Jeaninne is an award-winning fiction and essay writer who is the author of "Manuel's Murals."
Just Mom and Me
Every other Saturday, I had my mother all to myself. When my brother and I didn’t have weekend visits with our father, I relished in our mother/daughter day. My mother had a standing appointment every week at the hair salon with Marina, a glamorous young Latina woman who made my mother look better than Jackie Kennedy and Mary Tyler Moore put together.
I couldn’t wait to sit among the space helmet hair dryers in front of the white circular coffee table, littered with tattered movie magazines. I always had a Scholastic paperback in case the latest issue of Movie Mirror hadn’t arrived. “Old Yeller” and “Big Red” were two of my favorite stand-by books. But it was hard to concentrate on the printed word when women’s gossip was so much more intriguing. I savored the smell of hair spray and permanent solutions. I couldn’t wait to grow up to be one of these women whose looks could be completely transformed with a pair of scissors and a comb. And, without fail, Marina greeted me with, “Jeaninne, you have the prettiest eyes.”
The only time I saw my mother with flat hair was when Marina washed it out in the porcelain sink under her station mirror. Within minutes, my mother’s hair was covered in pink sponge rollers. She sat drying under a plastic orb for 20 minutes before Marina began her magic. After another 20 minutes, my mother’s coal black hair became a tower of swoops and swirls. When Marina handed my mother the hand mirror and slowly turned her chair, I was reminded of the television commercials advertising how a shampoo could turn drab hair into the locks of a goddess. Mom was always pleased. I especially liked the spit curls that framed her face.
Mom would hold my hand as we walked to the car and say, “How about a dime store hot dog and a trip to the fabric store?” Of course, I couldn’t think of anything better. My mother could conjure up a fantastic creation of trend-setting style from any piece of material. As a single mother, she couldn’t afford to buy my clothes, but her designs were far better.
With our stomachs full on toasted bun hot dogs slathered in mustard, mom and I would hoist ourselves up on tall stools and thumb through over-sized pattern books such as McCall’s and Simplicity. She let me pick out the pattern for my next school dress and whatever material was en vogue. I couldn’t wait to watch her pin and cut the pattern pieces, then thread up her machine for the actual sewing process.
I felt like a princess for the final fittings, standing in front of the dressmaker mirror. Mom would carefully pin the hem while I held my breath so as not to get stuck or cause my mother to lose her line. I so looked forward to the day my new dress was ironed and ready to wear to school. My teachers and peers oohed and aahed when I walked in the classroom wearing her signature outfits.
Throughout my life, people have wanted to buy my mother’s handwork, whether it be clothes, knitted sweaters, needlepoint murals, felted purses or stuffed dolls. Until she could no longer see to create, my mother always responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t sew for money. I sew for love.”