Grandma's braids
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Grandma’s Braids

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By A.C. Cargill

Memories from our childhood can last a lifetime. Mine was of Grandma’s braids. And on this warm summer day, that memory came back most vividly, for that was when I had first seen them.

Grandma was half Irish and half American Indian. Which tribe was never known. She was six feet tall, sturdily built and had an Indian looking face that showed her 70+ years of age. She also had the most striking red hair that, when let loose, hung down past her knees. She promised her husband, Ben, long since dead, that she would never cut it.

Being a farmer’s wife, Grandma was very used to hard work. But having such long hair hanging over her shoulders was an inconvenience during her typical day. That day often consisted of hitching up the horse team to the plow, gathering eggs in the hen house, weeding and hoeing their vegetable garden. She also scrubbed clothes over a washtub and performed many of the other labor-intensive tasks that have since been almost obliterated by modern technology. Thus, Grandma wore her red hair in braids. The braids were wound up together on top of her head.

That’s how I always remember her – those braids on the head. One day I saw her with those braids loose and gasped in wonder. I was six years old and couldn’t even imagine such long hair except in a story my mother read to me.

The words stuck in my head: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.”

Except this was red hair with just a touch of gray in it.

Grandma laughed when she saw the look on my face, wide-eyed and mouth agape.

“Come here,” Grandma called to me.

I approached her eagerly.

“Go ahead, feel it.”

I ran my hand down the long tresses. “They’re silky.” I grinned.

Grandma laughed again and thanked me. “I keep it long for Ben – your grandpa – he loved it long. It takes a while to wash and dry and then braid up every day, but I let it loose every night and brush it 50 strokes before going to bed, no matter how tired I am. Then, I say goodnight to Ben – to his photo here – and fall into a peaceful sleep.”

“That’s a good story, Grandma. I hope I meet someone like Ben someday.”

“You will,” Grandma said. “Come, let’s have some breakfast.”

Grandma finished the braids and pinned them in a circle atop her head. Then, she took my hand and went to the farmhouse kitchen to stoke the wood stove for frying up those fresh eggs I liked so much. It was my third and best visit to her at the farm.

It turned out to be the last. Grandma died that following winter. The farm wasn’t the same when my mother, father and I came there the next spring. Uncle Al was now running the farm and had modernized the little farmhouse with a gas cooking stove and other conveniences. And in Grandma’s bedroom the photo of Ben was still there but pushed aside behind a stack of books on farming on top of Grandma’s dressing table. I stood in the room a few moments, conjuring up that image from almost a year earlier. I wanted to fix it in my mind – Grandma’s braids – and keep it always in my heart. One day I would meet my own “Ben” and be ready.

As I turned to leave the room, I said, “Goodbye, Grandma!”

From that day on I wouldn’t let my mother cut my hair.

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