“Untangling a Family Tale,” March 13, 2018

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, recreating 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!”


  1. Ron Talley says

    Oh, my, the memories!

  2. Beautiful, Sharon. Of course, bald as I am, I love anything describing a full head of lovely, flowing hair, especially when it’s well-written from the heart.
    All the best,

  3. Judy Perdue says

    Sharon you are always “on time”. Wonderful memories and you continue to make the same memories for your wonderful grands. Thank you for always sharing with us. Your gift of penmanship is beyond measure!!!

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    Well this one hit close to home… except my granddaughters do not care for grandma’s brushing no matter how gentle I am…. maybe all those years running a quick comb through seven boys short trusses did something to my technique?
    I was “stand in mama” the last couple of weeks for two of these sweet girls, and try as I may, I couldn’t even do a pony tail right…. and braids “the way mommy does them” – let’s not even go there.
    I bet Eleanor Rose is looking forward to Nana’s brushing – and not having Nana fly or drive away… a blessing for all of you?

  5. I was so surprised to hear you are moving back toCa.!!! As one’s gets older we should be downsizing not going back to a huge house!! And most of all when I hear about the thousands leaving CA and all the problems there!!!

  6. Jess Randall says

    Eleanor’s brother complimented her hair and she said “thank you, my Nana gave it to me.”

  7. Marion Ingber says

    That brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful picture you’ve painted for us today.

  8. brusher

  9. Beautiful picture you painted. My Mom was a brusher too. She soothed my tender head and heart when she brushed or washed my hair. Thanks Sharon.

  10. Mary Lee Davenport says

    You took me back in time to a place where my Aunt Lockie brushed and braided my hair. My Mama worked so she wasn’t always there when it was time to get me ready for scbool. Thanks for all the good memories you bring.

  11. Awww!

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