Senior Power – Bald and Proud
My voyage across this continent continues, and so do the interesting interludes of sitting and talking with other bald-by-choice people. In the south they are everywhere as this heat wrings every molecule out. It has simply become too hot for me, a cool north-wester to continue to New Orleans. After arriving in Mobile Alabama in the midst of a heatwave after a storm I felt like I should grow gills.
So now it is a change of plan and I am running north again… fast. I have stopped for a few days to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mercifully there are breezes and it is much more comfortable.
In traversing the area along Interstate 10 I have met several interesting women who shave their heads, or wear micro haircuts. At a public outdoor swimming pool in Alabama I met a wonderful woman who was as much on a voyage of discovery as myself. My hair is into the just beyond a crew stage of growing out, but this woman, Freda, was freshly shaved. What I noticed first however, was that she seemed to be a good deal older than myself. I would say 90% of the bald and micro-cut women I met and saw were young. Trying things out, exploring their limits and using the exhilaration of youth to carry it off. Notice on the web pages, there are few women over 30, let alone over 50 who are featured. However, there was Freda, paddling about in the pool oblivious to the surging numbers of youngsters leaping and splashing around her.
I made a point of going over and talking to her and after she had done her 30 lengths, the same 30 lengths she does every day, we went to the local snack bar and had a chat.
Freda is not an American. She came to the Montgomery region from the Czech Republic eight years ago with her husband to join her daughter who had married an American. She is 73 going on 21 and has a delightful personality. I looked at her freshly shaved pate and asked her how she had come to this and she told me it started as an experiment. “An experiment?” I asked, just a bit bewildered. This is her story.
Soon after arriving in the States in 1991 her husband had passed away. Freda was left with her daughter and family in a foreign country without the man with whom she had spent her life. She sank into a depression and asked to be allowed to go back to Prague. Her daughter resisted, feeling that her mother would have better care and more support with them. Her family in Prague was virtually non-existent, so Freda’s daughter begged and pleaded with her mother to stay. Taken to a specialist, they started her on anti-depressants and Freda was encouraged to get busy. With new-found hope she settled into a rhythm of extended family life, just like it would have been in the “old country”.
By 1994 Freda had learned enough English to start striking out on her own here and there. She had taken trips with other people her age from the local community center to the casinos dotted here and there. She had been to Atlanta and had seen quite a bit of her adopted country. As her English improved, so did her spirits. Her isolation was lifted and she began a new chapter. One day, after picking her granddaughter up from school, Freda’s daughter asked her if she would take the three children to the salon for their haircuts. Freda said she would, gathered the three together and with instructions in hand, marched them to the local salon. All three girls were to have the same cut, shaved nape with an undercut at the back and the sides just to the top of the ears. The stylists all knew the girls and they had the same cut all the time.
While waiting in the salon, Freda was reading through the magazines and came across the many microcuts and shaved head pictures. She voluntarily shuddered. She remembered the war when many women were forced to have their heads shaved, it brought back some horrible feelings. Her youngest granddaughter, Sandra aged 9, asked her what was wrong why was she so nervous? Freda showed her the pictures and Sandra couldn’t understand. Freda explained to her what had happened in the war and that this was a terrible thing to do. Sandra just looked at the pictures and shrugged her shoulders. “Grandma, that isn’t terrible here, that is just staying cool. I think it looks neat.” The seed had been planted. Freda was on her way to baldness only she didn’t know it then.
During the next few months she took the girls several times for their haircuts. Her own long braid stayed firmly attached atop her head in the European tradition of her age group. At night she brushed her hair out 100 strokes before putting on a scarf and going to bed. It reached to her waist and she kept it self-trimmed at that length. It was the September haircut trip that played the next pivotal role. The eldest child, Rene, had flatly refused to have the ordinary old cut. All her friends were sporting the new boyish cuts that became so popular in the mid-nineties. Finally her mother relented and off they set with their instructions to the salon.
The two youngest were taken care of quickly and then they came to Rene. As she was entering high school she wanted to fit in with the rest. Out came the clippers, but the usual noise they made on the sparse napes quickly changed to a deep growl as it took Rene’s hair off up to the crown. Freda looked up and was sure the stylist had made a mistake and it took a lot of talking by Rene to reassure her grandmother. Freda sat there and watched with renewed interest as Rene’s hair was reduced to a feminine version of the short back and sides. Rene could see her watching in the mirror and said, “Grandma, why don’t you get your hair cut? Think of it as an experiment. If you don’t like it, you can let it grow back.”
Freda blushed and looked away, then she looked back and said, “Vat und look like a boyska too? Nyet, I keep like it is.”
The other two took up the chorus. They challenged her to give it a try. “Grandma, this is America, not Prague, at least get it cut like all the other women your age, come on, just a try, If you don’t like it, you let it grow again.”
As they left the salon, Rene delighting in her new style, the stylist said to Freda. “If you want to try a medium cut, I will do it for you. Not too short, just like all the other ladies you see. You show me what you like and we will try it anytime you want.” Freda thanked her and then they all walked home.
