High and Tight for Christmas

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It was the height of Chuck and Di fever when my mother started dating a man who accepted that she was a widow with two young children. Jacob had never been married, but had no issue with learning what it was to be a dad on the weekends he spent with us, or the mid-week meals our mom invited him to when she realized she was serious enough about him to introduce us all to each other. Jacob had no problem correcting us if he thought that my little brother Wayne or I were being too mouthy, or admonish us to eat our vegetables. He even asked us a few times if we needed a lickin’, something we’d never heard of, but didn’t sound like something we wanted to be introduced to, either.

One morning, he was helping get us ready for our various Saturday sports, and brushing my hair. “This will be so much easier once we’ve cut it short,” he said, beginning to separate it to braid. Short? There were a few girls in my class at school with short hair. Some had really cute cuts and I envied them, how easy it was when we had gym class for them to change afterwards and not feel sweaty or gross. How they didn’t need bathing caps on swimming lesson weeks. There were a few girls whose hair was always cut too short and who also hear threats of needing a lickin’ and looked as though their hair was cut in a barber’s chair but they didn’t dare protest. “When are we doing that?’ I asked, careful that my tone didn’t sound like backtalk. It was a question, not a challenge. “As soon as I can talk your mother into letting me take the two of you for an afternoon for a good snip,” Jacob said, still braiding. He was gentle when he wasn’t giving us crap for something, (the crap was usually well deserved.)

Jacob wore his own hair in a tightly-clipped style. We would have been hard-pressed to tell you what colour his hair was, so closely-shaved he kept it. Our mom, however, still held onto her Farah Fawcett waves, complete with the every Saturday wash and air dry, sleeping on satin pillows to keep it full, shower capping it when she bathed. Wayne was a classic seventies kid, too, with a longish bowl cut that Mom trimmed when it started to skim his shoulders. My own hair was long and rarely saw scissors other than a bang trim or to even out the ends. Still, I was intrigued what Jacob had in mind when he said a good snip. I suspected Wayne would meet hair clippers, exposing his pate as Jacob did. I admitted to Jacob that there were some girls in my class with really cute haircuts, but there were some who looked like their parents didn’t like them judging from how mean their haircuts were. “I wouldn’t do that to you guys,” Jacob wound an elastic around the end of my braid. “But if I took you to a salon for a haircut, you’d leave with a haircut. Not a little trim. So long as you could both behave yourselves, I’d never need to learn how to cut your hair myself.”

It sounded like he’d had the same conversation with our mom and was hoping to wear her down. A few weeks later, he surprised Mom with a dull day of spa pampering. She’d suspected he was getting close to proposing, and when the salon called to let her know that her manicure was scheduled for nine a.m., followed by a pedicure, massage, facial, and hair appointment, Mom figured the manicure was to make sure her fingers were ready for a shiny new engagement ring. Wayne asked me later did she not realize she was ending the day with a haircut? And that Jacob was always commenting on how pretty Lady Di’s short haircut was? How clean she always looked, even after her aerobics classes? I wondered if, while Mom was getting her nails done, Jacob was going to take Wayne and I for the snips he’d been promising. But we spent the day following our usual Saturday routine of getting Wayne to hockey and me to Ringette and going out afterwards for food. We both had sleepovers with friends that night, and Jacob insisted that we shower and wash our hair before we left. I left for my friend Cindy’s house with my hair still wet, and knew that Jacob would put an end to that shortly after Mom’s manicured finger was sporting a new ring.

Mom came home from the salon in tears. Her Farah waves had been lopped off, and she was wearing a Lady Di meets Dorothy Hamill style bowlcut. “I told her you wouldn’t want me to cut my hair short, and she kept saying that was what you’d asked for,” Mom wailed, stroking what was left of her hair. “We compromised on this. Please don’t be mad. It will grow back eventually.” Jacob said Mom looked very pretty but he had, in fact, suggested that the stylist cut her hair much shorter. “I was thinking a nice, clean pixie,” he said, running his hands through Mom’s freshly washed, clean, shorter hair. “This will do until you get used to having shorter hair. We’ll sort it out when we take the kids for their short Christmas cuts.”

