Teenettes – Vam

This is a true story from my youth and may very well be the origin of my fascination with female haircutting.

It was two weeks before our 8th grade graduation, perhaps the biggest day of my life to date. Most of the teachers had stopped giving us work and had let us enjoy our last two weeks together. Many of the kids had been together in the same school and the same classes for all 8 of our school years and we were going to be separated for the first time in September when we went to high school. As is always the case the kids had formed cliques, which were based on social status, wealth and home neighborhoods. Unlike most schools in the late 1950’s our school was successfully integrated, meaning that although black students were the minority there was little overt discrimination.

The clique I hung out with was composed primarily of middle-class blacks, from professional families. We were not as cool as the working-class black kids who always knew the latest dances, dressed the sharpest and had the most freedom. The kids in my clique all wanted to go out with the girls from the working class clique, who called themselves the “Teenettes”. It was even rumored that some of the Teenettes had lost their virginity and were “easy”. Most of the Teenettes were not interested in the boys from my clique, they were interested in the black kids who went to Roosevelt, the all-black school on the fringe of the ghetto. The Roosevelt kids were all “hoodlums” i.e. not our kind of kids. The Teenettes all looked like they were older than 13 and 14.

I had a secret crush on one of the Teenettes, Stephanie Lewis. She was my dream girl, long straight black hair, a full firm breast, rounded hips and café-au-lait skin. She looked like a young woman in her late teens rather than a 14-year-old. I remember slow dancing with her at my friend Leon’s birthday party, that was my first truly sexual experience. She had even kissed me on the cheek after the dance to let me know that the feeling was mutual. I had an erection that was so obvious that I spent the last hour of the party in the bathroom because I was too embarrassed. I was most stimulated by holding her thick black hair, it was like a mane hanging halfway to her butt.

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I kept hoping that she would be going to the same high school as me and that we could “date” next year, after all everybody said that we made a beautiful couple.

My buddy Leon and I had to go get our hair cut after school. Our fathers had given us our “barbershop” money and told us that we could keep the change (Then a haircut in a black barber shop took 5 minutes and cost 1.50) from the crisp 5 dollar bills. As we were leaving school saw the school nurse, Mrs. Hamilton, escorting three of the Teenettes to her old Ford station wagon. Stephanie saw me and waved, I returned the gesture.

Leon said, “I’ll bet you they’re pregnant, you know that none of those girls is a virgin. Why else would they all be with Mrs. Hamilton?”

I looked at the girls in the station wagon as it pulled out of the school lot, and after seeing the other passengers, Pam Massy and Yvonne Fausley, I said, “Maybe those girls, but not Stephanie!”

Leon persisted. “Why else would they all be together with the nurse? That’s what it is, I’m telling you.”

We slowly walked down past the schoolyard to the corner and where we went through the park and to the barbershop in the next block. The walk took us about 15 minutes, because we stopped and talked to some of our buddies in the park. I was still puzzled about seeing the Teenettes in Mrs. Hamilton’s car. Was Leon right? Where were they going?

We arrived at Padgett’s New Style Barbershop. Leon and I noticed that Mrs. Hamilton’s station wagon was parked right in front. Mrs. Hamilton at the barbershop? What was she, a white lady, doing at a black barbershop? Even the most integrated communities still had segregated barbershop and beauty parlors. Two taboos that endured the 50’s were interracial sex and integrated barbershops. Leon and I were still curious about Mrs. Hamilton and her passengers.

Leon opened the door and we walked in. Mr. Padgett said, “How do boys, here for your summer haircuts?”

“Yes sir,” we replied in unison.

“Well you boys gonna have to wait for awhile, we got customers ahead of y’all with appointments.”

“That’s O.K. we don’t have nothing else to do.”

Leon handed me a Sports Illustrated and pointed to an article about Hammerin’ Hank Aaron and said in typical barbershop fashion, “Now, that’s the man.”

I was ready to start reading the magazine when Mrs. Hamilton came in the door firmly leading the three girls: Stephanie, Pam and Yvonne. Mrs. Padgett came out of the back room into the shop to greet Mrs. Hamilton as the girls fidgeted nervously. Stephanie saw me but tried not to acknowledge me, averting her eyes from making contact. Mrs. Padgett was a beautician and usually she worked in the back room straightening and curling black women’s hair. We had often smelled the chemicals when we’d been in the barbershop. That solved part of the mystery, but why had the school nurse brought them?

Leon tried to start a conversation about Hank Aaron, but I was not paying any attention.

Mrs. Hamilton said, “Girls, take seats until Mrs. Padgett is ready for you. She knows what has to be done, no arguments.”

Mrs. Padgett said, “Let’s do this girl first,” and she pointed to Pam, who nervously got into the barber chair.

Mrs. Hamilton said to Mrs. Padgett, “All of this has to go,” pointing to the top of Pam’s head. Pam’s head lowered and she started to sob. She wore her straightened black hair in a poodle cut.

