Hair Love Was Different for this Little Black Afrikan Girls-Started with my mama, grandmother, aunty Neece, Diane, Marcita, and Frida. All my first human examples of what being a woman should be like. Thinking about how they each lived so different, yet managed to use the same lingual to teach me all that I know now. Growing up-in my house-everything was ‘STANK’ lol! Stank could show approval or not…mostly related to cute, bitch, funny, sassy, grown, irking, sexy ass, and odorous-cause you can’t have stank without stink. My mama called us Berry women movers and shakers. And instead of our fleshy fruit being produced from one ovary we were produced from many. The Berry’s like wildly staccato infused edible berry goodness planted all over West Philadelphia. My family loved to the intense-degree, unapologetic, ancestral, so deep, genuine, moving, doing everything-grand, natural, fleshy, ancient, rooted in our DNA. They cooked together and not just on Sundays. They taught us girls how to be ladies and ‘big kids’. Showed us how to play double Dutch, Jacks, hide and seek, hand games, rhymes and riddles, had water fights on the block, in the park, even in the house.
My family always knew how to get a party started and more so how to it keep going. From loud belly laughs that filled stagnant air to stories of survival and hard times. I caught a feeling every time one of my them pulled excess hair from a comb or a brush to burn in hair fire rituals, on stove tops for our protection. They conjured spirits by waving they magic lady fingers-healing fingers. They had no fear of the dead, so I wasn’t scarred. Showed me how to worship those transitioned, how to burn candles to light their path, how to call on them in times of need. Showed me how the wind and birds gave us gifts and messages indeed. Our lineage ran deep like dirt-on earth grandmothers, mothers, mothers lived abundant on west Indian soil, loved masculine partners from First Nations ancestry shacked up on state sides, shipped to Antebellum South to slave plantations, settling in Philadelphia in the hood of sisterly affections. They dialogued something chatty between Patwa, Ogeechie, to some artful urban-dialect that I loved to understand. I was a captive audience to their stories of glitter, enchantments, death, voodoo-magic, dolls, birth blood, and spells on how to keep a man which honestly didn’t work for me lol! Each story pulled at my heart strings and I smiled.
A jar of Blue Magic pomade was never far away, always partially full, and always in plain sight. When times were hard Crisco, Land-O-Lakes butter, or Vaseline would do just fine. They would always catch me right before bed to grease my scalp. They must have needed the soothing comfort of the experience too. They each would instruct me the same: grab a pillow, grease, brush, and comb-and sit on the floor between their legs, or on some chair. And I loved the way everyone, greased my scalp with the exclusion of my aunt Marcita. It was like she was always in a hurry. She rushed and roughed-up my tender little nappy head soo. And she wouldn’t hesitate to smack my face with comb or open palm at the notion of me nodding off to sleep, acting squeamish, or crying. I was ‘tender-headed’ as they used to say back then, so I hated anything that resembled rough on my head. Since my aunty was the youngest of 5 girls she was the most hip, dressed hip, did everything hip. The hair styles she came up with on me were thee dopest! I did like that part despite the pain. My grandmother and mama would yell at her saying, that the styles were too stank (too grown) in this case. She would defend me by saying that I looked trendy and cute. She always adorned my hair with cowrie shells, colorful beads, and other shiny ornaments. I felt pretty going to school.
They all would begin by parting my hair into four sections. My mom and aunt Neece perfected the craft of paying attention to all of my signs and signals of discomfort, my unspoken body language. The instant either of them noticed me squirming around or tearing up in silence they used their hands instead to part my nappy, thick, wool like mane, brilliant! This was their inherent mama intuition kicking in and I loved them for it. They dolloped a generous amount of grease into the palms of their hands and rubbed it over each strand of my hair before zigging and zagging in-between my scalp with the finesse of a farm tractor. With gentle fingers and palms my mom and aunt Neece held the nape of my scalp and combed til the ends were big and puffy. Their fingers felt with the ease of feathers on skin.They took their time with me and greased each section, parting piece by piece until my entire scalp was oiled. I always got goose pimples from this deeply pleasurable and highly emotional experience-made my head draw in close like a baby nursing, but toward their fingers. I succumbed to sleep on their laps every time. I would awake with the most creative braids, twists, corn rows, or plats beneath an old pair of my grandmothers pantyhose. And oh how I yearn for my mama and aunties touch in my head. Scalp time was our love time. It’s like all of the harshness I remember behind my eyes from my childhood, eases away from my temples for just a moment when I recall this story. Thinking about how organic it was, and how envious I am of my own memories. Longing for one moment more. Sharing in this type of hair love between fingers on my black scalp denotes the experience of truly being in love with me. Dedicated to all of my aunts. And Rest in Love mama and aunt Neece ❤