You can’t make it through childhood without at least one notable event that stands out in your adult memory. For me it was my braids and while I prized them with all my heart, they were a source of conflict every Saturday. Just before dinner, my mother would insist on washing a week’s worth of tangles out of my hair—oh the fight!

By third grade, I had to admit they were something of a liability. The boy who sat behind me liked to quietly tie them around the back of my desk chair and wait for me to get up—oh the pain!

And so, that summer I agreed to go with my mother to the “beauty shop” that smelled like a toxic spill and have them cut off. I was immediately struck by how much lighter my head felt and how shorn I was of my identity—Bunny with the long blond braids.

To top the whole experience off, my mother and a neighbor fell for the ad in one of their “ladies magazines” and gave me a Tonette home permanent.

The result was my brother dropping to the ground in hysterics at sight of the “new” me. When I looked in the mirror what I saw was a girl who’d put her finger into a light socket or had been struck by lightning! Only a return to the beauty shop the next week to cut off the frizz gave me a shred of dignity back.

Fast Forward

Now I’m a junior in high school and it’s two days before Christmas. Mom and I are in a rush to fix the waist on a skirt for a friend’s party.

We’re in the rathskeller which was very big in the Midwest back then. You converted the basement into something like a family room and pretended that it wasn’t freezing in the winter no matter how high you turned up the humming heater. The only natural light came in from a casement window so that if I stood on my tiptoes I could see the sidewalk leading up to our front porch.

Mom was at the sewing machine working on my poodle skirt (yep, it was the thing back then).

I was looking through a mystery box of saved trinkets she’d kept in the cabinet. There were the usual first drawings and homemade birthday cards I made in first grade judging by the printing. Near the bottom was the playbill from when my brother was in Our Town, and at the bottom—oh my god—my braids. I’d long since forgotten about them.

“You saved them,” I gasped in shock.

“They were so much a part of you back then I couldn’t bear to throw them away,” she said looking up from her sewing with tears in her eyes. I was touched as well and wiped my own.

Just as I was giving my mother a long-overdue hug for being my mom, I saw out the casement window, trousers over snow boots walking up the steps. I couldn’t see who it was but when I heard his voice I knew—Garry Ludwig. He had been calling and once stopped me in the hall after English class with “Why won’t you go out with me?”

“I’m sorry but I just don’t want to,” is what I recall saying instead of “buzz off.” He still called and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

All of this I relayed to my mother as we heard my father slowly opening the living room door, stepping out onto the porch, and saying “Hello.”

“Oh, no,” I whimpered, “Dad’s going to invite him. He just asked if I’m home and could he talk to me?”

Mom grabbed the braids from my hands and clipped them to the top of her head like a German hausfrau might. I watched her sprint up the basement stairs and dash into the living room. She still knew a lot of German from her childhood when her parents spoke it, but only in their home. “I’ll take care of this,” she said. “Lassen Sie mich mit dieser Situation umgehen,” she said to my father.

Using a stern tone for Garry, my mother identified herself as “Olga, das maid.” I was certain the look of surprise on both my father’s and Garry’s matched my own.

“Fräulein Bunny no vant you to keep calling Verstehst du? Auf Wiedersehen!  Frohe Weihnachten.” And with that she firmly closed the door.

With the light off, I watched Garry’s boots retreat down the steps and down the sidewalk. I waited until I heard his car drive away before I turned on the light.

My mother, my hero!   

“What the hell?” Dad said, a familiar phrase he used when my mother took command of domestic matters. “And those braids!”

“You can come up now,” Mom called down the basement stairs. “We can finish the skirt later. Time to break out the eggnog if you ask me.”

“Be right there, Olga,” I said and hoped she still had her German headdress and impression going.

Frohe Weihnachten,” my parents said, for the first toast of the holiday season. I loved seeing then laugh and getting along; it might be one of our best Christmases. I looked forward to the Olga reenactment for my brother the next night before he had one of his hot dates. Plus a few more humorous family moments before the new year dawned, but none to match the one we were celebrating that night.

Happy Holidays to all.

Photo credits: First girl with braids – kelly sikkema, Sewing machine – annie spratt, Telephone – mike meyers.