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It’s too much to hope for long hair when your father is a barber.

I had reached the age of 14 without ever having my thick chestnut hair reach my shoulders. It was glossy, healthy and sharply trimmed in the straight lines Dad was a master of drawing with his narrow black comb and clippers. It stopped precisely at my chin and was clipped in at the nape. While I had some swing, I’d never experienced the luxury of the long Pantene locks the other girls in my grade flipped coyly in the school hallways. And no matter how much I pleaded for some length, Dad was adamant about keeping me neat.

“Joanna, you have the kind of hair that will go to weeds if it gets too long,” Dad told me once while I was desperately begging to be spared from my regular Saturday trim. “No child of mine is going to walk around town looking like that.”

I had successfully negotiated with him to let my bangs grow out when I got to junior high school, but that was the only victory I’d ever won. Dad was no tyrant – ever since mom died, he pretty much spoiled me rotten. But there was no arguing with him about his field of expertise and I’d long since resigned myself to the starkly simple hairstyle he thought looked best on me.

I couldn’t help sighing as I stepped down from the brown leather chair at the center of my father’s shop and rubbed the back of my freshly clipped neck. Another Saturday, another session under the clippers, I thought ruefully. Dad shook out the cape, sending the scant cloud of hair to the floor, and handed it to me with a wink. I balled it up and went into the back room of his shop to toss it and a load of towels into the washer. Dad let me earn extra money by working with him at the shop and I was saving every penny I could for my first car.

I heard the bell over the front door ring as Dad’s first customer of the day walked in with a gruff hello. It sounded like Mr. Everett, I thought, feeling a pang of sympathy. He was probably here so early because he wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. The Everetts were the current focus of every old biddy – and gossipy man – in town. Last month, Mrs. Everett had left Mr. Everett and moved away God knows where.

Shocking as that was, it wasn’t the reason everyone was talking about them. What the rest of us couldn’t understand was how she could just walk away from her child. Mr. Everett was the town mechanic, and although he was known to be fair and ready to help out in any emergency, it was hard to see how the gruff and taciturn man was going to cope alone with a precocious little package like his 6-year-old Missy.

The sound of mournful moaning rose above the churning sound of the washer and I walked to the doorway to see where it was coming from. Mr. Everett was kneeling on the floor in front of his sobbing daughter, gripping her at her elbows and shaking her slightly as he spoke. A long tangled mop of dirty blonde hair fell down her back, a testament to her mother’s absence.

“You stop that now, Missy, you hear me?” Mr. Everett said sternly. “This is going to happen, no matter how loud you wail. Your Mama’s not here to fix your hair for you anymore and I sure as heck don’t know how. Now get up in the chair and behave. Mr. Sanders doesn’t have time for this.”

Dad had stepped back quietly to put the booster board over the barber chair’s armrests. He was an old pro at reluctant haircuts, but I can’t ever remember a time when a girl besides me had ever been the recipient of one.

“Come on up here Missy and we’ll get you taken care of,” he said kindly as Mr. Everett plopped the tearful child in the chair. “We’ll have you looking sharp in no time.”

Some part of me felt a connection to the little girl, who looked tiny and forlorn as Dad enveloped her in one of his pin-striped capes. The collar was much too large for her tiny neck, so Dad used a hair clip to pin it in place after he brushed her hair forward so that it was out of the way.

“So what did you have in mind, Jim?” Dad said, trying to comb through the knots on Missy’s shaking head.

“Mr. Everett ran his hand over his face as he sat down in one of the chairs pushed along the walls for waiting customers.

“Her hair is just one more thing I don’t have time for, Bill,” Mr. Everett said. “And at this point, I don’t have the money for it either. Kathy cleaned me out when she left and it’s all I can do to keep us in basics until the house is sold. So I want something simple that will keep her over the summer.”

“I could do a short bob,” Dad offered. “Or maybe a longer bowl cut. Her bangs will need tending to, but I can take care of that for free when she needs it.”

Mr. Everett got a stony look on his face. I thought I recognized it. He was proud to give charity, I thought, but he wasn’t about to take it, not even if it was something as small as a free trim for Missy.

“No, I was thinking something shorter,” Mr. Everett said as Missy hiccupped. “Give her the $5 special. That’ll be good for summer and easy for us to care for.”

That surprised both me and Dad. The $5 cut was a clipper cut so short that there was more scalp than hair showing at the end of it. It was popular with the parents of the local boys, who were brought in en masse at the end of the school year and mowed down in less time than it takes an army barber to shear a new recruit. That was one of the reasons Dad only charged $5 for it.

Dad wasn’t about to debate the point with Mr. Everett. In his shop, parental word was law, and he wasn’t going to risk making the situation worse for everybody. He kept the comb in his hand and palmed the clippers, taking a second to tell Missy to keep still, it’d be over soon.

The clippers snapped on Missy jumped as Dad brought them to her head. He used the comb to lift up a tangled mass and zipped off the length. He worked his way around her head, careful to make sure the hair was falling to the floor and not on the cape where the sight of it would make Missy cry harder.

When Dad had reduced Missy’s hair to a cap that skimmed along the bottom of her ears, he laid the comb aside and gently pushed her head forward. Missy started to wail as she felt the clippers climb up the back of her head, even though Dad was still pushing her severed hair to the floor, out of her sight. I flinched when I saw that Dad had followed Mr. Everett’s request to the letter. He wasn’t using a guard on the clippers and the shadow of hair on Missy’s head could barely be seen.

