Sharon Randall: Untangling a family tale

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

By Sharon Randall

I come from a family of hair brushers. Maybe you do, too.

My mother and her eight sisters grew up brushing each other’s hair. Often, it was a chore. Their mother would order the older girls to get the younger ones ready for church or school. They’d grumble, but obey, yanking tangles from the heads of their yelping little sisters like a mule dragging a plow across a rocky field.

But sometimes they brushed hair just for fun, re-creating on each other the latest hairstyles of their favorite stars — curling or straightening, pinning tresses in a twist or swirling them seductively over an eye.

Brushing or being brushed, they loved it. And they passed that love on to me. From the time I was big enough to hold a hairbrush, I would work free of charge on anyone who’d let me.

I had no shortage of clients. My mother, my grandmother and many of my aunts were only too happy to oblige. They’d sit on the porch in summer or by the stove in winter, with their eyes half closed in pleasure, talking softly with each other while I brushed their hair.

I got to know each woman by the shape of her head, the curve of her hairline, the texture and thickness and smell of her hair, and how she wanted it brushed.

I was good at it. Everybody said so. I loved brushing. But I hated getting brushed. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they brush your hair.

My mother would mutter while wrestling the kinks from my curls: “I wouldn’t wish this mess on my worst enemy!”

I was sure her sisters had said that about her, too, but it didn’t make my head hurt less.

My dad brushed my hair the way he groomed a horse, slowly and carefully, as if he feared I might rear up and kick him.

A few of my aunts could smooth my tangles without making me cry, but they never seemed to take pleasure in it.

My favorite hairbrusher was my grandmother. She always took her time, working her magic on my hair and my soul. I remember her hands, smoothing and soothing, never making me shed a single tear.

Best of all, when she finished, she’d smile and say, “Look at you! Aren’t you a picture?”

Good, bad or goofy, I didn’t care how she made me look. I loved how she made me feel.

Years later, I brushed my daughter’s hair the same way my grandmother had brushed mine. From the day she was born, on her first day of school, for every party, every prom, every basketball game, I worked my grandmother’s magic on my daughter’s hair and soul.

Brushing her hair always made me think of all the hands that had once brushed mine. I often had a sense that they were watching over us, making sure I did as fine a job for my daughter as they had done for me.

Maybe they were. It seemed, no matter how I did her hair, my daughter was always a picture.

Last week, I spent time with my granddaughter Eleanor Rose, who is 3, and just as lovely as her name. We read books. Played with Play-Doh. Ate cookies. And brushed her hair.

Elle’s hair is honey brown with gold and auburn highlights, and it flows in soft curls down to her waist. She pushes it back from her face with a flick of her wrist.

Once again, I used my grandmother’s magic trick, brushing away Elle’s tangles until her hair gleamed smooth as silk. Then I French-braided the sides, pulled it back in a ponytail and tied it up with a pink My Little Pony hair clip.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

“Look at you!” I said, beaming. “Aren’t you a picture?”

She turned her head side to side to admire my masterpiece in the mirror. Then she smiled.

“Thank you, Nana,” she said, and kissed my hand. And in a place far away, yet very near, I heard a chorus of family hair brushers cry, “Awww!”

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077 or