I mentioned in a previous post that I've been meeting with local writers here in La Manzanilla. Our very loose format is to write for twenty minutes and then read what we've written to the others. Or read something else. Or not read at all. Very loose, like I said. I started the following piece at one of our Saturday get-togethers and finished it the following week. Seems I've been taking a break from writing poems, although I did manage to squeeze out the beginning of one yesterday. Here's a little prose piece, just for a change.
My Battle With the Bottle
It happened again. Me and my best old friend since the sixties walk into a bar. It’s like the beginning of a bad joke, only it’s not a bar, it’s the art gallery in La Manzanilla where there’s an opening. At the door, a young woman engages us with a huge smile.
“You must be—are you—mother and daugt…” She senses the freeze.
“Sisters?” she asks, hopefully. But it’s too late. It’s happened again. I’ve been taken for my friend’s mother and my friend is five years older than I am! Mostly, it’s about the hair. My friend is still on the bottle while I gave up on that several years ago, after the incoming white grew so fast I developed a skunk-like stripe within a couple of weeks of colouring.
I pulled out my first white hair when I was sixteen. One of my aunts had a white streak by the time she was twenty, and I hardly remember my mother with natural dark brown hair. By the time I was in my mid-twenties I had taken to using a rinse. My forties gifted me with a very distinct salt-and-pepper look and I began to experiment with various shades of brown: chestnut; ash; nutmeg; chocolate; burnished auburn—oh, the names, the names—until finally I decided to grow it out.
Life was suddenly so much easier. No more factoring in time to colour my hair. No more of the attendant mess and expense. I found I didn’t mind the look—mature, I thought, and somewhat career-womanish, yet fun. My new husband loved my hair, too.
One spring not long after we were married we flew to Terrace to visit my sister, Sharon. We’re almost like two families in that my sisters, twins, came along when I was ten so our early relationship was more like an aunt and her nieces than siblings.
Sharon was waiting at the airport to meet us. As we left the baggage claim area one of her friends spotted us. “Your mother’s visiting?” she asked. My sister, eyes twinkling, hastened to assure her I wasn’t our mother.
The day after we arrived, Sharon and I went to pick up some photos she had dropped off to be developed. When we walked in together the woman behind the counter beamed at us.
“So you must be Mom!” she cried.
I glanced at my sister, whose spreading grin would have done the Cheshire Cat proud.
We managed to get through the rest of the week without any more cases of mistaken identity. We ate, we shopped, we toured around. I found a shawl I liked in a little shop, went back for it the next day only to discover they were doing inventory and the shawl had been put away as it was out of season. The clerk assured me she would dig it out in the next couple of days, and as we were heading home the next morning Sharon agreed to pick it up for me and mail it.
A week later, after we were back in Castlegar, the phone rang. It was Sharon and she was laughing so hard I could barely make out what she was saying.
“You have to listen to this!” she gasped, and proceed to play a recording from her answering machine.
“Hello, Sharon? This is Millie from Capes and Caps calling. We found that shawl your mom wanted, if you’d like to come and get it.”
About six weeks later, when I was still smarting from the Mom-sightings and trying to be gracious about being offered Senior Citizen discounts everywhere I went, my husband went off to Saskatchewan for a couple of weeks and my friend Alan came from Toronto for a visit. Alan and I used to work together when I lived there. He wasn’t a hairdresser by trade, but one day, after I’d been complaining I couldn’t find anyone who could cut curly hair properly, Alan said he could. He was living on the eighteenth floor of a high rise in High Park and we were sitting outside on the little balcony, Alan snipping away, my hair flying off in the breeze.
“So where did you learn to cut hair?” I asked.
“Well, actually,” he said, with a particularly snappish snip of the scissors, “you’re my first.”
I was understandably concerned, but the end result didn’t look too bad. The real test happened the next day when I went to work and several people, some of whom I didn’t even know, commented on what a great cut I had and wanted to know who did it. Alan has a genuine knack for cutting hair and to this day has many faithful clients who rely on him for their cuts, colours and perms.
When he’d said he was coming to Castlegar to see me I’d asked him to bring his scissors. Over coffee the first morning when he was commiserating with me about the Terrace senior sightings, he wondered if maybe I should try a little colour in my life again. As I still wasn’t accustomed to seeing a white crown when I looked in the mirror, I agreed. He applied some sort of ash brown, lighter than my old natural colour, and assured me I looked ten years younger.
Alan went back to Toronto a few days later and soon my husband’s prairie adventure ended and he drove back from Saskatoon in two days, arriving home at seven in the morning. As is my custom when he’s away, the doors were all locked. As Ted tells it, he got home after hours of driving, the door was locked so he had to knock and then, as he was expecting to see his white-haired wife, it was answered by some brunette he barely recognized!
I continued to colour my hair for a couple more years, but the constant application of product was hard on it so eventually I gave in and let it go natural for good. I still get mistaken for my sisters’ mother, but not as often. In fact, Shelley is still colouring her hair and Sharon has gone over to the grey side so every now and then someone thinks she and I are the twins!
As for my five-years-older friend, we’re talking about taking a trip to Europe together. I have to admit, it’ll be tempting to go back on the bottle for a month or two. It would be nice to be taken for two old friends, still adventuring together, instead of a mother-daughter duo on some sort of “isn’t that nice, she’s taking Mom out for a last trip” scenario. Tempting, but I think I’ll just grin and bear it. As usual.