2016-04-21 / Editorial

Laura’s beautiful hair

By Norman Beaupré

This story, or tale, is taken from my last, yet unpublished work, entitled, “Souvenances d’une Enfance Francophone Rêveuse.” It’s about my paternal grandmother, Laura Simard Beaupré, who died in 1949. She lived all of her life in Biddeford with her husband, George, and her family of five children, on Cleaves Street. My father, René, was the eldest of the children. The story consists primarily of certain memories of my grandmother, although I have elaborated somewhat to give the story more interest. I must say, however, that my grandmother always had her hair long and in a bun until her daughter insisted that she had it cut in her 60s. That’s the grandmother I remember, Laura, with her long and beautiful hair.

She was sitting in the big old chestnut leather chair at Claudette’s Beauty Parlor on Simard Avenue as she began to ask herself what was she doing there. Why was she there, in a beauty parlor? What was happening to her and her beautiful head of hair that she had so loved and kept for years and years? Letting herself be handled by a stranger on top of it all. This one who was going to cut her beautiful hair. “My God!”

The young woman wore a pale green smock and she was in the process of undoing Laura’s toque. Out came long and beautiful strands of hair, steel gray. Laura never had her hair cut before, not since her tender youth. Never. Maybe when she had her hair touched up and clipped by her mother, but never cut by someone else. Never in her life, and Laura had just turned 67. Laura’s beautiful hair was, for years, her mark as a woman, her mark of distinction, so-to-speak. Her sister, Louise, grew up with red hair and she had kept the soft red color of her hair up to her old age. As for Laura’s hair color, it was of an obscure chestnut tinge, a color not as bright as Louise’s red hair but a color remarkable for a young girl in the process of becoming a woman. Of course, Laura’s hair had turned gray in her 50s, but everyone remarked that Laura’s long and beautiful hair became her so very well, even when she reached her late 60s. They all said that’s in spite of wearing her long hair in a toque because it was cleaner and more convenient for her tasks as a mother and provider, she still looked like a beautiful woman. Laura liked to look at herself in her bedroom mirror when she got herself ready for bed at night, for she loved to gaze at her long hair that fell down to her buttocks. How many times her grandchildren had been after her to undo her toque to examine her long woman’s hair, mémère B.’s hair. They had always admired her long and beautiful grandmother’s hair when it fell behind her back like a ball of yarn that one lets fall to the ground. “Oh, mémère,” they would say, seeing such a cascade of hair unfurling down her back. Laura had always worn her hair long and her mother had spent hours brushing it for, without a single doubt, she did not want the other schoolchildren laughing at her daughter, especially when she looked a bit disheveled. Laura’s chestnut colored hair resembled the dusk of autumn when the sky still glows with vestiges of resplendent colors, the rose-like colors with a hint of reddish hues mixed with splinters of orange. Later on, she started to wear fancy combs in her hair, piled up a bit so as to make her look more presentable for a special occasion such as an anniversary or family gathering. She had bought herself some beautiful tortoise shell combs for her wedding with George. Now with five children and several daily tasks, Laura had started to wear her hair in a toque behind her head. She did not have the time to bother with her hair as she had done in the past, but she did enjoy long hair, her mark as a woman, she told herself repeatedly.

However, all of a sudden, she began to notice that she was going to separate herself from her long strands of hair. Her nape was going to be exposed for good. It was true that with her toque she had revealed the nape of her neck but at night before going to bed, she ordinarily brushed her long hair while looking at herself in the bedroom mirror where she could admire her long beautiful tresses, for she no longer felt her nape bare because she saw her long hair that had unfurled all along her back. She loved this woman who had long beautiful hair. It wasn’t that she felt obliged, not even pushed into having her hair cut, but her daughter, Lina Marie, had convinced her to have it done after interminable supplications on her part. The daughter wanted so much for her mother to have her hair cut in order to adopt a new hairdo, more modern and more in style. She assured her that taking care of long hair required a lot of care and effort as well as time, but a new hairdo more in vogue would make her look less out of style, especially for a woman in the fullness of life. But, she had told herself that it was precisely for reasons of cleanliness and appearances that she had braided her long gray hair and had wound them into a toque so that she would look cleaner and more in style with women of her own age. After all, she was convinced that she had saved herself a good sum of money during all those years by not going to the beauty parlor, and that she would be saving more money in the future by not going. However, her daughter did not believe her mother’s arguments. Lina Marie believed that a toque for a woman in her 60s made her look older for her age, a true mémère.

“I am a grandmother,” affirmed Laura.

“But you don’t have to look like one,” was Lina Marie’s response to her.

“What must a grandmother look like?” murmured Laura.