“Grandma, you gotta feel this, it’s awesome,” said Rene as she ran her hand around the buzzed areas of her head. Reluctantly Freda put out her hand and touched the child’s head, then ran her hand over the short back area. She agreed that it felt “awesome” though she didn’t really know what the word meant, and also said that it looked very nice, not so ‘boyska’ as she thought initially.
Freda discussed it with her daughter Judith, and Judith thought it would be a lovely idea and that she should try it. Freda decided at that point to have a little cut off, not too much, just to see what it was like… next time! However, Judith said, “Why wait Mom, just do it. Come on, I’ll take you.” Before Freda realized it they were back at the salon and they were going over the books. They found a style, very popular amongst the 70-plus set that was layered and just below the ears. They decided this was her “experimental” cut. It was a massive loss of hair and Freda was very nervous, but she got in the chair and made her daughter stand with her. She then confided that she had never had her hair cut in a salon before. She had been trimming her own hair since she was a teenager.
The cape was fastened around her and her hair brushed out. Even with the chair up it almost reached the floor. Asked by the stylist if she wanted to keep it, Freda said no. Once things were gone it was best they forget them and get on with the new situation. The stylist then asked if she minded if it was given to a charity that made wigs for little girls who lost their hair due to cancer treatment. Freda turned and seemed genuinely delighted that it was not going to be wasted. “You vant I should give for a leetle one vis no hair, I give, my honor for to give.” With that the stylist made the first cut. In three quick snips all the hair fell to the floor and was immediately swept up and placed in a bag. Freda sat there looking at herself with hair hanging just above her shoulders. Judith patted her mother’s hand.
“That wasn’t so bad now, was it?”
“Not so bad,” said Freda. “Now you finish!”
In twenty minutes Freda walked out with a cut and style that looked every inch a fresh and wonderful cut. Judith looked at her mother and said, “Mom you look 20 years younger!” Freda thought that was very nice but wanted to hear what the children would say.
“Grandma, you look fabulous,” was the chorus. They all clamoured about her and were very solicitous of her feelings. By the end of the evening when her son-in-law appeared and did a double-take, Freda was happy with her experiment. She then confided in me that she had “felt something very special” happening inside her while her hair was handled and clipped. I knew exactly what she was talking about, as I suspect do all those who have their hair cut or shorn regularly.
The next time she took her grandchildren to the salon for their cuts, she hopped into the chair and said, “Like theirs,” pointing to the two youngest.
The stylist grinned and said, “It is called a bob. Do you want your neck shaved too?”
Freda just pointed again and reiterated: “Like theirs!”
Quickly the clippers came out and the stylist pushed Freda’s head forward. She ran the clippers up the back of her neck several times and then with the scissors undercut her hair at the base of the occipital bump. Next she cut around the ears angling the cut forward. Once finished she announced, “There, now you look like your granddaughters.” She showed Freda the back and her hand flew up to her head. She felt the little shaved fuzz and it was glossy and soft. Her hair looked immaculate and Freda felt really pleased with herself. The experiment had worked. She felt free, free now to do anything she wanted.
By March of the following year Freda had moved out of her daughter’s house and into a seniors residence she had found herself. She liked the atmosphere, there was lots of company, and everyone seemed active. Freda began to really thrive. She began to learn how to use a basic computer, she went for city walks and went on outings to the casinos. She made friends and had a heady social calendar that needed stamina and health. In short, Freda was living again after the dreadful years of isolation and fear. “No one will know,” she said to me, “how awful it was to be so dependent on my daughter. To be so isolated, to not be able to read a newspaper, to see a movie, to listen to the radio. After my husband died, I just wanted to die, or go home to Prague. Now I am home. I love where I am and I am able to fit in. I wouldn’t wish those early years on nobody.” I thought, well, the accent is still heavy, and the grammar needs a little work, but this lady is one of the most vital people I have ever met. What a thrill just to chat with her.
I then asked what made her finally shave her head, and when had she done it. She laughed, got another round of cheesecake… oh my expanding waistline, and told me.
She was in her new residence and she just wanted to try new things. She still had the old European abhorrence of the shaved woman, but as the months whirled by she decided to just get her hair cut every few weeks because she liked the “feel” it gave her. She liked the fussing and washing and setting, the smells and the attention. This was something she had never had, and she loved it, especially the “feelings” as she sat in the chair and the cut began. After her bob, she had let it grow out quite a bit and was quite straggly. Judith noticed and so did the children. Rene, by this time, had her hair very short all over and it made Freda wonder if Rene got the same feelings as she did; the inevitable being that if you keep cutting, eventually there is nothing left to cut!
The next day Freda went to the salon at the residence and sat in the chair. The stylist was used to doing men or women, lots of rinses and lots of perms and waves. She was at the residence every week to cater to the ones who couldn’t go into town. Freda had no wish to travel into town so she waited for the appointed day.
