It never occurred to me during those long ago summer days when I wore my blond hair tightly braided so I could play baseball more efficiently that my soul was braided just as tightly.
I like to think that every child starts out that way, but as he or she grows their compassion and their humanity grow along with them. I forgot about my teenage years. The older me fingers my blond again – natural after years of being mousy brown but now mixed with gray –hair and it reminds me when I was eleven playing baseball in the vacant lot beside the Zawoysky house on Goodell Street. (It’s now filled with a house, sigh!!) All of the neighborhood kids played baseball in that lot and it didn’t matter what color your hair or skin was as long as you were a good player at least most of the time.
I imagined that those long summer afternoons of playing ball and trading insults and baseball cards and drinking Koolaide would last forever. Growing up loomed like a thunderstorm over the horizon but as long as the thunder remained distant, I was content.I braided my hair as tightly as I could to preserve the status quo.
Two years later we didn’t play ball at the vacant lot any longer. We went to dances at school and were in involved in young people’s activities at church. We were immersed in the process of growing up. Bouffant hairdos were in and I teased my hair along with the rest of the girls and sprayed its free flying masses with hairspray, but my soul was still braided.
Two years later, my Mom decided to finish the one year of high school she had left so that she could receive her diploma. Instead of discretely going at night, she decided to attend day classes. I was mortified. Passing her in the hall, I pretended I didn’t know her. When the few teachers that had taught both her and my father before inheriting their children said something about her courage, I tossed my long hair and tuned them out. My Mom graduated, but she didn’t attend commencement so I thought her achievement was over and I could go on being a teenager with a selective memory.
Forty years later and twenty years after her death, I am far beyond being a teenager and my hair is more gray than blond until I decide to consult Lady Clairol.
But my soul is gradually becoming unbraided. I am proud of you, mom!!