A Good Tidy-Up (To Meet The Parents) : Chapter 9

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Sarah looked up from the corner table in the cafe and adjusted her sunglasses. She had arranged to meet her mum for lunch, but was hoping to have a bit of fun. As Sheila didn’t know that she’d had her hair permed, and was expecting Sarah to be in her work uniform she wondered how long it would take before she was spotted. The oversized sunglasses were an extra touch just to make Sheila’s job a little harder.

Finally, she walked in, phone in hand. Sarah allowed her to look around, puzzled, for a few moments, then pulled out her own phone and texted her.

  • Over here, in the corner

Sheila looked at each corner in turn, finally settling on Sarah, still with a slightly puzzled expression. Sarah lifted her sunglasses and smiled, slightly bashfully and watched her mum’s eyes widen. She hurried over.

“So that’s why you were acting a little strangely this morning! I thought you were up to something, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this! I’m really pleased you decided to take my advice and have a shampoo and set. So how do you like having curly hair then?”

“I think I like it.” Sarah replied, “but whether I do or not, I’m stuck with it for a while now – I did have a shampoo and set, yesterday, but Steve saw it, and loved it, so I went back this morning to have it permed.”

Her Mum’s eyes widened further. “Goodness! That’s a bit of a turn up! I have to say, it looks lovely, but she really went to town on you didn’t she? That really is a proper little bubblecut she’s given you.”

“Yes, it is” replied Sarah proudly, “and that’s exactly how Steve said he wanted my hair, so I should think he’ll be very happy with it.”

“Well I would certainly hope so. You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to look smart for him, and you do look really lovely. Shall we get some lunch?”

Whilst they ate, Sarah explained that she had already been shopping the day before. She described to her mum the lovely smart dress she had bought  to wear on Saturday, when meeting Steve’s grandparents, along with the blouses, pleated skirts, cardigans and comfy elasticated trousers. Sheila nodded approvingly at each of Sarah’s purchases.

“That all sounds really nice, dear, but I think I can still think of one or two things you might need. You really can’t wear any of your old trendy clothes with such a neat and tidy little head of curls.  We need to make sure that you have nice smart clothes suitable for all occasions.”

Sarah wasn’t quite sure how this made her feel. Her mum was quite correctly pointing out that her tight little poodle perm would make any attempt to look at all trendy or sassy simply ridiculous, and Sarah would just have to accept that she would now be seen by the world as a smart, presentable, conservative young lady who clearly put practicality ahead of vanity.

On the one hand, Sarah felt sad that she would no longer be seen as the attractive, fun-loving girl she used to be. On the other, she knew that her mum was incredibly happy and proud to finally have such a smart and respectable daughter, and that in turn made Sarah happy and proud, that her sacrifice had been worthwhile. She was also a little nervous, if truth be told, about Steve’s reaction. She was confident that her hair was exactly how he had said he would like to see it, but how would he react when confronted with the reality? Would he still find her attractive? And would he be happy that her hair was going to be very short and very curly for the foreseeable future? If he decided that actually he preferred her longer, more fashionable hairstyle, there wasn’t much she could do about it!

When they had finished lunch Sarah found out what her mum meant by ‘smart clothes for all occasions’, arriving home with pretty much a whole wardrobe of modest and completely matronly pleated skirts and dresses, blouses, jumpers and cardigans, not to mention four pairs of sensible low-heeled shoes, some smart, some casual, and several smart and practical coats. It really had been quite the afternoon.

Sheila hadn’t stopped at outerwear, but also insisted, much to Sarah’s embarrassment, that they place a whole drawer full of sensible, frumpy, not remotely sexy, but certainly to be wonderfully comfy knickers and non-figure enhancing bras in the basket. Sarah’s mum was very much in charge here; she had taken her daughter’s invitation to revamp her wardrobe to heart, and had no intention of leaving Sarah with any of her old, trendy clothes at the end of the day.

Sarah was very relieved to finally get home after an afternoon spent in the type of middle-aged ladies value-based clothes shops she would normally not be seen dead in. Sheila had enjoyed it though, taking every opportunity to soak up the comments coming from the elderly sales assistants as to how nice it was to see a young lady in modern times with such a neat and presentable, ladylike hairstyle. She seemed delighted to constantly remind Sarah how pleased she was that Sarah had opted for a nice simple cut and perm, and how this was making her become a sweet and homely, dutiful little daughter who was happily embracing her newfound status as an unassuming, timid little plain-Jane.

