cambridge book review

Get Something on that Head

Norma Gay Prewett

Mama had little patience with people who ran around with nekkid heads or “napes,” meaning “necks,” a word borrowed from HER mother, Addie Rose, the original hillwoman who cooked on a black iron range and washed in a kettle over a fire in the sandy yard of her Arkansas homestead. Mom was a slight variation on her mom (just as I am a slightly-educated version, a pale palimpsest, of my mom). We are all a set of jewel-tone interlocking Tupperware bowls—each locking nicely into the other over the generations. My five sisters and I and probably to a lesser extent, my brother, could be bundled until we resembled teddy bears, but we would be unprotected from the world of dangers, in Mother’s eyes, if we wore no scarves. Now, a word about head gear. As children, or hostages, we had no choice. Long toboggan hats were in style then (see them in A Christmas Story) and Donna, my closest sister in age, and I both sported them far into the Spring. (In Illinois, that time was variable.) Mom favored wool in all things, and that would have been great had I not already developed the delicate Irish skin that plagues me today. I slept in white cotton gloves to cover my split cuticles just last night—I looked like Minnie Mouse.

It could be one of those achingly lovely April nights though, where the lilacs were finally blooming and the scented light wind lured a person out by whispering promises, and my older sisters Jeanett and Pat would be awaiting their dates—who all drove convertibles it seemed to me—big Pontiacs with shining heads of the Indian on the hoods—but they could not set foot one on the porch until they had “something on that head.” Mom stood sentry. (That was the least of her problems with us wild things, but it was within her power to enforce.) It was magical, talismanic, power-laden. It protected one from the earache and the sore throat and the bronchitis. And it didn’t matter if the scarf was the kind they called “chiffon”—that spider-webby, sherbet-colored gauzy material that was of no insulating value whatsoever. Somebody has a photograph of Jeanett standing in our country yard during this era—she is posed in front of a fully-laden lilac, wearing a full cinched circle skirt with a can can (starched nylon petticoat), a wide leather belt, a short-sleeved sweater, and her scarf around her neck. She looked a little like Annette Funicello in those days, maybe painting on a beauty mark too, but with the neat figure and neat flipped cap of a hairdo and the big red lips. She might be sixteen or seventeen. I love that photo, with its wavery edges, and though it is black and white, of course, I can feel the lilac color of that diaphanous scarf in my very core. When she rode in that convertible with Jessie or James or whomever her current fling was—she would be glad to have something on that head.

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April 1, 2010 Posted by | memoir, poetry | , , | Leave a comment