Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In which my sister gets in touch with her inner Rapunzel

I told you we lived in Spain from 1969 to 1973. This was the Franco era, only one generation removed from the Spanish Civil War, which was not a pleasant time in Spain's history. Read For Whom the Bell Tolls if you want to know more, but really, do you want to know about starving people and villagers making their neighbors run through a gauntlet of hoes and scythes until they are pushed off a cliff to their death? Nasty.

"Only one generation" diminishes the horrors, as well. Even in the past few years, in our trips to Spain (doesn't that sound fancy? "In our trips to Spain!" Us! Frequent world travelers! Thank you, Primo's hard, long hours and frequent flyer miles), Primo and I have seen the miniature elderly Spanish walking slowly on the sidewalk. The first time we saw a white-haired couple, each barely five feet tall, we didn't think much of it. But after the third and fourth and fifth and sixth, we realized there was something going on.

They had been children during the civil war. And had been starved. Their growth had been stunted. I saw an elderly, short couple in my grocery store here a few weeks ago. I didn't even have to hear them speaking Spanish to know they were from Spain.

When we lived there, Spain had not yet recovered. It was still a dictatorship. Many poor people. Where there are poor people, even soldiers can afford household help. Heck, even Peace Corps volunteers can afford help. I had a maid and a gardener when I was in the Peace Corps. Not because I am lazy, even though I am, but because it was cheaper to pay a maid to sort of clean my entire house than to take my clothes to the laundry. And it was cheaper to have a gardener than to buy a lawnmower.

My best friend Lisa's mom and dad had a gardener who undoubtedly worked for many families, maybe even ours, as there was simply not enough work at one house to keep a full-time gardener. But he stored his tools in Lisa's carport.

Lisa's brother, Stevie, who now goes by the more sophisticated "Steve," and my sister, Jenny, knew that's where the tools were. Undoubtedly, they had been forbidden to touch those tools, but is there any fruit sweeter than forbidden fruit?

Let me tell you about my sister at age four.

She was gorgeous. Drop-dead gorgeous. Rosy, chubby cheeks. Twinkling blue eyes. Infectious smile. And curly, long to her butt, flaxen hair.

My mom would take us into Madrid to go to the big market with the dead rabbits hanging from the ceiling. Spaniards would stop, bend down, pinch Jenny's cheek, and coo, "Ay que rubia! Que cute!" Vendors would give her strawberries. They loved her blonde plumpness.

They never pinched my cheek. At seven, with stick-straight, chin-length hair and slightly buck front teeth with a gap between them, I was not cute. I was definitely not cute when compared to my sister. I'm over it. Mostly.

My mom usually put Jenny's hair in a ponytail. Four year olds and long, curly, fine hair are not the most convenient mix, but my mom did not want to cut it. Can you blame her? She had a golden angel.

Then came the day that I returned from school to find my sister's hair - gone. When I had left for school, her hair was long. When I came home, it was short.

Jenny and Stevie had broken into the gardener's tool box.

They found the big, heavy, wood-handled pruning shears.

Stevie lifted the shears to Jenny's head and snip, snip, snip, the ponytail was gone.

They made the rounds of the neighborhood, leaving chunks of hair at each stop, chunks that my mother later collected as she tirelessly re-traced their route.

Jenny was scolded quite severely. She didn't need more than a few harsh words before she would burst into tears. Even now, she gets defensive any time I ask why she is still dating that loser.

My dad didn't think it was as big a deal as my mom did, which did not make my mom happy.

My mom had to trim the long hair on the edges to match the very short hair at Jenny's crown. Jenny looked like a little Mia Farrow when Mia Farrow still looked good and before she got involved with that quasi-incestuous creep.

Hair grows. Good thing, because even at 47, I have been known to take the scissors to my own hair. Jenny's hair grew back, but it grew back straighter and dark blonde. There is probably a moral in here somewhere, like lock up your gardening tools or don't let your four year old play with scissors. But if it hadn't been gardening shears, it probably would have been chewing gum in the hair or who knows what. Not that I ever took a nap with chewing gum in my mouth, despite my mother's warnings, and woken up to find the gum stuck in my hair.

Jenny's hair is now long and curly again. Except she blow-dries it straight. I guess she never did like those curls.

1 comment:

  1. North Koreans average a foot or so shorter than their relatives to the south because of the frequent food shortages.


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