When they did finally get home, Sheila wasted absolutely no time in convincing Sarah that the sooner they make way for her new clothes the better. It was a somewhat numbed Sarah who found herself in her bedroom with her mum, literally throwing anything remotely trendy, sexy or otherwise unsuitable for a prim and proper young lady into black sacks for the charity shop. This definitely included all of Sarah’s jeans, and indeed the rest of her trousers, except for the new, comfy, elasticated waist ones she had bought the day before, which met with her mum’s approval.

Sarah initially resisted throwing out some of the garments, in particular a newly purchased tight fitted pencil skirt. Sadly, this brief attempt to take back at least a modicum of control proved fruitless, as her mother quickly put a stop to it, quietly pointing out “You look so lovely with your short tight little perm, and I honestly don’t think you will feel comfortable dressed in a ‘sexy secretary’ skirt whilst you have such a modest and unassuming hairstyle.”

Sarah instantly surrendered, and without another word she simply put the skirt into the sack. Even then her mother didn’t let up. Once again gushing approvingly just how much nicer she looked with her hair cut and permed, and how darling it was she had purposely had the hairdresser do it so she was left looking like a little poodle, she turned the subject of conversation to Steve and to how it had transpired that he had wanted her to have her hair done.

Sarah felt on firm ground here, and she happily explained. “Well, it turns out that Steve’s sister, Tina, had her long hair cut off short and permed when she was younger. Her Mum had it done because she wanted Tina to look smart for some family occasion. I don’t think Tina was too happy about it initially, and her Mum ended up having it cut even shorter so that Tina had to keep it curly, but I think she came around to liking it eventually.”

“Gosh,” replied Sheila . “It sounds like Steve’s mother isn’t someone you’d want to get on the wrong side of. I wanted you to have your hair cut and permed when you were about 14, but you wouldn’t hear of it. Perhaps I should have put my foot down, then I would have had a smart and presentable daughter years ago!”

“Perhaps you should have,” conceded Sarah, remembering the incident, and how much of a fuss she had kicked up to be allowed to keep her long hair.

“Do you know, I think I should have! I did try putting my foot down a few times after that, but you were always very difficult about it. It was hard enough getting you out of your jeans and a comb through your hair! I sometimes think I could have been much stricter with you, and keeping you in a sensible haircut would have done you a lot of good, and would certainly have made life much easier.”

Sarah was now rather ashamed as she recalled her teenage battles with her mother, and  wondered how she would have felt if Mum had insisted on smartening her up, and marched her down to the hairdresser’s for a short haircut or even a tight perm. She was sure that the younger Sarah would have been very upset, but suspected that, like Tina, she would have got used to it soon enough. And it would certainly have made her mum really proud. With the benefit of hindsight, she rather regretted her stubbornness, and even wished that Mum had been stricter with her. She knew now how disappointed both her mum and her Nan had been when she turned up to important family occasions having insisted on looking as trendy as possible, rather than accepting that there were times that smart and presentable would have been more appropriate.

“Anyway,” she resumed, realising that there was nothing she could do now to change the past.  “Steve thought that Tina’s hair looked really nice in a short perm, and nicer still when it was cut even shorter. So he asked me if I’d have my hair cut and permed into a really short little bubblecut for him.”

“And you’ve certainly done that! He must mean a lot to you. I hope he appreciates the commitment you’ve shown to making yourself look smart and presentable for him. Now, shall we get over to your Nan’s? I’m sure she’ll be really pleased to see you looking like a prim and proper young lady.”

They dropped off the multiple bags with all of Sarah’s trendy clothes at the local charity shop, and then Sheila drove them over to Nan’s. On the way, Sarah decided to phone ahead.

“Hello Nan? It’s Sarah, I’m just on my way over with Mum.”

“Yes, I’ve got the afternoon off work, so I thought I’d come with her to see you.”

“And I thought I’d better warn you, I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you.”

“Well if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise would it?”

“Oh, I think you’ll like it. I’ll just say that it’s something that I should have done a long time ago.”

“No, I’m not saying anything else, you’ll just have to wait and see.”

“OK, see you soon.”

Sarah hung up and looked across at her mum. “Well, I didn’t want her to have a heart attack or something when she saw me!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh my goodness! Sarah? Is that you?”

“Yes Nan, it’s me!” Sarah laughed. “Do you like my new haircut?” She put her hands up and patted her curls gently, turning her head to show it off.

For a moment, Sarah’s Nan was speechless, holding her hands up to her face with eyes like saucers, but she quickly recovered herself.

“Oh Sarah! You look absolutely lovely with your hair like that. You know I’ve wanted to see you with a neat little head of curls for ages, and you look so nice and smart now, I just knew that you would.”