“What will it be dear?” said the woman in charge.
Freda said, “I vant you should take it all off. I vant only to be a little for seeing.” From this the woman deduced she wanted a crew-cut. She asked the ever-present question, “Are you sure?” Freda responded with, “Vat I vouldn’t be sure? I ask you vat I vant, you do vat I vant.” With that she sat in the chair and the cape was fastened around her neck
The clippers that had previously run over Mr. Cooper’s short grey mass of hair, reducing it to his customary stubble, were pulled out and cleaned. A guard was fitted and then the stylist, hand on Freda’s head, bent it forward and turned on the equipment. Freda said her heart was in her mouth. She had not intended to go all the way, but she couldn’t stop herself either, a situation we all know quite well. The clippers roared up and over her neck to the top of her head. They moved to the side and the soft folds of hair cascaded down the plastic cape to the floor. Freda couldn’t see until the first side had been finished. She put her head up and looked at herself. There was about a half an inch of hair on her left side and six inches hanging to her earlobe on the right. She gasped at the difference and the stylist said, “This is looking really good, you will be able to watch the rest now.” With that the clippers were pulled backwards from her left temple to meet the shaved crown. three passes and the top of her head was half an inch long. Three more passes and her hair disappeared altogether from her right side. Freda kept turning her head this way and that looking at the change. Smiling she decided she liked it and paid and left.
For a month Freda kept running her hand over her head, wondering what her husband would have said. She would catch herself passing the mirror and stop and check to make sure it wasn’t some stranger. Her eyes were clear, her ears quite nice. At 67 she had a few wrinkles, but so did everyone else there. No, she decided she loved this new look. Judith and the children were astonished when they first saw her after the half-inch buzzing, but basically they were positive. Judith giggled and said, “Mom, one day we will come in and you will be shaved to the skin!”
“Yes,” replied Freda. “That is exactly what will happen, so I am warning you now, don’t be shocked.” Judith and the children were somewhat startled, but after they had eaten afternoon tea and walked about the gardens and Freda had shown them the local pool she was swimming in every day, they all agreed that it was Freda’s hair and she could do what she wanted with it. Gone were the days of the braid coiled atop the head. Now Freda was getting closer to the ultimate reality for those of us with a love of the bald and shaved feelings.
It was another year before she finally took the plunge. She had kept it short, getting it shaved a little every two weeks. First she went from the half inch all over to a proper crewcut with the sides and back shaved down to a quarter inch. Next came the quarter inch crew with the wet-shaved sides. That one she said really gave her the shivers. The clippers reduced her top hair from a half to a quarter inch and then she directed the stylist to shave off everything else. She traced her finger around the temples to crown and said it was to be shaved from there down, just leaving the quarter-inch mat on top of her head. The feeling when the shaving cream was applied she described as “deliciously sinful for a woman”. I laughed, it is the perfect description. She felt, for the first time, a razor on her head as the stylist carefully scraped away all the remaining hair from her temples to her ears all around the back from her crown to her nape. Her hairline was now the topmost curve of the head. “Stunning,” she said as the last of the soap was shaved and wiped clean. The stylist made no comment. She was getting used to Freda’s shaves now. She applied an aloe-vera skin cream and warned Freda to wear a hat and lots of sunscreen. She gave her a bottle of skin lotion specifically for after shaving and told her to use it whenever the skin felt tight.
Freda went about for the next week feeling her head, marvelling in the softness of the scalp skin and accepting the compliments that came her way. The people she knew at the pool were most enthusiastic. Of course they had never seen her with long hair.
A month later came the day. She sat in the chair and indicated to “Take it all away.”
“All?” asked the stylist.
“Yes” said Freda. “I don’t vant nutting on my head from now to ever”
With that, the stylist picked up the clippers, removed the guard she had put on when she saw Freda waiting, and simply stripped away the last vestige of hair Freda had. The little resilient mat on top of her head was whisked off in seconds. Mrs. Kroll, waiting her turn, just gasped.
Freda looked at her through the mirror. “You should try it, it makes you free.” After the wet shave she told the stylist that she must be shaved every month when she came in no matter how long or short her hair had grown over the time.
Judith and the girls no longer pay any attention to the bald senior family member’s hair. Freda wears her bald head like a flower in a buttonhole proclaiming her beauty. She is a vibrant and amusing woman with a delightful turn of phrase. She says she will remain shaved for the rest of her life. I asked about the grandchildren. Rene has grown her hair and is now nursing out of state, the middle child has long hair and is in college and the youngest has been experimenting with vegetable dye and self-cuts. She confided, “It looks like it vas attacked by rats.” We then both laughed.
Freda, you are one in a million. I hope you live a long and happy life here in the U.S. Keep swimming, it keeps you young, and I am sure I have never met anyone younger.
P.S. I still haven’t got that cheesecake off my hips… oh dear! I look like a fuzzy pear! Off to hike the trails.