Not at ALL What You Thought

Monday, June 22, 2009

Merry Father's Juneteenth!

On Saturday, the family celebrated my stepfather's 80th birthday. I think I had more fun than anybody.

A very admiring young man at PopPop's church had noticed when, last year, he said he had just turned 79, and the young man decided to celebrate the next birthday big time (meaning borrowing one of the church conference rooms and feeding everybody who showed up). This young man began planning the shindig in January.

Which is from how long, I think, Juice, Goobs and their cousins, Auntie's nepphies, have been practicing the songs my sister forced them to perform for PopPop. Things got really hairy towards the end: tempers flared, children revolted, adults threatened. This is as it should be. I guess.

In the meantime, the young man at the church dug up pictures and little-known facts about the man Bethel Temple called Papa Kelly. I knew what his birthday was, but had paid no attention, over the years, for example, to the fact that he shared his birthday with Juneteenth; or that he had left school so he could work and his sister could finish school; or that when he came back to school, he finished in record time as valedictorian. I knew that he'd hurt his back when, in Korea, he'd been blown off of a mountain, but I didn't know he'd met General Douglas MacArthur and President John F. Kennedy. I didn't know his favorite team was the Brooklyn Dodgers (but I figured I knew why).

His daughter and granddaughter came and spoke about him in front of God and everybody, and Mama told jokes (which she'd written down, by hand, on the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper)*. The step-grandchildren (who had finally succumbed to the plea, "Y'all are doing this for PopPop") sang and played two songs. I was rewarded with a big metal grin (he's got braces) from one of Auntie's Nepphies when I said, "That was NIIIIIICE" at the end.

His stepdaughters (my sister and I) and stepson-in-law sang for him, too. We were at least as nervous as the grands.

We ate baked chicken and brisket (with three sauces available!!!), string beans and new potatoes, salad, and a mixed cake of chocolate and lemon. The best part, though, was when we all milled around and hugged each other and caught up. Toward the end, my younger nepphie walked up to a microphone and told the story of when he (the nepphie) lost a ball in one of PopPop's trees. Before PopPop quietly got a ladder, balls and other objects had joined the first ball: the kids had tried to knock the first ball down, and the tree had just grabbed everything.

"But why are your shoes up here?" PopPop had asked.

This occasion cast my mind back to the beginning of our relationship. Mama married Mr. Alford when my sister and I were teenagers. We hated him: when we got chicken to eat, he got steak. He bossed us around and changed the rules of the house. We didn't know what Mama saw in him. But I will always remember when things changed. One evening, the newly-married couple were watching television. Too loudly. (At the time, I didn't know that my new stepfather was hearing impaired.) I had the nerve to knock on the bedroom door and demand, "Could y'all turn the TV down, please?" My stepfather burst out of the bedroom in his robe and began to lecture me.

"I understand you read the bible a lot," he said. "Do you know what it says about honoring your parents?"

"I know," I said. "Do you know what it says about fathers not provoking their children?"

This began a years-long dialogue between That Man and me. He adored me, and I, of course, adored being adored. But the adoration became mutual when my sister and I had kids. That Man treated our children like --well, like his grandchildren. He happily spent time and scads of money** on them, lectured them, loved on them, taught them cool stuff, and grinned and laughed at them. THIS --this smiling and laughing-- was what, finally, showed me something of what Mama had seen years ago: my stepfather looks a little like Sidney Poitier. THAT was when he became PopPop.

On Sunday, the family met at a Chinese buffet. PopPop and I crossed paths on the way to the dessert.

"Happy Father's Day," he said.

*My second older brother, the one who used to live with us, didn't even crack a smile. He hates it when people try to "make" him laugh.

**Most recently, PopPop came through with $300 when Juice's father broke a promise to provide half of a college dormitory deposit.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hairy Issues : Never Say Never

This is about my hair again, so those of you looking for political commentary (which-- What in the world?? Is this your first time here?) should move on.

Some loc lore: the hairstyle's history is rooted (no pun intended) in Jamaica, where Rastafarianism taught that Haile Selassie was the Messiah, Africa was the promised land, and dreadlocks were NEVER to be cut. Personally, I've heard even unloc'd folk come near screaming about the cutting of locs: it's a religious thing, a spiritual thing, something to bring one closer to God, and NO one should cut another person's locs. Ever. (You oughta see how tense I get when a loc'd sister shows up on What Not to Wear. Is Sista going to whoop up on Nick and his scissor fetish?)