Mom’s eyes widened and Wayne nearly snorted with laughter. Jacob had made it clear to both of us we’d be having our hair cut short. Mom was the only one who wasn’t ready for it, and he seemed willing to push her in that direction if he had to. “You like this look?” she sniffled, unable to give it her customary toss. “I love it,” Jacob assured her. “There’s something new hanging on your closet door. Go change so the kids can see you in it before you leave.” Wayne asked if Jacob was planning to ask Mom to marry him and Jacob nodded, but didn’t say it out loud, to keep the surprise for Mom. “Are you okay with that?” he asked us both, and we nodded, too. Jacob was a pain in the ass when he lectured us about eating habits and table manners, but he was a deep voice when the boys picked on me or pulled my hair, he glowered at both the kids and their parents in the stands at hockey games with their kids were badly behaved. He was the piece our family had been missing since our dad died. No matter how many times people told us that our dad loved us and was in a better place, he wasn’t there after a crap day at school or to cheer us on when we scored. I was willing to have my mousy blonde-brown hair undergo the scissors in exchange for that.

“I do sort of look like Lady Di in this dress,” Mom smiled, attempting to make the best of her new look, when she came downstairs. She did look like Lady Di. And Jacob was much better than Prince Charles in our minds. Exactly a month later, Jacob casually mentioned over dinner on Friday night that we had an early start the next day. “We’ve got to be at the salon when they open so we can all get our haircuts at the same time, and be done in time to get you to hockey.” Mom looked up from the vegetables he herself wasn’t very fond of and said something about not needing a trim herself, having just had her hair cut not long ago. “Wayne and I are getting clipper cuts,” Jacob said, matter-of-factly. Not up for debate. “And Rebecca is ready for her pixie cut. The only one who isn’t ready is you.” Mom protested that my hair was too pretty, and Jacob replied, calmly, that he’d like to try it once. “In a few weeks, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. If Becky wants to grow it back, after we’ve kept it short for a few months, we’ll talk about it. Same with you. I think if you actually take it short, you’ll find you really like it. But if you don’t after a few months, I will stop asking and you can grow it however you want.” Mom agreed, but only if Jacob agreed to take dancing lessons with her. In a true sign of his willingness to commit to her, Jacob gamely put on a satin shirt once a week and learned to spin our mother around a disco floor.

But her attempts to bluff him had not succeeded, so we found ourselves sitting in the parking lot of the same salon where Mom had her makeover the next day, waiting for them to open. Mom was still trying to make a plea to save my hair, and I told her I wanted it cut. She then switched to trying to save her own hair and Jacob said they should see what the stylist thought of what style best suited her. The moment the lights went on, he opened the car doors and asked if we were ready. Wayne and I were; Mom was more reluctant to get out of the car, but she followed us into the salon. We were greeted warmly, Jacob’s usual stylist ready to give him his customary trim, the woman who had cut Mom’s hair the month before smiling and admiring how it looked. “You’re going al the way today, right?” she urged. Mom gulped but said nothing. Jacob introduced Wayne to Donna, the lady who was going to give him “a good clippering,” and then introduced me to Glennis, who smiled and said if I wore my hair in braids off my face, I already knew how short hair would look on me. “Let’s get you to the sink and clean this up,” she said, hanging my jacket and leading me to the sink. As I had warm water poured over my head and shampoo that smelled like strawberries lathered onto my hair, I noticed that it was not Donna who was taking Wayne to a chair and wrapping him in a cape, it was the woman who’d spoken to Mom. Mom was at another sink with Donna. Jacob was already in a chair, clippers being run over his head from the forehead back. It was actually odd to see Jacob in his half-trimmed stage, with the top shorter than the back. He looked in that moment, despite his appearance always of neatness, like he was in desperate need of a haircut when the contrast between the clipped top and the sides was in view. Wayne’s locks were already being snipped off with scissors when I passed his chair, a small pile of cuttings growing on the floor. I felt something akin to envy at that pile, but as Glennis wrapped me in a pink cape and said “Okay, Princess, let’s get this show on the road,” I was pretty sure my pile would be caught up to Wayne’s pretty quickly.

Mom was now back from the sink staring at the mirror almost rigid with fear. Jacob caught her eye and smiled, then had his head pushed sideways so the clippers could pass along the sides unimpeded. Glennis combed my wet hair and asked if I was ready. I nodded. “Your dad wants a short pixie, right?” she asked him as much as she was asking me, wrapping sections and clipping them to my head. “Yes,” I replied, surprised at how strong my voice sounded. I guess I was sure. None of us corrected her when she referred to Jacob as my dad. I saw him smile beneath the firm pushing of clippers across his head. “Okay, hold still,” Glennis said, guiding my chin forward. I felt the wet hair hit the back of my neck as she released the first clip full, the drag of the comb, and then the firm grasp of it and a quick, efficient snip. The entire length fell to the floor heavily, as the next fingerful was combed, grasped and snipped. In five snips, I felt a lightness on my head I had never experienced. A glance at the floor underneath Wayne convinced me that he must be nearly done with his cut, because there was a small mountain of hair on the floor behind his chair. There couldn’t be much left on his head at this rate. Jacob’s head was now pushed to the other side, and I caught his approving glance as Glennis continued to grasp and snip, working her way up the back of my head with practised efficiency.