Why must people tag others with marks or names that’s made them feel out of place or out of the common of people? Why do they like to fashion others according to their own way of seeing things? Don’t they realize that we all have our own values, our very own physical and cultural attributes that we want to preserve before they disappear or are taken away from us? These were all of the thoughts that turned in Laura’s head as she was sitting in the old leather chair.

“I know very well,” she told herself, “that a person must adapt to change. I’m not stupid when it comes to that. I won’t fall to pieces on account of that. That’s exactly why that truly important things in life help us to better tolerate those changes that come surreptitiously and befall us in some way. It’s those things the important things, and for me it’s my long and precious hair that make me who I am, me, Laura. As far as I’m concerned, those things can never change for it would be like asking a bird to change its song or a lilac branch to change color just to please the vagaries of time and of change.”

While waiting for the hairdresser, Laura touched with her fingers the fringes of her long hair that had fallen in her lap. Her thoughts went way back in time where she discovered the falling away of time that had set her memories to drift just like the incoming tide that had taken the jetsam away. Laura could remember the many outings on the beach where the fine soft sand had remained stuck between her toes and she had swept it away with her right hand. Once she had put on her shoes, she left for home on Simard Avenue. How many times she had done these outings often accompanied by her friend, Félicité Marcoux. She remembered the time of her youth, a time of joy and hard work when there were even times of do-nothingness. She was able to grasp among her memories the beautiful apple orchard that her grandfather Simard had. He was one of the Canadian pioneers of the Francophone community. That was her maiden name, Simard. A pioneer name, fundamentally Québécois. Yes, she was part of the roots of the ancestral country and the ancestors who had come from Normandy in France and were now transplanted in the United States. Her father was a stonecutter and he had distanced himself from the mills where most of the immigrants in New England worked. Laura’s mother, whose descendants were the Cadorettes of Roberval was not only the mother of a family but also a provider, a cook with an excellent reputation, a parishioner well known for her charitable works and a hat maker, milliner as it was known then. Laura was proud of her parents, proud of her ancestors whose story was propagated among the family members at the many get-togethers of relatives and friends when each one exchanged bits and pieces of family memories. All of that story about her heritage picked up here and there and repeated from mouth to mouth was engraved in her heart never to be erased.

In order to give her hair a little sparkle, Laura had bought herself some very nice tortoise shell combs that her mother found to be a waste of money, simply a waste, she said. At 15 she went to the photographer, Lemire, to have her photo taken and she had combed her long hair pushed back not too tight so as not to crush her lovely waves. She had attached a thin dark blue ribbon behind her head of hair. She was wearing a dress much like the sailor uniform with a large collar. Hanging by a narrow ribbon around her neck was a gold watch, an Elgin for women, and on it was engraved a kind of a horn for hunting and decorated with small spirals on either side. Attached to a ring near the winder was a small chain at the end of which was a very small whistle that looked like the hunting horn in miniature. I now have in my possession this very watch given to me by my aunt as a souvenir of my grandmother Beaupré.

Once over, Laura looked for her pocketbook, found it and paid the hairdresser. She and her daughter left the shop. Lina Marie told her mother that she would fast adapt herself to the change in hairdo.

“It’s old stuff, that toque, ‘man.’ It was time to change and live in the present and be in style.”

“Yes, live in the style of those who want to forget the past,” said Laura.

The two women started to walk when Lina Marie told her mother, “Come on, ‘man,’ we have things to do.”

“You’re going to talk to me in English now,” Laura told her daughter, a bit troubled and even angry to be addressed in English, the language of the Irish and the Protestants, she told her.

“I was thinking of something,” said Laura.

“Thinking of what, ‘man?”

“Did you know that they shaved women’s heads during the Second World War? It was to mortify them and fill them with shame. Well, your grandmother’s cousin, they cut her hair and shaved her head just to humiliate her. It happened in France in a very small village in Normandy. Only because they accused her of collaborating with the Nazis, the enemies of the French people. Poor cousin, poor her.”

“I’m sure that her hair grew again later on,” said Lina Marie.

“Yes, but it’s what is left behind after a rape like that. It lasts for a long time. Yes, for the woman who is violated, it lasts a very long time.” You must not let it get to you, ‘man.” “It’s not the pain as much as the loss of a piece of oneself, of our pride as women, a piece of our heritage also.”

“Now, ‘man,’ I simply don’t understand you.”

“No, you’ll never understand. Let’s get out of here.”

Dr. Norman Beaupré is a native of Biddeford and he taught more than 30 years at the University of New England. He obtained his doctorate in French Literature from Brown University and has traveled extensively in France and in several other countries. He is the author of 20 published book, in French and in English. His last book is a novel in English, “The Fallen Divina – Maria Callas.”

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