Oh, and folk who wore dreadlocks smoked marijuana. Also to get closer to God*.

Further, the process of "locking" the hair can not be reversed. Ever. "Dreadlocks" aren't ever supposed to "unlock." Those of us with the applicable hair* were told if we ever loc'd our hair, it'd have to stay that way unless or until our heads were shaved. Seriously. It's a commitment, one way or the other. A friend of mine, who has had locs for years longer than I have, emailed me recently and said she was having her locs undone. "Yes," she said. "Unlocked." She explained that the process was expensive and time-consuming, but it could be done. I didn't believe her.

I guess I should say something about the process of loc'ing hair. Currently, there are (at least) two schools of artificial* process : palm rolling and latch hooking. Palm-rolled locs are just what they sound like: hair rolled into the desired loc shape, maybe helped along with styling oils or beeswax or gels. Latch hooking threads old hair through the new growth, making the locs tighter and neater. Sometimes the "loctitian" actually uses a latch hook, but s/he doesn't have to. A cousin (who had never loc'd her hair, btw) told me that palm rolled locs could, if desired, be relaxed and unlocked, but latch hooked hair? Never. When I decided to take the latch hook route, I was told that there was no turning back; that latch hooking would guarantee that I could never "unlock" my hair. Never.

Over time, I found out that a lot of the loc lore was just dogma. For one thing, locs are older than Jamaica and Haile Selassie. Loc wearers weren't necessarily Rastas or marijuana smokers, of course. And, finally, locs could come unlocked.

See, I got my hair cut, over the objections of my regular loctitian. When she began to complain that our conversation about cutting my hair was making her eye hurt, I decided to go to a friend who had been employed by SuperCuts, and I asked her to cut my hair.

I was mildly intrigued when, after the cutting, the ends of my locs --that is, the oldest parts of my hair-- began to unravel. "Huh," I thought. "Maybe Amy [the email friend] knows what she's talking about." This is an earth-shattering revelation.

And now I'm obsessed with the stuff. Or, at least, the ends of the stuff. When I first did research on locs, I became aware of "hand in loc disease," where folk waiting and waiting and waiting for their hair to magically lock up can't keep their hands off of it. Leave it alone, says Daezhavoo. It will happen; get your hands out of your hair. I never had that problem. I was never one to play with my hair. There wasn't any to play with. But now, now that my hair is unraveling, I can't keep my hands out of it, feeling the forgotten softness at the ends, finding the latched areas and pulling more hair loose, wondering if there's a point at which the unraveling will stop. Wondering if I want it to stop.

Because, see, at bottom, a lot of black women chose locs because they wanted hair that cascadades* down their backs. Hair that moves. Yeah: Like white women's hair. This style might be or might not be, initially, about "heritage" or "history" or "self-love." Today's locs are about beauty. Otherwise, we would, all of us, be taking that "natural"* route. So now, my hair's at a length I really love, and the locs are coming out. Do I keep cutting to keep the length? Do I keep unraveling --until I decide, "Hey, I've got all this loose hair now. I never could grow it this long before. Could I get it (and keep it) Dead Straight? Dead Straight is the style now, after all. . ."? I'm also imagining myself with long, thick, nappy hair*, and liking the image. I wonder how long it'd last before my hair dried out and began to break off --because it was neither Dead Straight nor loc'd.

With me, though, the answer comes down to just how much work I'd have to do to my hair in either case. Loc'ing my hair means that I don't have to do deep conditioners. I don't have to sleep in rollers. I don't have to use a curling iron. I don't have to use a blow dryer because, after I wash my hair, I can let it dry in the wind. See, I chose locs because I'm a lazy git.

Dear Jesus, my brother, teach us that self-love is at the root of neighbor-love.

*Look. Don't ask me. I don't know.

*Because there are white and Asian Rastas with dreadlocked hair (and dreadlocked non-black folk who are not Rastas). But, I understand, a good wash, with the right shampoo, will end that particular style for them, while for blacks, no. Wash all you want, once that lock kicks in, it's not going anywhere.

*Because there is also the "natural" school of thought, in which one allows one's hair to just do what it do, become what it be when one doesn't wash or comb it.

*Whoopi Goldberg's term.

*Read "dirty and uncombed."

*Yeah, after I unravel my hair, all my fat'll fall off my body and I'll look just like Gloria Reuben.