“What did we agree to, then?” I heard a voice at Jacob’s chair, glanced an extra set of feet. “It’s Christmas,” he replied. “High and tight.” A moment. “Are you sure? That’s pretty extreme.” Jacob’s head was now pushed forward and the clippers brought down at the nape. “I’m sure. Clean at the back and sides, an eighth of an inch on top,” he said, as his own hair was shaved clean up the back, matching his clean-cut sides. The feet left, and Glennis continued to snip and slice away at the back of my hair, her scissors snapping contentedly over my strands, her hands contentedly dropping the cut hair to the floor. I heard more clippers firing to life, the sound of a hairdryer. When she sat me up again after cutting the back, Glennis kept my face to the mirror, but showed me with a mirror to the back of my head how much she had already snipped off. “What do you think?” she asked with a smile. “We’ll do the same in here?” a scrape across my temples as she combed hair at the side of my head to snip away. I nodded, and she got to work, standing next to me as she snipped the sides just as close as she had the back. I could feel the steel of the blades as she held them next to my head and cut off whatever hair was beyond the scissors.

Jacob’s hair now completely trimmed back to his usual barely-there cut, Glennis asked him to come and have a look at my in-progress pixie. “Do you want to touch it?” she asked me. I tried to grab it between my fingers, and the short, wet hair at the sides wouldn’t catch. Glennis guided my hand to the back of my head, and rubbed my fingertips over the freshly cut hair, allowing me to feel that, too. “If it’s okay with your dad, I’d like to finish this off with clippers,” she said, again more to Jacob than to me. “What do you think, Rebecca?” Jacob asked me, leaning down so I could touch the clippered top of his head. “It will be about this long.” I gulped. “Can I have a bit more than that?” I asked. “I don’t want to look like a boy.” Jacob laughed and said he didn’t mean that length all over. Just at the back and sides, if we let Glennis shave me. That made more sense. “Finger-length on top?” Glennis asked, already releasing the hair on top from its clips. “Her fingers, not yours,” Jacob decided. Glennis nodded, then took my hands and placed them next to my scalp, pushing my fingers together over my hair. “Okay, Princess, my scissors are sharp, so if you’re going to help with this cut, I need you to be as still as you can, okay?” she asked me. I nodded from under my arms, and Glennis slowly, precisely, snipped off my strands, letting me know I could let go after she’d cut off all the tufts from my left hand, and got to work on the right. As she moved from the crown to the forehead, she used her own fingers, blending the change in length with quick snips. “Bangs?” she asked Jacob, who replied with a quick, definitive, “No.”

After she had finished with her scissors, Glennis blasted me with a hairdryer, the plastic teeth of her comb scraping as she guided my nearly-air dry hair in the direction she wanted it to fall, the heat from the dryer almost too much for my now close scalp. “Almost done!” she said, picking up a clipper and snapping a guard onto it. “You’ve been so good, I just need you to hold still for a bit longer, okay?” I said okay, and the clippers were brought down at my temple, quick, almost baby kisses strokes taking off dust mote lengths. Once she was done with the sides, Glennis titled my head forward and buzzed the back, then removed her guard and took the clippers back to my nape, exposing clean shaven skin. I loved the feel of the clippers against my head, the chills as skin was revealed in their path at the nape. Another blast with the hairdryer, this time to send away stray cuttings like a leaf blower, and Glennis showed Jacob. “It’s a lot for a first short cut,” she said. “Rebecca is a trooper.” Jacob smiled at me and said I was a trooper. “We can always grow it longer, but I’d rather err on the side of too short than not short enough,” he said, rubbing his own hands over the length, nodding with approval when the top fell out of his fingers. “And I kind of love this cut, so I suspect we’ll be back for quite a few trims before I can be convinced to allow it to grow out.”

