A Hairy Tale by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Haircuts

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Once Upon a time…and still… hair was the most important thing.

To the day my mother died, the first thing we did when we saw each other was comment on each other’s hair. Mom would either say, “That’s a great haircut, Penny,” or “What did you do to your hair?” Or anything in between. (My dad said only one thing every time: “What the hell happened to your hair?”)  For many years my mother went to the hairdresser every week. I’m not sure she ever washed her own hair. When I was in high school she took me along, so every Friday I had my hair washed and teased and sprayed (Yuk) so even a ride on a roller coaster over the weekend wouldn’t undo my do. But this little story isn’t about my hair. It’s about loyalty.

When my mom finally convinced my dad to retire, my parents left New York and moved to California to be near my brother and me and our families. For Dad the trauma of the move was that he could no longer ride the Long Island Railroad’s bar car home from The City with his buddies. For Mom, she had to leave her long-term hair cutter and find a new one. Not knowing better, she found the hairdresser who did the hair of most of the women in Rossmoor. As a result, she looked like them and they all looked like little old ladies from Rossmoor. They’d get these nasty tight little permanent waves to “give their hair body” and from behind, all these 4’11” Jewish grey haired women looked the same. From the front they did, too. My mom hated how she looked. But would she switch hairdressers? Of course no! But every year the Rossmoor hairdresser would take a vacation for a few weeks and her friend would sub for her. This woman gave Mom wonderful, flattering haircuts, and no silly curls. She looked so much better! I’d comment, of course, as soon as I saw her. “Mom! I love your hair! Who did it?” And she’d say sadly, “I know. It looks so much better, doesn’t it?” And I’d say, “Can’t you continue going to her even when What’s-Her-Name comes back?” And she’d say, sadly, sounding a little like Eeyore, “No. I couldn’t do that to her.” My mom knew her hairdresser’s whole life story, and like all of us, she had some troubles she confided to Mom (and probably to all the other Rossmoor gals.) Mom just didn’t have the heart to add another sadness to this woman’s life. So as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince her to switch. She never did. But once a year, for a few weeks, she looked great.

Just a word here about genetics. I went to the same hairdresser in San Francisco for 25 years. From when I had a raging Jewfro in the 70s to when I had a modified Jewfro in the 90s. I, too, didn’t have the heart to leave my guy. He’d become my friend and, like my mom, I’d become his confidente. But he made the mistake of taking a very long vacation one year, and my daughter invited me to visit her hairstylist in Berkeley. She took one look at me in the mirror and asked, “So…how committed are you to the 1970s?”

After several months of expensive therapy, I was finally able to break up with my SF guy and keep him as a friend. Wish I could tell my mom.

Someday I’ll tell you about the purple hair.

Profile photo of Penny K Penny Righthand

Characterizations: funny, right on!


  1. Of course she couldn’t!
    And can’t wait to hear the purple tale!

  2. Suzy says:

    Great story, Penny. Laurie talked about the same issue – staying loyal to a hairdresser even if you’re not satisfied with how your hair looks. Maybe I’m a terrible person, but if I’m not happy, I just disappear. I have been through a lot of hairdressers, and I never stayed out of loyalty, even with the one who bought my daughter’s Girl Scout cookies.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Your hair is amazing, Penny. Like you and your mother, I had the hardest time breaking up with my hairdresser and I didn’t even like him as a person. But what would he do without my business? How rejected would he feel if I left? When I finally sent him the letter, I’m sure he laughed.

    I love the description of your mother’s loyalty to her hairdresser. Also, it reminded me of the days when my mother went for that weekly styling and hair spray job. I guess it was comparable to my weekly pre-pandemic nail salon addiction. In her old age, my mother was amazed she was able to wash and “handle” her own hair. I guess my nails have survived as well.

    • Yes, Laurie. I read your story! Funny how we feel obligated to hairdressers. I wonder where the line between loyalty and obligation is. Maybe when we realize we’re not happy. I’m just thinking about this. Is it just a women’s thing, or a Jewish thing? Or a Jewish women’s thing? It’s interesting to me.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    It is true, Penny. Our stylists become our confidantes and we can’t break up, not matter how we look. I love the expression “Jewfro”. I saw quite a few at Brandeis during my years there (1970-74). But your daughter’s comment did the trick; funny, accurate and a bit aggressive. I’d like to hear about purple hair too. So would Kathy, I suspect. She’s considering going there.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks, Penny, for further confirming what I believe is the case for a lot of women: their relationships with their hairdressers go far beyond customer/vendor and are often quite intimate (even if not in a sexual sense) and often quite complicated. I am not sure, speaking presumptuously on behalf of all guys, whether we are missing something or spared something. But I much enjoyed your story and how you told it.

    As to the “Jewfro,” there was a very good basketball player a year behind me in college named Brian Newmark who stood about 6′ 8″ even before being topped with a huge mass of very curly hair. However, when he was interviewed by the New York Times, he used the term “Isro” to describe it instead. And no, he was not from Israel; he was from Brooklyn. In fact, when asked by the reporter whether his nickname “Bru” was short for “brute,” Brian indicated that it was not; it stood for “Brooklyn Jew.”

    • Haha! I love it! Bru!
      I wondered if guys had the same issue with their hair do-ers. I gather from your comment, I have my answer. Maybe you are missing something. But I don’t think you have that same sense of guilt that we have the pleasure of carrying. TBH I think I’m ready to give that up. Almost;-)

      • John Shutkin says:

        Again, Penny, I do not think that guys have the same issues, but I certainly can’t speak for all guys. One of the reasons for that, at least with old fashioned barber shops, is that there were usually not any such things as appointments. You simply arived whenever you did and got the next available barber, just like bank tellers. Thus, all the chairs for waiting with attendant reading material.

        And, in my experience, even if you preferred one barber to another, it was considered exceedingly bad form to pass on the available barber and wait for “your” guy. Some unwritten code, methinks.

  6. It’s not always necessary or even a good idea for a writer to tell me explicitly what their underlying theme is. But something about the way you did that in this one really elevated this entire narrative! “But this little story isn’t about my hair. It’s about loyalty.” You sneaked it in there at the end of a long paragraph, and it both surprised me and made me more eager to hear the rest of it. The story ends up leaving readers with both sides of the issue: loyalty can equate to needless devotion that isn’t giving us the “results” we want. But there is a certain nobility to it in spite of that. I really got so much out of this story! Thanks.

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