In The Kitchen With Mother
By Adina J Pernell
The kitchen was a relic of the early 80’s — colored in various neutral shades and browns. My mother always alternated between singing to herself and telling me stories about her youth when she was straightening my hair. I never liked it when she pressed my hair with the hot comb. When I asked her way I had to be subjected to this torturous ordeal, her replays were never conclusive. One minute she would say that my hair was beautiful just the way it was and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. The next she would tell me that my hair was ‘lovely’ when it was straight. So I wondered which statement was true. Did little Black girls look better when their hair was ‘nappy’ or straight?
Mother would place the hot comb on the stove, allowing it to get just hot enough but not so hot that it would singe my hair. At the same time she would tell me the story about her own mother and how when she was a little girl my grandmother would pour bleach in the bathtub and try to lighten her skin. This was the time she told me that her mother always hated that she had come out ‘too brown’. Mother said she didn’t agree with my grandmother and said that God made every person in the world unique and beautiful. My hair is different than White hair I thought, so why can’t it just be the way it is? Why does it even need a hot comb? I didn’t tell her that though. Wasn’t she doing the same thing; just in a different way that my grandmother had done by pressing my hair? A lot of the time the things she said confused me.
I stared down at my own brown legs as I rocked my lanky eleven-year-old frame back and forth in the kitchen chair, marveling at how much I had grown in the last year. Unlike my late grandmother, I was very happy with their brownness. My feet touched the beige fleur de lis pattern on an area of linoleum that had become brittle, cracked and chipped away with age. My feet didn’t reach that far before I thought as I kicked more of the desiccated floor up with the edge of my toe, disrupting it. That fact that it was asymmetrical and imperfect was a strangely comforting contrast to the springy sections of my hair being flattened into submission.
“Stop that!” my mother said and rapped me on the top of the head with the straightening comb. It was still somewhat hot from the stove. My hair cushioned some of the heat and but it hurt really bad.
“Owwww!” I reached up to rub the top of my still warm hair where my head throbbed.
“Serves you right, “said my mother. “You know better than to do that. Pull your skirt down and stop acting like a boy.” She punctuated her words by roughly taking another section of my thick hair and parting it before she applied the straightening comb again.
“Ouch!” That hurt, I cried as drops began to escape my eyes.
It was almost as if she could see my defiantly set lips both thinned together in a grimace as the beginnings of tears welled at the edges of my eyes. I wondered if she could see my thoughts set just as firmly as my mouth in opposition to her own.
“Don’t be a baby. It doesn’t hurt that bad,” she said shaking her head in exasperation.
“I don’t like the hot comb. It hurts.” More tears begin to trickle down my face as if hearing myself voice my pain made it even harder to bear.
She went on parting sections of disobedient hair and applying the hot comb. Still more tears flowed. She gave me a roll of tissue paper.
“Wipe your tears. Don’t you want to look pretty?”