Sometimes Mom let me stay overnight at her Aunt Pauline’s and Uncle Basil’s house, all by myself. Aunt Pauline and Uncle Basil didn’t have any little girls, just one teenage girl, Joey. Aunt Pauline and Uncle Basil were old like Grandma and Grandpa, so they always loved me up a lot when I was over; they were so happy to have a little girl around reminding them of the good old days when they were younger, and Joey was littler and smiled more at them. Now she mostly rolled her eyes and smacked her lips together in a sideways frown.
Uncle Basil looked a little bit like Santa Claus: a big round belly and rosy cheeks with a nose like a cherry, and eyes that laughed all the time, just like that poem. But no beard. Uncle Basil’s round face and head were all bare-naked, like my head was when I was born. I saw pictures of me: no hair at all. Grandma said Uncle Ken was bald like that ’til he was over two years old, so she glued a piece of her own hair on the inside of his bonnet, ’cause she was afraid people would think he was a moron. I sure laughed at that one, ’cause nobody told me having lots of hair made a person smart. Me and Uncle Ken both got lots and lots of hair, and we both were smart cookies, so being a bald-headed baby was a poor predictor. I thought Uncle Basil was pretty smart too, anyway everybody listened to him when he talked: he was super loud and threw his arms around a lot, and laughed like crazy with his thick neck bent back and tears running off his face and getting stuck in his ears; he took a big white handkerchief out of his back pocket, wiped his face and head, and said, “ohhh, hheee,” letting his breath out in a giant huff, like laughing just exhausted him. I wasn’t sure if he was as smart as Uncle Ken, but he was an awful lot of fun. Uncle Basil smelled like sausage and cigars, not like cookies and cherry pipe tobacco like I was sure Santa did.
Joey was a little bit kooky, especially if my Aunt Annie and another teenage cousin, Bubbles, came over, then they got extra-kooky. Joey, Bubbles, and Aunt Annie just giggled up a storm and whispered, and looked sideways at Aunt Pauline. Sometimes they rolled their eyes at each other, but with the giggling thrown in it seemed nice, not mean, like when Joey did it at Aunt Pauline and gave that sideways lip-smack. Bubbles’s real name was Apollonia, but everybody called her Bubbles ’cause she had really big eyes and she laughed so much her eyes just bubbled all the time. Anyway, what kind of name is Apollonia for a girl, or for a boy for that matter? Mom said Apollonia is a name from the Old Country. Later on when Bubbles got married, her husband said nobody could call her Bubbles any more, so she changed her name to Anne. Now that seems kookier than all those teenagers together.
Aunt Pauline was the best at loving me up. She gave me cookies in the middle of the day, and a bubble bath at night; she even washed me in the tub, took me out, helped me dry me off, then laid me on her bumpy, white bedspread and put baby powder all over me, just like I was a baby. Mom’s bedspread probably had white bumps like that a long time ago, but now they were all worn down, with just little tufts of thread where the bumps were. I was really too big for all that fussing, but I never complained, ’cause it felt kinda good to be treated little for once, and it was really nice to get my pajamas on without them sticking to me all over the place, making it feel like I got them on backwards or put on somebody else’s by mistake. Aunt Pauline acted like it was a real treat to have me over at her house; she sat down to have a cup of coffee with me, only my cup had milk in it, with a tinsy bit of sugar. I never ever got that at home.
Aunt Pauline had a great idea that’ll tickle your Mom pink. “How ’bout we cut your hair?” she asked me, and her eyes got all big and happy, peaking out at me over he coffee cup. “Won’t it just surprise her so?” I had to agree with that. “I’ll give you a D.A. haircut like Joey’s. That’s so much easier to brush.” Joey’s hair was short almost like a boy’s; she just put some Vitalis on it, brushed it back on both sides, and done. My hair was long down to my shoulders, and always getting snarly. Mom insisted that it be tangle-free every single morning; by supper-time it was snarly again. I thought Aunt Pauline had a super-duper idea.
I hid behind Uncle Basil’s car when Mom came to get me, so I could really catch her off her guard. She was so surprised, she said she thought I was someone else’s little girl. That made me laugh. She just kept saying, “Oh. My. Oh. Look at that.” sucking breaths in-between each word, and touching my neck like she never saw it before. Her lips were smiling, but her eyes looked more like the way someone looks when they get surprised with a punch in the stomach. Right there, I knew that was going to be part of my memory until I was as old as Grandma, maybe longer. There we were, sitting on the bumper of Uncle Basil’s white and deep-red car, the sun shining down all over the flower beds, Aunt Pauline standing on the porch looking so proud and happy, and Mom touching my neck with a smile on her face, but looking like she wanted to throw-up or something.
Years later I asked Mom about that haircut, and she remembered it as clearly as I did: all my wavy strawberry-blond hair gone; Aunt Pauline looking so pleased about the big favor she did, and Mom just standing there feeling sick. Mom said the damage was done, so no sense in getting angry. Besides, hair grows back, and hurt feeling sometimes last forever, so it was better just to let Pauline think she did something nice. Whenever I’m shocked speechless, I consider it’s a special little gift. I have some time to consider the right words and the right tone of voice, without any eye rolling or sideways lip-smacking. Or perhaps, I may even choose to say nothing at all.