|R.I.P., Patricia Luella French Pappas, 7/2/1936 - 2/28/2014|
|Patti, age 1, 1937|
When I heard this morning that my sister died early yesterday, I tracked down her daughters on Facebook and saw the wonderful photo they'd posted of her, looking gloriously glamorous. I hadn't seen her in a long time, but she's just as I've always remembered her, framed with her crowning glory.
Only three weeks ago I revised an old story about how I grew up envying my sister's glorious mane. I'm sorry I didn't mail it to her when I finished it.
“It’s always bothered me. Just look,” I squawked, envy oozing from every shrill syllable.
I pawed through my paisley duffel bag, plucked out a faded photo, glanced at the date Grandma had written on its back, 1941, and waved it under my husband’s nose.
“Even Lady Godiva and Rapunzel would have been jealous. When we were kids, people walking down the street would stop dead in their tracks to admire my sister’s hair.”
Ken glanced down at the faded photo. My big sister, Patti, and I stood side by side on a stone-pillared front porch. Grandma had dressed us in rickrack-trimmed polka-dotted pinafores. We clutched miniature mandolins to our chests and sported sombreros as big as dish tubs. Patti’s hair mushroomed out from under hers. I could just as well have been bald beneath mine. Patti beamed. I frowned.
|Grandma's Porch, c. 1942|
“Hair today, gone tomorrow,” Ken said, his tired joke about men going bald. I didn’t answer his tentative smile. He sighed. He had heard my laments before, but had never seen the photos. And though we had been married for eight years, he had yet to meet my sister. “Well, it’s true. She does indeed have plenty of curls.”
“What an understatement!” I fished out yet another photo. By now we were ten and eleven, clutching our baskets on Easter morning. Patti’s hair floated in clouds around her shoulders. I huddled next to her, forcing myself to smile. “Grandma had put my hair up on rag rollers,” I explained. “But those long spiral ringlets barely held their curl long enough to take this picture. By the time we’d hiked down the hill to church in the morning fog, the curls had vanished, and Grandma had to tie my hair back into a ponytail.” It was my turn to sigh.
“I’ve never forgotten the minister’s sermon that Easter,” I continued. “He just happened to pick a verse about sound hearts giving life to the body while envy rots the bones. I felt as if he could stare directly into my jealous little heart and I could almost feel my bones rotting away.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your heart,” Ken said. “Nor your hair. It’s baby fine. So what?”
“So what?” I shrilled. “Look at this!” I shoved yet another photo into his hand. In high school both Patti and I had adopted fashionable poodle cuts. But where her curls spiraled out from her scalp like a fluffy lamb’s, mine, despite the combined efforts of a Toni home permanent, overnight pin curls and a drenching with the newly-available hair spray, hung limp and sparse.
“It was always torture, my hair, my cross to bear. And Patti could wear any style at all, a flip, a wedge, a pixie, or a shag. All effortlessly. I longed for curly hair, hoped for it, even prayed for it. All for naught.”
Ken shook his head. “Now you’ll whine that it wasn’t fair,” he predicted, setting aside the photo. “You didn’t have it so bad. You at least had hair and you still do.” He patted his own bald spot. “You could have suffered from that condition that makes your hair fall out, alopecia. I knew a woman once who woke up one morning and found huge hunks of hair on her pillow. And lots of women in chemotherapy lose their hair, too.”
|Terri, Joel and Patti with Uncle Joe, c.1948|
“I know,” I said. “I know I’ve been foolish, but to me it HAS always seemed so unfair. You wouldn’t believe what I tried in order to get my hair to look thick and curly. It would have been hair-raising…except that it didn’t. Raise any hair, that is”
“Try me,” Ken said. “What wouldn’t I believe?”
“Well, Grandma convinced me that eating carrots would make my hair curly and I gobbled so many that I turned orange from consuming so much carotene.”
Ken raised an eyebrow. “Orange?”
“Yes! Halloween orange,” I said, shaking my head as I remembered all those puzzled glances in my direction. “And then Aunt Betty told me that mineral oil would make my hair thicker. It took me a week of twice-a-day shampoos to wash it all out. And in the ‘70’s when wigs came into fashion, I spent a fortune on falls, wiglets, clip-on buns. Finally, 20 years ago, I gave up and decided I’d just accept my own straight hair. I might not like it, but I had better things to do with my time than fuss with my hair.”
My husband patiently brushed my bangs to the side and leaned over to kiss my forehead. “I’d never thought of you as being envious before.”
“Oh, yes. Of course it was worse while I was growing up,” I said. “But even now, whenever I look at these old childhood photographs, I can feel the irritation come creeping back.”
I zipped up the duffel and carted it out to the garage where I paused to look around for a padded envelope. When Ken mentioned the chemo patients I’d remembered something I’d been meaning to do since the previous winter. I’d fallen down the stairs and fractured my shoulder right before Christmas. I’d had to have my hair cut short since with my left arm confined to a sling I no longer could raise both hands to coil my long straggly mane into a French twist.
|Patti, c. 1948|
I took the envelope upstairs and found the plastic bag that held my severed ponytail. I’d mail it to Locks of Love, a group that supplies hairpieces to children who have lost their hair.
Even though fine, my hair, transformed into a wig, could help restore a little girl’s self esteem. It might become that child’s crowning glory, so people wouldn’t stop dead in their tracks to stare. It might even give her hope for a brighter future.
“I’m off to the post office,” I shouted to Ken as I headed out the door. The afternoon breeze ruffled through my short straight hair. My poor sister probably had no idea of the grudge I’d nurtured simply because she was born blessed with thick natural curls. I blushed, realizing I probably owed her an apology. I decided I’d put my confession in story form. If it got published, I’d mail it to her.
My future looked brighter, too. I’d finally gotten envy out of my hair!
|Coconut Grove, 6/28/1953, my 16th birthday, Patti is the middle girl, I'm on the right|
|Patti and her family, 2013|