Elgin. My mom had me. If she would go with me to the barber nobody would dare tease me through the barber’s window but I had to go by myself now that I was ten years old.
B-r-r-r-inggg! Why did the three-thirty bell have to ring?
“Line up!” Miss Fourier ordered the class.
I pulled Mom’s change purse out of my desk and got in line. In front of me stood big Jane with her shiny long ringlets. They bounced on her shoulders when she turned her head. On hot days she pulled the ringlets off the hot side of her neck and onto the cooler side for a while. I would love ringlets but ringlets need long hair. My mother says she couldn’t stand to listen to me yell while she tried to comb out the tangles in long hair. It already hurts to get my short hair combed out. Prell Shampoo would rinse out better than Lifebuoy Soap but Prell is too expensive.
I’d like to try ringlets anyway. I’d like to sleep all night with the ringlet rags holding the curls in place. In the morning when the hair is dry, I’d like to see how Mom would undo the rags, then brush or comb out the curls so they look long like Jane’s.
In front of big Jane was Carol. A hairdresser cuts Carol’s hair into a bob. At least, that’s what she calls it. Her black hair is curly and short and it looks pretty
around her ears and the back of her neck. After this trip to the barber my hair will be short, too, but it won’t be pretty. In our family we can’t afford a hairdresser. Everyone goes to the barber. He actually SHAVES the back of my neck with clippers that he uses on men.
“Class dismissed!” Miss Fourier called.
The girls filed out of the classroom first, through the halls to the girls’ door. All I could think about was how I didn’t want to look like a poor girl. Of course, a poor girl could be lucky and have naturally curly hair. I happen to be a poor girl with straight brown hair. I guess it will stay straight until my mom learns how to give Toni Home Permanents. They only cost two dollars. At the hairdresser permanents cost six dollars.
I raced out of Bedford Park School’s yard along Ranleigh Avenue to Yonge Street, across Ranleigh, past three stores to the barbershop.
to the barbershop,
to buy a stick of candy;
One for you, one for me
and one for baby Andy.
That Hippity Hop song is in my head like a million nursery rhymes and songs. My mom’s been singing them and saying them to me and my two little brothers since we were babies. Over and over again. Of course, I wasn’t around to hear Mom sing to my older sister, Betty.
The least little thing jogs my memory and out comes some kind of poem. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It can actually annoy me. For usre, Hippity Hop annoys me.
I never hippity hop to the barbershop. I must admit, I do like the barber pole outside the door. Its stripes remind you of a candy cane but that could be a trick for getting you inside. There’s no candy cane or any other candy there, or a baby Andy.
I crossed my fingers against any kids seeing me. My face was hot, I was so embarrassed.
Seated in a brown leather chair in a row of big, brown leather chairs, I put my back to the window and waited my turn. New Liberty magazine lay on the table beside me. It was two months old. April, Nineteen Forty-Nine, it said. Five cents.
The barber soon laid a plank covered in leather across the arms of his black barber seat. The plank is for little kids. It raises them high so the barber doesn’t have to bend. How humiliating! I’m not a little kid. I’m ten years old.
The barber wrapped a humungous blue and white striped sheet over me and did up a button at the back of my neck. It even covered my shoes.
On the shelf under the mirror his clippers, combs, razors and brushes were laid out on a towel. A few combs soaked in a tall jar of blue water. Spray bottles were lined up beside it, things for men. Old Spice aftershave lotion.
“How do yer want yerrr hairrrr cut today?” the barber asked through his bushy black moustache. He sounded Scottish like our neighbour two doors up on Ronan Avenue.
“Halfway down my ears, please.”
“What was that? I didn’t hearrr ye, girrrlie!” He came around to watch my mouth. He must’ve thought I was shy. I’m not.
“Half way down my ears, please.”
“Ye’ll have to speak up, child! Ye must tell me what ye want! I don’t want to cut off yerrr earrrs unless ye say so!” He rolled his brown eyes and snipped the air with his scissors.
The joke didn’t cheer me up. I wanted a hairdo for a girl. Half way down my ears is what my mother told me to say. With this kind of cut I could be one of the ugly Three Stooges. I could be Moe.
My mom doesn’t care. She says children should be seen and not heard. Mom lets me argue, for about one sentence.
I guess I should keep quiet about the barber. I should say, “Sure, Mommy, see you at four-thirty!” the first time I’m sent for a haircut. I should laugh if some boy calls me Curly or Moe.
The barber turned the chair to face Yonge Street and there I sat, nearly in the window. I shut my eyes. I didn’t want to know if some awful person out on the sidewalk was watching.
Yet, something made me steal a glimpse. Yep, boys were mashing their noses against the window and staring in at me. They didn’t look like anybody I knew. They were probably from Blessed Sacrament Catholic School across Yonge Street. Those kids hardly talk to us. They say they see God in their church and we don’t.
I wanted to jump out of the chair and get outside behind one of them. If only I could mash his head against the glass. He’d have to cry, “Give!” the best he could.
Snip, snip …. When this was all over I’d look the way I always look. My hair would be parted on both sides. The clump on top would be pulled back and held by an elastic band. It would be better if I had naturally curly hair but my hair is as straight as a yard of pump water. That’s what my mom says. After a haircut more ear shows and the back of my neck, the nape, as my mother calls it, is shorn.
“Let me see?” my father always says. “Yep, shorn like a sheep! The barber
did a good job.”
As he worked, the barber turned the chair. Little by little he moved me out
of the boys’ sight to face the men who waited on the brown chairs. They were reading magazines like Popular Mechanics, Wrestling, Popular Science and Liberty. New Liberty! Now on sale! Circulation over two hundred thousand! That’s a radio ad.
The barber turned me back to the mirror. The clippers on the nape of my neck tickled. They sent pins and needles down my back and up again.
A soft, powdery brush took loose hairs off my face and neck. The sheet came off.
“Now, how’s that?”
“Eh? What did ye say, girrrlie?”
I touched the bristles where soft hair once grew. It would be at least a week before the hairs started to feel normal. It would be a million years before the haircut suited a girl.
I had to be polite but I couldn’t smile.
“It’s all right.”
I got down. I paid him, stuck the change into Mom’s purse and left.