I was in Kentucky over the weekend, talking to my girl Crystal Wilkinson, the sassy fiction writer/novelist, and fabulous co-editor of Mythium Literary Magazine (along with her partner, the brilliant and kind artist Ronald Davis.) Click here to read a past feature I did on Mythium.
Crystal had brought me to Kentucky for a poetry reading at Morehead State University, where I read from the Phillis Wheatley project. I think I did all right, judging from the audience’s reaction. I had another reading at Western Kentucky University as well, kindly hosted by the poet Ricardo Nazario y Colón and the Office of Diversity Programs at WKU. And I read some OTHER poems there, including a few new poems from another project; I do actually write poems that aren’t about Miss Phillis, believe it or not.
Oh, I didn’t want to leave Crystal on Saturday morning! I wrote her a poem on the plane, and then called her when I got home and talked until I ran her battery down on her cell phone. She’s such a wonderful person.
Crystal and I had a long, lovely ride in the car to Morehead for the reading, and I was talking about how I am growing my hair out as long as it will grow—this one, last time. I told her that I only get my hair cut on the “growing moon.” Crystal knew exactly what I was talking about, and she also knew what a “growing hand” meant when I described my hairdresser as having one of those.
When I’ve mentioned “growing moon” and “growing hand” to some other sisters, they look at me with blank stares, and then, they laugh at me and say, “You sure are country.” That is true. I am country, although I’m what another friend would call “Striver’s Country.”
So I wanted to ask y’all to share your country hair story with me in the comments section—I promise I will not revise it and put it in my novel! I already have my own hair stories that I’ve written about. My friend Tayari Jones has shared some wonderful hair stories on her blog, too, but I am looking specifically for COUNTRY hair stories.
If you’re a White lady, and you’ve got something country to talk about concerning your hair, share that, too! Believe me, I’ve seen some White ladies from Texas, and all I can about their hair is “Dang.”
Ok, let me give you one of my own: my grandmother Florence (my mother’s mother who lived in Eatonton, Georgia) used to grease my hair with medicated Vaseline while she yanked through my long curly hair with a comb–curing me of being “tender-headed” and then, and put it in two braids.
The yanking will be familiar to many who are reading this, but I don’t even think they make medicated Vaseline anymore. For those of you who remember it, it smelled horrible and nasty–much worse than Sulphur 8. By the way, did you know that Madame C.J. Walker’s original formula was sulphur-based?
After Grandma fixed my hair, I would stink to high heaven. My hair would be looking all shiny and glorious, and I would trail the awful scent of something dead and decomposing behind me. I was too scared of my Grandma–she was a very scary person–to complain, but she tried to send some of that stuff back home with my mama when she came to get me at the end of the summer. I cried and told my mama, I didn’t want to be laughed at when I went to school. We lived in Durham, North Carolina, the mid-size capital of Black Bourgeoisie Negroes.
You know writing about hair for a Black woman writer is like a Brother writing about basketball, though I have noticed that a lot of short and tall uncoordinated Black men want to talk about what monsters they were “back in the day” on the basketball court. That’s like when Sisters want to tell you how their hair was all the way down their backs when they were little but now, it just won’t grow and they don’t know why.
I think the basketball and hair stories are the equivalent to White men’s fishing stories. Yes, my hair was several inches below my shoulders when I was a child, so I guess that is sort of down my back, but I will not tell you that my hair was the length of Janie Crawford’s when I was a little girl. No, I could not sit on my hair, ok?
I don’t believe in lying about the beauty. Like, I will tell you right now, I was cute for the first nine years of my life, and then, it took me twenty-six years to get back to cute again. My mother disagrees with that last statement; she says I have been incredibly beautiful since I was a baby, but if you can’t depend on your mama to tell a “got that wrong” to you about how pretty you have always looked, who can you depend on?
Anyway, I am jones-ing for the Country South and all its strange wonders, so help me out here. Please leave your “country hair” stories in the comments below. You can be from the city, and this can be a “when I visited my granny Down South” story, too. But just keep it country and honest.