LaWanda Dickens "A Morning with Mom"
In this short story, LaWanda Dickens, an educator, writer, and former journalist, reflects on an event in her life that shapes her idea of what a mother-daughter relationship is.
With 28-years of experience teaching in higher education, Dickens, a Brookhaven, Mississippi native, is a graduate of Jackson State University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in English/Journalism and a Master of Arts in English. She also attended Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where she studied Composition and Rhetoric.
Dickens' research interests include Hip Hop studies; service-learning in college composition courses; and students' transfer of classroom knowledge to campus and community leadership.
"A Morning with Mom"
In August of 1976, I reached a milestone. A proud graduate of Lindsey Head Start Center, I was excited about the highly important, next step of my life – entering the first grade at West Lincoln, a small, 1-12, public school in rural Brookhaven, Mississippi.
Everything aligned in my favor. Throughout the summer, Momma had taken me shopping. She bought me clothes from Gibson’s, Ashley’s, and Shainberg’s. These were bargain stores, known for one-dollar-down layaways. I didn't know anything about designer fashions. All I cared about was that the clothes were pretty, and I couldn’t wait to wear them. I couldn’t wait to start my new life as a first-grader, in “real school”, seeing my teacher, meeting my new friends, and getting the kind of books that Derrick, my older brother, had.
After months of anticipation, I finally got what I had been waiting for. The first day of school arrived. That morning, Momma cooked breakfast, as usual, and helped Derrick get ready for school in time to catch the bus. She dressed my baby brother, Reggie, and packed his day bag. Then, he and Dad left, headed for the babysitter. Dad always dropped Reggie off while on his way to work.
Momma took the day off from her job at the garment factory in town, Stahl-Urban, about 15 miles from our mobile home in the country, slightly east of Franklin County. She wanted to drive me to school since it was my first day. I think she was more excited than I was. The evening before, she washed and conditioned my hair, detangled it, parted it into sections, and gave me two-strand twists before satin-scarfing me up. I went to bed earlier than usual, eager to get up early the next morning for my press and curl appointment in the kitchen. Soon after the boys and Dad left, Momma turned on an eye of the stove and placed the comb on it. The grooming began.
Sitting on an upside-down, brown glazed porcelain mixing bowl, I listened to Momma sing along with Aretha as “Spanish Harlem” flowed from the record player. I shuffled through the white sewing box sitting on my lap. Rather than pins, needles, thread, and other stuff you’d expect to see in such a container, the box housed barrettes, ribbons, rubber bands, marble hair ties, braid beads, combs, and brushes. Royal Crown and Sulfur 8 were also in the box, but to me they were just “two greases”. As Momma sat in a straight, wooden chair behind me, untwisting one section of my hair, she pointed to the Royal Crown and asked me to pass it to her.
An inquisitive six-year-old, I asked, “Momma, why do we have two greases?”
Removing the comb from the fire and wiping it with a towel, she answered, “The Royal Crown is for pressing, but Sulfur 8 keeps your hair and scalp from drying out.”
She wasn’t done explaining, but I interrupted her.
“Well the yellow one smells bad, but it feels good. I like how the red one smells though.”
Momma laughed. “Well, both of them are important. The ‘yellow one’ stops your scalp from itching and gets rid of dandruff.”
“The red one won’t stop danderf?” I asked her.
Laughing harder, Momma corrected me.
“No, Royal Crown protects your hair from heat when we use the straightening comb and hot curlers. And the word is dandruff, girl. It’s spelled d-a-n-d-r-u-f-f. Say it like this, ‘dan-druff’. Let me hear you.”
“You added a little too much to it, Miss Flip.”
Giggling and swaying, I replied, “It’s a funny word,” while chanting, “Dan-derrr-ruff. Dan-derrr-ruff. Dan-derrr-ruff!”
“Girl, be still because if this comb burns you, you know you’ll be crying!”
I kept giggling uncontrollably. “It’s just funny, dan-derrr-ruff.” I had enough sense to be still though.
It took Momma a while to straighten my long, thick tresses. Just as she was almost finished, she turned on another eye of the stove, placing the curlers onto it.
“What style do you want?”
“A triangle, but I want the top of the triangle to be a ball.”
“Okay. That won’t take long,” she told me, “because all I have to do is bump your hair for that style. Go ahead and pick out the accessories you want.”
Wearing my brand new, red jumper dress with a pink blouse underneath, I picked out two ribbons, one red and the other pink, and two white, poodle-shaped barrettes. When she finished bumping my hair, Momma turned off the stove and placed the curlers next to the straightening comb on the towel, then oiled my scalp with the yellow-stickered product. I always enjoyed the relaxing tingle of Sulfur 8 and Momma’s fingers massaging my scalp. Afterwards, she gave me the “triangle” style that I asked for, which meant three curly ponytails, one at the top and two in the back. She pinned the top ponytail into a bun or “ball”, then accentuated it with the two ribbons, which she put together to create one bow. She left the two ponytails at the back hanging, placing a poodle barrette above the rubber bands on each one.
Hair courtesy of Momma, fashion by Shainberg’s, I stared into the mirror that Momma always gave me after doing my hair.
“So what do you think?” she asked.
“I like it! I look pretty, Momma. Thank you.”
She leaned down, hugged me, kissed me on my forehead, and said to me, “You sure do. Now I’m gonna polish your nails, and you can let them dry while I get dressed.”
I had already picked out a bottle of red polish. I handed the sewing box to Momma. As she twisted the lid onto the Sulfur 8 jar and placed it, the Royal Crown, the comb, and the brush back into the box, I went to my bedroom and returned the porcelain bowl back to its spot underneath my bed. Momma came in and put the sewing box full of hair stuff in its home on the top shelf in the left corner of my closet. We went back into the kitchen and sat at the table, where she polished my nails. When she finished, she put a fan in front of me, turned it on at low speed, and told me to hold my hands a few inches from it so my nails could dry.
Before going into her bedroom to finish getting herself ready, she went to the living room and switched out Aretha for Sam. “A Change Is Gonna Come” was the first song. As she was getting dressed, she put on a concert, singing every word of the song. It was funny listening to her perform from the other room. Pretty soon, she was ready to go. She never spent as much time on herself as she spent on me, but to me, she always looked pretty.
Looking back on that day, nearly 45 years later, I don’t remember much about what took place when we finally arrived at West Lincoln. But I won’t ever forget my Momma’s excitement; the vibe when it was just her and me alone sharing an experience that meant the world to both of us; the sound of real music, with real messages coming from the record player; her fingers massaging my scalp; the strokes of the brush across my nails; and above all, the hug and kiss that she gave me. She made me feel special, and she showed me what love is.
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