Hair has always been more than just a crown on our heads. For my family, especially for my sister and mother, it was a testament to our cultural heritage, our daily routine, and, at times, our amusing tribulations. There’s a story behind every strand, every curl, and every style I've ever had.
I remember when I would burst into the house after hours of playing outside, my hair in complete disarray. It was not a mere mess; it was a disaster zone that looked like a cross between a haystack and the aftermath of a storm. To put it mildly, my hair cried out for a "touch-up," much to the chagrin of my sister and mother.
In the earlier days, I had succumbed to the allure of chemical products. The greasy Jheri curl was one such favorite. Combined with the warm embrace of hot iron, this style would hold up only until the first bead of sweat made its way down my scalp. Less than thirty minutes of rigorous football playing was all it took for good old sweat to emerge victoriously, reducing Jheri and his hot iron partner to a limp and defeated mess.
There was an unintended comedic consequence to using these chemical products, especially on greasy hair. Imagine running around the neighborhood, your hair acting like a magnet to every speck of grass, clumps of dirt, and many bugs. Sweat acted as the cherry on top, ensuring I looked like a wild child straight out of a jungle.
Then, the winds of fashion brought in a gust of change. The Afro made its grand entry as a popular hairstyle choice for Black men. It wasn’t just about looking good; it was a statement. The beauty of the Afro lay in its natural appeal, and it was a blessing for those of us with long, coarse hair.
Watching the transformation of my hair was an experience in itself. The two skilled beauticians in my household — my sister and mother — would patiently let my hair grow to an ideal length for braiding. They would weave them into braids once it was of the desired length. The magic unfolded when they'd combed out these braids, giving rise to an impressive Afro that stood tall at about two inches. This provided a solution to my hair woes and brought a sense of pride in flaunting a style so closely associated with our roots.
Ah, the braiding sessions! They were both a test of patience and endurance. The seemingly never-ending duration of these sessions meant my butt would go numb from sitting in the same position for hours. And then there was the combing. Every stroke was a reminder of the slight pain that accompanied it. But in retrospect, these inconveniences were nothing compared to the torturous experience of enduring chemical treatments and the burns from the hot iron.
Braids were not just a fashion statement but a rite of passage for most boys in my community. While some aspired for elaborate designs like the intricate cornrows or the classy French braids adorned with colorful beads, I had a simpler taste. I favored the straightforward single plaits. They were quick to do, a breeze to comb out, and were a lifesaver on Sundays. Comb them out on a Sunday morning, and behold – the perfect Afro was born, much to my mother's delight.
Summer memories are peppered with visions of kids gathering under the cool canopy of shade trees or lounging on porches. The agenda? Braiding sessions. They were more than just about hair. They were social events where we bonded, teased one another, and exchanged juicy neighborhood gossip. These were the times when friendships were forged and strengthened. Once the braids were in place, the serious business of playing commenced. From sports to jumping ropes, our days were filled with laughter, fun, and games.
In more ways than one, braids changed our lives. Not only did they make managing my rebellious hair easier, but they also led to substantial savings. No more did we have to squander my parents' hard-earned money on frivolous hair products. With braids, life became a tad bit simpler and a whole lot richer in experiences.
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