“Eddie, you’re gonna have to pick up your Aunt Maybelle and her kids and take them to town. I don’t care what else you got planned, if you want to use the car you’ll go get your aunt.”
This was the first Saturday after graduation and, the last thing I wanted to do was to run around town with my goddamned hillbilly aunt and her brats, but I needed the car for the graduation party. “Yes ma, I heard you,” I yelled as I came downstairs to the kitchen and grabbed a bowl of corn flakes.
“Your Aunt Maybelle is a saint, she took in that Brown girl, Carol, when her mama and papa went to jail. Everybody said she was gonna get herself into trouble up in Louisville, them Browns is a wild family. Maybe your Aunt Maybelle can tame that gal with hard work and lots of religion: she gonna send her to the Pentecostal school next year cause she dropped out in Louisville.” And Ma looked at me and said, “We’re so proud of you, you is the first in the family to graduate high school and gonna go on to college. Eddie Winston, class of 1965.”
“Aw, Ma you’re embarrassing me.” I put on my hat and kissed her cheek as I walked out the kitchen door
She shouted, “Be careful now, watch the road up the hollow it’s real tricky.”
“O.K. Ma, bye now,” and I started up the hollow.
Aunt Maybelle was a strong mountain woman who ran her farm with her two boys since her husband, Uncle Walt, died from black lung disease. He worked in the coal mines in Hazard for 15 years. Aunt Maybelle never remarried, she was an old-fashioned Bible-thumping Pentecostal, no dancing, cussing, rock and roll, or card playing in her house. Aunt Maybelle’s boys, Little Walter and Josiah were 12 and 9 but they worked like farmhands, there was no time to play on Aunt Maybelle’s farm. She was built like a man herself and in town folks used to say that when her tractor broke down she pulled the plow herself. She probably could have! As I pulled off the road and turned up the narrow track to Aunt Maybelle’s farm, I could hear the boys.
“Here come Eddie, we gonna go to town,” they called out as I slowly drove up to the house.
“Tell your Ma that I’m ready.” The two boys ran off to the house.
There was Aunt Maybelle, wearing a long brown dress and a white scarf wrapped around her head, she was holding an old cloth shopping bag. She said, “Eddie come on in,” and gave me a wet sloppy kiss on my cheek. “Ain’t you something, you is a high school graduate!”
“That’s right,” I responded, “and I’m going to Eastern Kentucky in September.”
“Well, well,” she said, then she practically lifted me off my feet with a big bear hug. “Carol, you get down here we is ready to leave, Eddie’s here,” Aunt Maybelle yelled up the stairs again. “Gal, get down here, we ready to go.
“Carol Brown, this is my nephew, Eddie.”
Carol reached out and shook my hand. “Nice to meet you, Eddie.”
“Same here.” She was not what I expected to find at Aunt Maybelle’s farm. Carol was about my age, 17, she was wearing one of Aunt Maybelle’s long dresses that had been crudely altered to nearly fit, she wore her brown hair tied back in a ponytail.
“Aunt Maybelle, do I have to wear this dress? It’s awful,” she said.
Aunt Maybelle gave her a look that would have melted ice. “As long as you live here you’ll wear what I tell you and do what I tell you or you’ll be in jail with your ma and pa, did you hear me?”
Carol was very embarrassed, clearly, and she muttered, “Yes, Aunt Maybelle.”
“Boys, in the car.” The boys jumped into the back seat with Carol, Aunt Maybelle got in the front with me.
The ride down the hollow was about 10 minutes and as we got near town I asked Aunt Maybelle where she needed to go. She looked in the back seat at Little Walt and examining his shaggy blond hair, then she reached up and scratched her own head. She turned and said, “The kids need summer haircuts and so do I, drop us at Paige’s Barber Shop. You could use a nice summer haircut like the boys, Eddie.”
“No thanks,” I replied as I fingered my collar-length hair and thought to myself that the last place I wanted to be was under Mr. Paige’s hungry clippers. “He’s gonna be busy, so I’ll come back later.” I pulled up in front of Paige’s Barber Shop and Aunt Maybelle opened the door and got out.
“Alright, let’s go,” she said as she ushered Carol and the boys into the shop. I followed them to see how long the lineup was and to get an idea of when to return.
