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Sufferin� for Beauty

    Sunday morning at Mama�s house was a time of love, but it also became a place of fear. I remember things like listening to Gospel music on the radio, and Tammy and I getting our hair pressed and curled for church. I remember us being woken up by the most delicious smells Sunday morning. As I tumbled out of bed with sleep still clinging to my eyes, I would bounce down the steps with a sense of urgency. I tried to guess what smelled so good. The closer I got to it, the hungrier I became. As I passed the radio, Reverend Brown�s rendition of �Look and Live� was blaring as it did every Sunday. When finally I got to the kitchen, I saw country ham and red-eye gravy, grits, scrambled eggs and biscuits. These were the dishes that had summoned me to the kitchen. Mama turned and saw us salivating over the feast she had prepared. �Hurry up and eat, because you know I have to do your hair and finish cooking my dinner.�

    After quickly savoring every morsel, I grudgingly prepared myself for our weekly hair-pressing ritual. I reluctantly got out the pressing comb which is a cast-iron comb designed specifically to straighten hair when heated on a stove burner, hair pomade, afro comb, and brush. I also got a towel, chair, and the butter out of the refrigerator. Now with everything in place, Mama was ready to begin. She took the afro comb, and attempted to comb through my very thick hair. Every stroke of the comb hurt because I was very tender-headed. The wrestling match ensued as Mama and I struggled through her just combing out my hair. At different times during the struggle she would pop me with a comb to remind me to be still.

    After surviving the comb-out, the hair-pressing ordeal began. Mama would part my hair into sections and apply a thick layer of pomade to my scalp and hair. She would continue this until my whole head was covered with it. While she did this, the pressing comb was set on the burner on the stove to heat up. Mama checked to see if the temperature was right by taking the comb and wiping it on a white cloth to see how discolored it became. Mama would again part my hair into sections, but this time, she would take the pressing comb and comb through my hair. I remember hearing the comb sizzle as it plowed through my kinky hair making it straight. That sound was very frightening. I felt like I was being cooked.

    Sometimes, Mama would accidentally burn me. When that happened, she would apply a generous amount of butter to �soothe� the burn. After her own special brand of first aid, Mama would press on going over each section until it was very straight. She would continue this until my whole head was done.

    Once she completed pressing my hair, the real fun began. Mama would put the bumper curlers on the stove to heat up. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of these curlers is that the person using them clicks the barrel against the clip causing an ominous clicking sound that gets louder the closer it gets to your head. The process of curling my hair and clicking the curlers seemed to take forever. In the midst of getting my hair done, I would more than likely get a new burn that would get dressed with more butter.

    My sister, Tammy, whose hair was thicker than mine, dreaded her turn in the chair more than I. She cried and cried until Mama finished.

    While we dressed for church, Mama cleaned up the kitchen to finish preparing the dinner. When we reentered the room all dressed up with our freshly pressed coiffures, I felt like a million bucks. After surviving the pressing and curling ordeal, I must admit that I did look a little cute. It seemed to make the torment worth it. Living through those Sunday mornings set our life up for the clich�, �One must suffer for beauty.�

    Mama never went to church with us. Her sister, Aunt Audrey, took us every Sunday to St. John�s Missionary Baptist Church. Mama spent the day cooking while we were at church.

    Looking back at those times, I nostalgically reminisce about those Sunday mornings. The sheer torture they held was temporarily deleted from my memory. In spite of living through that agony, those times with Mama are cherished. If it means to sit in that chair for an eternity just to be in her presence, I would gladly do it.

    � 2005 Denise R. Black