I hoped that was the case, as I thanked Glennis, and bounced out of the chair to see how Wayne’s haircut looked. Wayne, as we’d both suspected, was now sporting clean-shaven sides and back, and just enough hair on top to prevent frostbite. We both knew he would be teased mercilessly at school, as the three other kids in his class with crewcuts were. Wayne’s smile was so broad, though, I suspected that, like me, he was simply happy to please Jacob and would deal with kids at school when it came up. Jacob was not above going to another parent to inform them that their child thought it was acceptable to tease a little girl about a haircut, or call a classmate Baldy. “Do you like it?” I asked him, and received a firm nod as my reply. “Mom is sad, though,” he said. “I bet she’ll get over it,” I suggested. “Like Jacob said, once we’ve worn it this way for a few months, she’ll stop missing it.” Wayne shook his head and glanced toward Mom, who was sobbing in her chair. “Oh, no,” I groaned at the same time as Jacob looked over to see Mom, heaving with tears, as Donna scraped the sides clean to the skin. “What happened? I thought Donna was giving Wayne his haircut?” Jacob asked quietly. Apologetically. Donna looked up, still shaving, and said that she knew Jacob wanted a short cut. “I wasn’t going to be persuaded otherwise. You said high and tight, so that’s what I did.”

Mom looked like GI Joe. Jacob always taught us to own when we screwed up, and he did exactly that. “I should have clarified when you asked. I thought you were asking about Wayne’s haircut,” he admitted, looking at Mom, and assuring her that it was actually really cute. Mom was not about to believe that, so Jacob sat back down and asked his stylist to shave him clean, all over. “Bald,” he said, then added to Mom that he would keep his hair that way until hers grew however long she wanted. Mom sobbed some more, as Donna tried to comb the little bit left on top into something girly. It took less than a minute to get Jacob’s hair shaved off, and Mom kept insisting he didn’t have to do it. She looked at Wayne’s cut, ran her hands over the softly-shaved top and told him he was a heartbreaker now. “I bet yours is just as soft,” Wayne suggested quietly. Mom smiled and said he might be right. “Oh My God, Becky!” she shrieked when she saw me. “Jacob was right. I do love your hair cut short. How cute are you?” I wasn’t sure if she was telling us these things to make herself feel better, but I spun around so Mom could see my shaved nape, showed her how short the top was by placing my fingers in it and asking her to try the same, smiling as it fell from her adult sized hands. “Sweetheart, I think Jacob was right. I’m going to want to take you here every month for a trim.”

“What about you?” I asked her, rubbing the shaved top of her head. “It will grow on me. One way or another,” Mom smiled at her own pun. Then she apologized to Donna and said she wasn’t trying to be critical of her skill. “I’ve never had short hair. This was all too much for me in such a short period of time.” Donna shrugged, and I was pretty sure Mom was never sitting in her chair again. “Jacob wanted your hair short. It’s short,” she said. “Rebecca got a pretty big haircut today, too.” Mom smiled, patted my hair again and said that I had. “Honey, that is so stinkin’ cute, think how cute you’re going to be as my flower girl in your little shave?” she rubbed my nape again. Jacob was now out of his chair again, looking like Kojak. He rubbed Mom’s nape, which was shaved like mine, but her shave went much higher up her head. “There are some advantages to it,” he suggested when she smiled at the feel of his fingers against her clean skin. “As long as I don’t look in a mirror, I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Mom admitted.

Four days later, we woke on Christmas morning to find Mom skipping around the kitchen as she made breakfast, humming Christmas carols, content. “Is she okay?” Wayne asked Jacob. “I’m fine,” Mom insisted. “I’m better than fine.” Overnight, her hair had broken skin and the top had grown just enough since her cut that she could direct it and it was adorable. Jacob’s clean cut was also showing some stubble, and when he suggested after we’d opened presents that we go skating at the neighbourhood rink, we all showered and got ready quickly, none of us feeling wet hair freeze under our toques. Mom was happy. As we ate dinner that night, she looked over at Jacob and asked if he’d booked our next haircuts. “No, I thought we’d see how everyone liked short hair,” he replied slowly. “Well, the kids are keeping their hair short,” Mom said, trying to sound like she was making a decision we were against. “And so am I.” Jacob called the salon when they reopened the day after Boxing day, and confirmed an appointment for four clipper cuts every fourth Saturday until further notice. Glennis trimmed my hair the day Mom married Jacob, for graduation, prom, every major milestone in my life. Jacob never allowed us to call him Dad, even though he had no issue with taking responsibility as our father with school and sports, or threatening to beat us when we needed to be brought back into line. He simply never wanted to dishonour the man who was our father. Donna took over trimming Wayne’s hair, and kept him in clean crewcuts until he left for university, fully expecting to see him in her chair on every school break. Mom never got another high and tight, but she kept her hair short, loved every out-there style the eighties had to offer. When she and Jacob won dance contests, she said it was because the judges could focus on their feet, and not be distracted by poufy hair swirling around the dance floor.

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