“Well I’m glad that you approve; I know that you and Mum both wanted me to have a nice short perm, and it feels really good to make you both happy.”

“Well come in, come in, and tell me all about it. I’ll put the kettle on.”

Sarah and her mum were ushered in, and Nan set about making tea. As she bustled about in the kitchen, Sheila turned to Sarah with a thoughtful expression. “Just pop into your Nan’s bedroom, would you Sarah, and get down the photo albums from the top of her wardrobe?”

Sarah brough back the albums, and Sheila started to flip through them, obviously looking for something specific. Just as Nan appeared with the tea, she suddenly exclaimed.

“There it is! I knew it was in here somewhere. Look!”

She turned the album round, and lifted it up for Sarah and her Nan to see. In the middle of the page was a black and white photo of a young woman with very short, tightly curled hair. Just like Sarah’s, it was cut neatly over her ears and, as she was partly turned away from the camera, her raised hairline, again, just like Sarah’s, was clearly visible. Underneath the photo, in neat handwriting, was ‘Pat, Poodle Cut, 1951’. The woman in the photo was, of course, Sarah’s Nan, but the resemblance to Sarah was remarkable.

“Oh my, that takes me back! That was when I first had my hair cut up short and permed. There was an actress called Mary Martin, in ‘South Pacific’ who made it popular. A lot of the girls had it done back then.”

“And a lot of you have stuck with it ever since, it seems!” laughed Sarah, looking at her Nan’s hair, which though now completely white, was still in a neat and tidy short perm, although a little less severe than in the old photograph.

“Well, as you’re going to find out, Sarah” her Nan told her earnestly “if you keep your hair cut to a sensible length, it’s much less trouble to look after. And perming it means that it always stays neat and tidy. That’s why most ladies never go back to their fussy long hair, once they’ve seen how smart and practical a nice short perm is.”

“Yes, I see what you mean.” Sarah looked thoughtfully at her mum’s short but elegant layered style, with its tidy side parting. “Did you ever have your hair permed, Mum?”

“Oh yes, a long time ago.” her mum replied. “Your Nan kept it quite short when I was little, and I’d have it set it in rollers for special occasions. I grew it out a bit when I was older, and had it all put up for my wedding, but it really was too much trouble to keep it looking presentable, and I had it all cut off and permed the year after we got married. Your father quite liked it, but I hated the smell, so after a couple of perms I let the curls grow out, and since then I’ve just kept it short and tidy. I used to have it set fairly often, but most hairdressers don’t really do sets any more.”

“You should come with me on Saturday, then.” Sarah replied promptly. “I’m having my hair set so I look extra smart for meeting Steve’s Grandma. I’m sure Maureen could squeeze you in.”

“Oh yes!” chipped in Nan, “It would be lovely to see you with a proper hairstyle again, Sheila. And maybe now that Sarah has become a convert to perms, you’ll consider having yours permed again. I always said you should have kept it curly, and it would be so lovely to have all three of us in matching little poodle perms!”

Sheila looked a little taken aback at her mother’s enthusiasm, and started to wonder where her original suggestion that Sarah might like to try a shampoo and set was going to lead. She really hadn’t ever enjoyed the process of having her hair permed, and had stopped having it set for fear that it looked too old-fashioned, but if it meant so much to her mother, maybe she should grin and bear it. She then started to think about how nice it would be to have a simple, fuss-free hairstyle. Her current short style would be considered low-maintenance by many women, but still required careful blow drying and styling each morning, along with firm-hold mousse and spray in order to keep her natural waves from becoming unruly. And she always had to beware of the weather; a brief rain shower is all it took to ruin her careful work, and leave her looking bedraggled for the rest of the day.

Sarah, for her part, was thinking about her Nan’s comments about never going back to long hair, and once again realising that her new, modest appearance was likely to be a permanent change. Apart from the fact that all of her old trendy clothes were now gone, and her new wardrobe was entirely approved by her mum to make her look smart and modest, and that it would take forever to grow out her short, tight perm to anything remotely fashionable, she knew that she would be letting down so many people who were important to her. It seemed that Nan was even more enthusiastic about her new appearance than her mum had been, and of course there was Steve, not to mention his mum, who had been delighted to discover that her son’s new girlfriend had a neat and tidy, respectable haircut rather than a long fussy mane of hair. No, there was no going back now. Sarah was now a smart and respectable young lady, and that is how she was going to stay.

With that happy thought, Sarah settled down with her cup of tea, and started answering all her Nan’s questions about her new boyfriend, and why she’d cut and permed her hair for him.

 


 

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