Mrs. Padgett looked at the “customer” in the chair and said, as if to provide some reassurance, “Honey, we got to cut all this off, but it will grow back before the end of the summer.” With that she pulled up the cape and wrapped a fresh Sanex around her neck. Then she went over to the counter and picked up the electric clippers, removed the guard and came behind the chair. “Now hold still honey, this will only take a few minutes,” she said and with that she turned on the clippers, firmly gripped Pam’s neck and plowed the clippers into Pam’s hair, dropping locks onto her lap. Pass after pass, as tears silently rolled down the girl’s cheeks. Each pass left a furrow of scalp in its wake. Back and forth and around her ears. The first passes had reduced her hair to stubble and now each measured stroke exposed more scalp. Pam’s sobs were subsiding as Mrs. Padgett removed the last strands of black hair and brushed off her scalp.

Mrs. Hamilton examined Pam’s shaven scalp closely, and said, “That takes care of the lice.”

Pam turned and looked at the mirror and started to cry again when she saw her bald head and her black hair all over the floor. Leon and I were sitting near the window but because of the way the mirrors were hung we had a perfect view of Mrs. Padgett’s barber chair. Mrs. Padgett said, “Well I guess you’re next,” and pointed to Yvonne, who had shoulder length hair, curly but not straightened (Yvonne, it was rumored, had a lot of Indian blood and that’s where she got her “good hair”). Mrs. Padgett said, “O.K. honey, you know that this has to be done.” After witnessing the first haircut she knew that it would be futile to resist. She slowly got into the chair after Mrs. Padgett had brushed off the loose hair. “This won’t take long and remember it will all grow back real soon.” With that she put the cape and Sanex on Yvonne’s trembling neck. Then she pushed her head to her chest, and with a firm stroke pushed the clippers from her nape to the crown of her head and stopped to let a 10″ lock fall to the floor. Yvonne had her eyes shut, but when she felt the hair falling past her cheeks she opened them, looked at her half shaven head and started screaming uncontrollably.

“No, I don’t want you to cut my hair!”

Her pleas were in vain as pass after pass the clippers denuded her brown scalp in less than 10 minutes. Ten minutes of pure agony for Yvonne, as tears ran down her face. As the locks piled up on her lap and around the chair, Mrs. Padgett finished up her job. Mrs. Hamilton said to Mrs. Padgett, “When I was their age, every summer my grandmother would drag us down to the barbershop and have us shaved bald, boys and girls. We hated it, but that’s was the way they kept us from getting lice in the old days.”

I couldn’t stop staring at Yvonne. She had always been so proud of her hair, now it was all under the chair. Mrs. Padgett tried to comfort her and whispered to the sobbing girls, “You know they say that everybody should shave their heads once because the hair grows back healthier.” That offered the two already shaved girls little consolation.

By this time Mr. Padgett had finished up the customer in his chair and was shaking out the cape. He said, “Come on honey, I’ll take care of you”.

As he said that Mrs. Hamilton cast her eyes over at Stephanie. She had been crying the whole time her girlfriends were being shorn. Mr. Padgett reached down and grabbed her hand while Mrs. Hamilton said, “Its O.K. dear, it has to be done,” and grabbed Stephanie’s other hand and led her to the chair.

Mr. Padgett examined his “customer” who was still sobbing and said, “Honey this won’t take long.” He wrapped the cape around her slender brown neck and put on the Sanex. Then he pulled her thick mane together at the nape of her neck, reached for his clippers, turned them on and with a single stroke severed it from her neck. Then he held it up and said, “There you go, that wasn’t so bad.”

Stephanie, seeing her hair one hand and the clippers in the other, started to flail in the chair, like she was having a seizure. Mrs. Hamilton tried to calm her to no avail and Mr. Padgett said to his wife, “Hold her still so I can finish.” Mrs. Padgett complied and he started to clip away the hair that now circled her head at ear level. First he clipped from the back to the front, then slowly behind the ears, each stroke exposed more and more soft brown scalp. The falling hair was clinging to her teary cheeks as he dropped lock after lock to the floor. Pass after pass until all that was left of her “crowning glory” was a dark shadow. “I’ll bet that this girl ain’t never been a barbershop before. See honey, that wasn’t so bad,” he said and he finished up the last few measured strokes, which left Stephanie as bald as her friends.

Mrs. Hamilton examined all three girls and reached into her purse and paid Mrs. Padgett. Then she handed each of the girls a knitted white cap, and said, “I got more girls and some boys I’ll be bringing in tomorrow, it looks like we got some kind of outbreak at school.” Then she said to the girls, “I’ll take you home, I know I’ll have to explain to your mothers what happened.” She looked at Leon and I as she was walking out of the shop and said, “Mr. Padgett, be sure you give these fellows good short cuts so they don’t catch lice too.”


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