Measuring a Lifetime
When I visited my parents at the Hallmark Senior Living Center they appeared suspiciously conspiratorial. They giggled together on a sofa, secretly sharing the mail as though it were a spicy French postcard. He pointed excitedly to an image on a color brochure.
“There, that one! I love the flowing curls.” Her small head delicately balanced on frail shoulders instinctively responded with a dismissive shrug. He took her hand and smiled.
He was not the kind of man who ogled women, but he always noticed their hair. One of his earliest depression era memories was collecting a quarter from neighbors who came for a shave, hair cut or perm from his parents who proudly displayed their barbering licenses on the living room wall.
He told me last week that he didn’t know what to think of all Mother’s abrupt changes in mood and attire. She was always a conservative dresser but now she relished layering her arms and neck with gaudy jewelry she got from neighbor’s apartment sales. She insisted on wearing flamboyant decorative headgear. Some days it was a frilly hat or a boa scarf, but mostly she found lots of headbands and managed to weave them through her hair. He was bothered by the chaotic look of it. I told him maybe she wanted to secure her brain, hold it together, keep it safe from the insidious forces she didn’t understand and couldn’t control.
She suddenly spoke as she turned a page. “Here’s the one for me, the June Cleaver, but in brown with just a light splash of graying around the sides.” I tried to envision her wearing a multi colored Cher mane or a pert Audrey Hepburn brown bob. Her blue tinted white locks were all I’d ever known.
She couldn’t remember how to style her own hair, a simple ritual slowly erased from her memory blackboard. He felt shame not being able to afford help with her personal care.
He read out loud the directions for ordering the $29.98 lifetime guaranteed, professionally styled Hairpiece of the Stars.
“Measure the head from the crown around and from the top to bottom, recording both diameter and circumference.” After sharing a confused look, she slowly got out a faded yellow measuring tape from a woven sewing basket under a chair. This was once her grandmother’s, the same one she used to create perfectly identical dresses every Easter for her four daughters.
They began to measure around her head, then top to bottom. They were both mathematically challenged with limited education. Fading eyesight and diminished memory made it extremely difficult to handle the limp, cloth tape.
After many frustrating attempts, they dropped the brochure and gaily began to measure each other’s heads and necks, arms and backs, and even their faces and smiles. I watched them play, entwined with golden streams of a shared lifetime, dancing a rhythm of careless laughter. A spontaneous yellow swirl measured each precious moment because that was what they had.