“Ohhhh, Papa,” Missy cried. “Oooh Papa,”

Her singsong cry made Mr. Everett look away, but I could see how bad he felt. Missy seemed to shrink in on herself as Dad made short work of the rest of her hair. By the time the haircut was over, Missy was crying so hard she couldn’t even make a sound.

“All done,” Dad said gently, patting her on the shoulder as he brushed her head free of severed hair and uncaped her. Missy just sat there until Mr. Everett picked her up and sat down on one of the chairs rocking her silently.

I don’t know what made me do what I did next. Missy just looked so alone, so in need of comfort that I did something I never thought I would do. I left the backroom where I’d watched the scene unfold and slowly walked over to stand by my Dad. He gave me a sad smile and put an arm around me.

“Hey Dad, can I ask you a favor?” I asked, leaning in to him, comforted by the clean scent of shaving cream and talc that always clung to his smocks.

“What is it Jo?” he asked.

“Will you give me a haircut just like Missy?”

Silence. The newly clipped little girl turned her tearstained face to me, her eyes widening in shock. Mr. Everett’s face was set and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking when his eyes met mine.

“I just cut your hair Jo.”

Dad was giving me an out. What a guy. I briefly considered taking it and then recommitted myself to my first insane course of action.

“I know Dad. But Missy looks so cool I think I’d like another one. I think Mr. Everett’s right. That’s the perfect summer haircut.”

< p>Dad actually laughed.

“Far be it from me to discourage a summer haircut. Step up here Jo and I’ll fix you right up.”

Dad moved the booster off the seat and I slid into the chair – again. The cape that he had used on Missy now swirled around me, and I grinned up at Dad as he shook his head at me.

“You are some kid,” he said, low enough so that I was the only to hear it.

Missy had leaned against her dad and was watching me with wide eyes. I grinned at her, more bravado than anything else, because I didn’t relish the thought of going through the summer looking like a guy. It really didn’t matter, I supposed, since Dad had already told me no dating until 16.

I heard the clippers snap on. Dad stepped to the side of my chair, and with one hand at the back of my head, he used the other to push the clippers over my forehead. Hair fell into my lap in clumps, and by the time Dad had concluded a fourth pass, I was marveling at how long it looked. It had never felt long when it was attached to my head.

I brought my hand up to the top of my head and rubbed at it as Dad ran the clippers over my right ear. No guards here, I thought ruefully, feeling the sandpaper scrape of what could only be described as stubble. I smiled for Missy’s benefit.

“Wow, that feels great,” I said, bringing my hand back down under the cape. “And you and I are the only two girls in town who know how nice it feels.”

Missy had brought her hands up to her head after I did, and I saw her run her small palms over her scalp in tiny circles. For the first time since she’d walked into the shop, I saw a tiny grin. She looked at Mr. Everett, who ran a hand over her head and snorted.

“You look fine, girl,” Mr. Everett said. “And you feel like one of your teddy bears.”

By that time, Dad had mowed down both sides of my head and was finishing up the back. When he announced “Done,” and whirled me to the mirror, I had trouble keeping a straight face. I wanted to laugh when I saw my ears – they looked like they were protesting their sudden exposure. And I knew that when I was alone in bed tonight, I was going to cry about the impulse that led me to do this.

“That’s great Dad,” I said, fixing a smile on my face and standing up slowly after he brushed me off. I felt dizzy. “I should have done this a lot sooner.”

I felt a small tug on my hand before I could get the cape off. Missy had walked through the scattered hillocks of her hair and mine and was standing by my side. I leaned down to her and she grabbed my ear before whispering: “Are we still girls?”

I put an arm around her and hugged her.

“Of course we are,” I assured her. “We’re just girls in cool haircuts.”

Mr. Everett shook hands with Dad and paid him before leaving. He gave me a gruff nod before walking out the door and I nodded back.

“Why don’t you go on home, Jo,” Dad said, hugging me hard. “And don’t worry about dinner. I’ll pick up a pizza.”

I didn’t get as much grief from my friends as I thought I would. I suppose they thought it wasn’t that unusual since my Dad basically gave the same haircut to every boy in town. And even though I was a girl, I was a barber’s daughter. It took a while for my hair to grow out – and I had to suffer through frustratingly short trims and cuts from my dad to get there — but by the time I finally got my license and my car, I had enough hair to flap in the breeze.

The car was the envy of all my classmates and taught me that good deeds don’t go unrewarded. Mr. Everett had recovered from his nasty divorce by then and was back on even ground. When he heard that I was looking for a car, he stopped in at the shop to talk to my dad the same day I passed the licensing test. When he offered to sell me a restored 1967 Mustang convertible for exactly what I had in the bank, even I knew that it was practically a gift. It killed me to do it, but I tried to refuse.

“Take it, Joanna,” Mr. Everett said. “It doesn’t mean near so much to me as your hair did to you. You did something for Missy I never expected or can repay. Don’t think I’ve forgotten.”

I looked at Dad, who nodded his consent. After I whooped for joy, Mr. Everett laughed. It was the only time I’d ever heard him do it.

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