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Home Grown

Confessions of a Biscuit Eater

A hair-raising adventure with Mama

By Cynthia Adams

My Mama sprang immediately to mind as a friend described a Triad maven he met while doing work for designer Otto Zenke. “She was always dressed bridge-ready. And she was so rich she had a hairdresser do her hair daily!” 

Hairdressers everywhere should observe November 5 — the day she died — National Hair Day, versus October 1. (As hair care company NuMe declared in 2017, according to my editor.)

No matter the fluctuating fortunes, calamities or dramadies within our family, a few things were certain: The sun would rise right alongside a pan of Mama’s biscuits, and so would her closer-to-God hair.

Thy will and Mama’s hair would be done. Weekly. (Southerners know what “done” means . . . and in this case, it has nothing to do with biscuits.)

Her biscuit making, however, was instinctual after years of practice. Mama practically made them in her sleep, wearing a negligee, satin mules and a cocktail ring, which grew lumpy with dough as she kneaded. She slapped the pan in the oven, sipping a cup of black coffee before cracking eggs as the grits burbled on the stove.

Every day.

I lost my appetite for those pillows of Crisco, flour and milk in my early youth after learning from my new friend, Rocky, that toast was much cooler up north. 

Rocky also touted frozen pies — anathema to my kin. When Judy, the daughter of our (adored) bookmobile driver, echoed Rocky’s preferences, I swore off biscuits, too.

Mama was fit to be tied when my 11-year-old self requested toast following our no-biscuit pact. 

When Rocky moved away, I ate my words and rejoined the legion of biscuit eaters. 

Mama’s passion for biscuits eventually waned, but hairdos were sacrosanct.

Her salon was called “Barbara’s.” Envision the salon in Steel Magnolias — except Barbara’s was actually at Barbara’s house. It was obvious when Barbara was working because the carport sheltered her patrons’ land yachts — Lincolns, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles. 

For hair to be considered truly “done,” it had to be impervious to wind, rain or natural disaster — minus wildfires — while made highly flammable with a shellacking of hairspray. Once done, women marched out of Barbara’s with helmet-like coiffures, teased and steeled. Fortified.

When older, her children grown, Mama wanted more. By her 70s, her salon visits were a twice-a-week habit.

Then Mama left my dad, Barbara and Hell’s Half-Acre behind, establishing a tight-as-ticks bond with a hairdressing duo in Norwood, NC — which even involved trips together. 

Mama achieved Nirvana vacationing with her hairdressers. (“Perry and Terry freshened my hair up every day when we were in Disney World!” she said blissfully.)

When she eventually remarried and moved to Greensboro, Mama struggled to find the level of style — teased high and hardened off — she demanded.

She tried salon after salon, eventually discovering Wayne. It became a happy pairing. When I needed to find her, I could go straight to his salon, spot her Lincoln outside and find Wayne spraying with zeal, a plastic shield at her face.

“He knows what my hair needs,” she would explain. “So many hairdressers do not.”

She also grasped what Jim, her husband, needed. Given his thing for blondes, Mama’s dark tresses grew steadily lighter. 

After Jim’s death, she moved nearer to my older sister.

The hairdresser hunt was on once more.

This proved more stressful than my (pragmatic) sister anticipated. They cycled through scores of beauticians as Mama’s health declined. Now using a cane, and soon, a walker, she began having falls, yet determinedly kept appointments. 

When Mama fell completely out of the Lincoln at the curb in front of her newest salon, the kindly hairdresser was recruited to visit her twice weekly.

This, too, grew challenging as Mama grew unable to stand at a basin long enough for shampooing.

Only in recent months of no bleaching had I discovered what her natural color actually was — still dark at the back though gray at the front. Shampooing Mama’s hair in the shower one day, I announced I’d “do” her hair. 

Glancing at mine — merely blown dry — she raggedly exhaled.

“Well . . .” Her hands fluttered in surrender. Attempting to twine her gray hair around a curling iron, I burned both her neck and my hand, and cussed. Mama looked exasperated as I held a cold cloth to her neck.

And started laughing.

“I’m having trouble, but it’s all because of your cowlick,” I lied sweatily.

“You don’t know diddly squat about hair or curling irons. Get that hairspray,” she giggled, indicating a large can of Big Sexy Hair. I sprayed her recalcitrant curls till wet, shakily trying to coax them into Modestly Compliant Hair.

When I burned us both again, Mama retorted, “Well, you’re no Wayne! Just get me my lipstick.” Big Sexy Hair couldn’t save me.

She pursed her lips as I swiped them with red — her perennial favorite — and reached for blusher, dusting her porcelain-pale face before swiping her lashes with globs of mascara, lending a jolting Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane effect. Mama was unrecognizable.

With a very light squirt of her cologne — Angel — I hurriedly wheeled her away from the mirror.

“Mama, why don’t I follow up that success by making a pan of biscuits?”

“Huh! Good thing I’m wearing my Depends,” she retorted drily. We giggled together; Mom, tremulous but plucky. “We can work on the hair later,” she added, and my heart dropped to my kneecaps.  OH

Cynthia Adam is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine.