As a child, Sunday mornings was always a special time. Daddy would pull out his shoe polish kit and grab his cotton rag that was always streaked with black lines and had a strong smell of shoe polish. He also had a shoe brush for the true shine. He would dip the rag in the polish tin, rub it on the shoes and begin rubbing the shoes until they started to shine as fine as the shoes at the local “Hills Bros” shoe store. As he moved that rag over them, he would whistle a song I never could quite put a tune to. He would line up his shoes and those of my brothers and work diligently until they were all polished and ready to go. In the background we would hear Mahalia Jackson or the Dixie Hummingbirds playing on the record player.
Afterwards, he would get out his jar of ” Dixie Peach” hair grease and rub it in my brothers hair and then brush their hair and part it with the brush. The part never seemed to last as long as the job it took to make it. By the way, we would all have had our baths the night before and were ready to go. Mama would be over at the stove lining up her jar of grease, the hot comb and her rag for wiping it down to cool before raking through my sister’s hair. My sister would always dread what was about to come next. Mama would call her over to the stove to sit in a chair, drape a towel over her shoulders and for the next few glorious minutes tell her to ” Hold still, hold your ear back, look up”, and so on and so on. I would stand over to the side eagerly awaiting my turn to have these moments with my mama. For my sister’s time seemed to last forever. Maybe if I had paid closer attention, I would see my sister was not truly enjoying the experience. She was hunched over with her face in a frown, grimacing the whole time.
When it came my turn, mama always said, “Come on over here. I don’t know what to do with your head, but sit down.” I never got the towel draped over my shoulder and it always seemed mama was not as excited to do my hair. I always begged her to press it too. But she would say, “You don’t need it. You ain’t got our kind of hair”. It always seemed she would take the regular comb, rake it through for a minute and say, “There you’re done”. And that special time in mama’s chair would be over much too quick. Or mama would put my hair in a braid and would sometimes spank me later cause it would come loose and she swore I would take it down. That is until one time my grandma, who was visiting, told her, “Don’t spank that child, she ain’t doing it on purpose. Her hair is like white folks. They need rubber bands on the end to keep it from unraveling”.
Another time I remember wearing mama down and begging her to press my hair. Finally she said, “Come on over here. I am going to show you why you don,t need your hair pressed”. She took the hot comb and raked it through my hair. I smelled the familiar smell of burning hair and gease, but a piece of my burnt hair fell into my hands as I reached up to touch it. Mama’s reaction was, “Didn’t I tell you that you didn’t need it? Now go on over there”.
I stood there in shock, trying to figure out what just happened and why was I done so quick and why is this hair in my hand? I know now as I look back, I wasn’t craving having my hair straightened so much as I was craving the longer time my sister got to spend with mama in that chair by the stove.