“Hi, buddy, where the hell have you been?” Mr. Paige said when he saw me in the door.
“Just dropping these folks off, how long before you get to them?”
“Aunt Maybelle, good to see ya, summer cuts all around like last year?”
“That’s right, we had to wait ’til we got a ride from my nephew,” she said, then she looked around at the four boys who were waiting and the one fidgeting in the chair. “Eddie, see ya in about an hour”.
I went down the Main Street to the see what was coming to the movie this weekend and wandered over to the newsstand and got a Louisville paper. Before I realized it 45 minutes had passed. I drove back to Paige’s Barber Shop. I walked in and saw the boys sitting in the waiting chairs: they were finished, their heads had been shaved bald. They sat teasing each other. I sat down and said, “Aunt Maybelle are we ready?”
She stood up and unwrapped her scarf revealing her grey-brown short hair. “Oh, Eddie, you’re here already, we not ready yet, have a seat.”
Mr. Paige said to Aunt Maybelle, “You’re next, Maybelle.” She got into the barber chair. Mr. Paige said, “You want the same as last year?” She nodded. “Just like every summer.” Then with no ceremony he clicked on his big black clippers and plowed them into Aunt Maybelle’s hair, dropping the locks in her lap. The boys watched their mother having her hair slowly clipped away. Aunt Maybelle smiled as Mr. Paige clipped her hair shorter and shorter. Each pass dropped shorter locks until only a shadow was left on her scalp. Then she raised her powerful hand and rubbed her shaven scalp.
“Good job, Mr Paige, just like I like it, you always cuts my hair right.”
Mr. Paige looked at Aunt Maybelle’s hair on the floor and said, “You need to come more often, ha.”
“Young lady, looks like you’re next – get in the chair,” Aunt Maybelle said to Carol who had been watching Aunt Maybelle’s haircut.
She screamed. “You can’t cut my hair off, you can’t cut my hair!”
Aunt Maybelle said, “In my house it’s my rules and my rules are you’re gonna get your hair cut.”
Realizing that resistance was futile, she slowly got up and sat in the chair. The boys’ eyes were wide as saucers, and Little Walt said tauntingly, “You’re gonna be a baldy just like us, you’re gonna be a baldy, you’re gonna be a baldy.”
Aunt Maybelle said, “Sit still, this won’t take long.”
Mr. Paige wrapped the cape arouind Carol’s neck. Tears were streaming down her face, she couldn’t take her eyes off the mirror. Mr. Paige said, “This won’t take long.” He turned on the clippers that had just clipped Aunt Maybelle and the boys bald and cut a swath from her forehead to the crown of her head. As he let a two-foot long lock of brown hair drop to the floor, Carol let out a scream. Aunt Maybelle looked at the hair falling on the cape and the floor. Each pass of the clippers dropped more and more hair to the floor and as each lock hit, Carol let out another scream, “NO, NO, NO!” Mr. Paige had soon reached her white scalp. He said, “That’s a lot of hair, these clippers are too hot to hold.” Carol looked at her face in the mirror, her head was clipped down to a Marine cut, her shoulders were covered with long brown locks. Aunt Maybelle had put her scarf on over her recently shaven scalp and was holding a scarf like hers in her hand.
“Finish her up, cut it close so it don’t grow back this summer too fast before she gets a school haircut.” Mr. Paige brought the silver clippers in his hand to life, then he removed the plastic guard and held Carol’s head forward. This time the clippers left no hair in the path, shaving her head to the white scalp. As he finished the last pass Carol’s hair was all on the floor. Aunt Maybelle tied the scarf around Carol’s shaven head and said, “Eddie, now I guess we ready to go, Thank you, Mr. Paige.”
Mr. Paige said with a broad smile, “You know it’s a pleasure, I love to cut women’s hair, that’s why y’all are all for free, don’t be no stranger now, ya hear?”
Carol and the boys got into the back seat and I drove back up the hill to the hollow. Aunt Maybelle told Carol, who was still sobbing over the haircut, “Up here you’ll appreciate that haircut, trust me it’ll keep away bugs and ringworm. Besides, vanity is a sin and your hair was your vanity. You’ll get used to it.”
Carol just sobbed. “NO, NO, NO!”