Monthly Archives: June 2015

Jealous of mother’s hair

MotteBerthaAndBetty1944“Black, black, black is the color of my true love’s hair…”*

Black-haired and hazel-eyed, my Irish mother was the only girl in a family with four brothers. All her brothers’ hair began to turn gray at an early age, but mama’s didn’t. She just had a narrow streak of white from her right temple straight back through her lush, black waves.

Unfortunately, my hair took after my English daddy, who had brown hair and blue eyes. I was always jealous of mother’s hair.

When I was fifteen years old or so, mama took me to her hairdresser. The shop was centrally located in a storefront beside Sears, Roebuck and Company on North Irby Street. I thought I was getting a hair permanent, an event I dreaded. Frizzy, smelly, itchy curls for Easter. More frizzy, smelly, itchy curls for Christmas.

I pouted as I was draped in plastic and the leather chair pumped up to the appropriate level. My mood didn’t improve as mama whispered something to the beautician, gave me a pat and said she’d be in the cubicle next door.

The next thing I knew the circumference of my face and neck was being wrapped in cotton batting, as usual. Cold smelly chemicals were dabbed on my hair, just like usual. My head was encased in a plastic shower-cap, an egg timer was set and a magazine plopped into my hands.

Determined to make the best of it, I got engrossed in the romantic short story in the Redbook and tried to ignore the drips escaping down the back of my neck. “We’ll do the roll-ups in a bit,” the smiling lady said as she went out for a chat with mama.

Eventually the timer went off, the breezy beautician returned, peeked under the plastic, pronounced it “just right” and whirled me around to the sink for a rinse. Huddled under the noisy hair dryer, I finished Redbook, McCall’s magazine and an old Readers Digest before we got to the un-roll and the brush-out. Finally the smiling beautician presented me with a hand mirror.

Holy cow! My hair had undergone a miracle! It was no longer a mousy ash brown – it was now a lovely auburn brown. (I have never seen my natural hair color since.) I suddenly loved my mother fiercely – she understood, she really understood how much I had always admired her hair, how much I had always deplored mine.

Soon after that my whole family, grandparents and all, went to a movie at the Carolina Theater. It was rare for the grandparents to attend a movie – raising their family in the depression years they didn’t “hold with frivolous foofaraw.” But there they were standing in line just behind mama, daddy, Harold and me. 

In a gruff whisper, Da spoke into Mimi’s ear. “Betty’s sure gotten to be red-headed, ain’t she…” You could hear the question mark in his comment, wondering how on earth my hair had gone from brown to red. 

Da’s brand of Irish were Black Irish – mostly black or dark-haired, not red-haired, and they didn’t change their gene structure at fifteen. I can still hear Mimi shush-shushing him, trying to explain in a few words about beauty parlors and hair dye.

Since it goes better with the fire-engine red shirts I favor, in recent years I tended to stick with medium brown hair. When too much familial gray was first showing up around the edges, I visited my neighborhood drugstore. My tried and true brand was out.

I browsed through the hair-color selections. “Brown with auburn highlights.” Hmmm. A bit of auburn again might be fun. I shampooed it in, read a few chapters of a murder mystery, rinsed, dried, and –

My hair was the most unnatural pink you ever saw. Highlights? Forget highlights, where was the brown? I prayed I didn’t see anyone I knew as I drove back to the store and bought brown with NO red in it, according to the label. I re-colored, re-rinsed, re-dried – and it was still red. Darker red, but still not brown.

Now, I was a busy person, work, church, grocery-shopping, bill-paying, errands around town, you know the drill. I had no choice but to go out in public. Some folks were kind enough to say they liked it. A few giggled until they saw the set of my jaw.

BetteAtPhotoShopCropped11May2007I let my hair enjoy its redness for a week. This time I bought DARK brown with no red, and this time it did come out brown. Dark brown. Really, really dark brown. Almost black, it was so brown. Oh well, I looked more like my mama. That wasn’t a bad thing, really. 

It looked pretty good with my fire-engine red shirts. I thought I might just keep it that way for a while. (And I did… for a while. Story written in 2006.)

* Traditional Scottish folk song, though this video says it’s Irish. Beautiful either way.

Happy Father’s Day

DaddyInUniformSmallWhen I was two years old, I knew my daddy, in some ways. I didn’t know him as a WW II veteran of the US Army Air Force.

I didn’t know him as an airplane pilot or airplane mechanic, small engine repairman or insurance salesman.

I didn’t know him as a brother, uncle or son, or as a husband, son-in-law or brother-in-law.

I didn’t know him as a house painter, screen door fixer, lawn mower, or light-bulb replacer. Or as a banjo player / barbershop quartet singer, neighbor, friend, or as a ballroom dancer. Yet he was all those things, to other people.

Bette'sFamily1947ReducedTo two-year-old me he was just a marvelous big creature who loved me. He was a smiler. A carrier-on-the-shoulder. A hugger and tickler who got down on the floor and played baby dolls with me, or wound up the wobbly spinning top for me, over, and over, and over.

He let me climb up in his lap when he was trying to read the newspaper, and read the funnies out loud to me.

He was a food taster who offered me little bites of his grown-up meals. He was a goofy “mareseatoats” song singer and a “once upon a time” story reader.

Sometimes he pointed a square box at me and called, “Smile,” which I probably did most of the time. I still have the black and white prints to prove it. I didn’t really understand the definition of father yet but I knew the word daddy.

And I knew my daddy, in all the facets of my two-year-old personal relationship with him, limited though they were.

A few years later I knew my daddy as mama’s best friend, who would dress up in a fancy suit and necktie and go somewhere with her, who herself was dressed up in a frilly dress and high heels. Off they’d go to some place I couldn’t go. Baby sitter time.

He was the chauffeur to any places we went as a family, the bill-payer when we went to the movies or out to eat, the final declarer of the absolutely perfectly decorated Christmas tree, the slow present opener who (like so many other gentleman of his era) used his pocket knife to carefully unstick the scotch tape and avoid tearing or wrinkling up the wrapping paper.

I also knew daddy as occasional nay-sayer and occasional deep thinker. “Can I, daddy, can I have that?” might result in long moments of deep thought before daddy’s well-meditated “no” answer was forthcoming, complete with reasonable, logical explanation. Only in cases of youngster temper-tantrum threats did he resort to “because I said so,” but if daddy said so, it was so.

In my pre-teen years I got to know daddy as a good tic-tac-toe player, Chinese checker player, and monopoly player. I got to hear him play his banjo and sing four-part harmony.

I also discovered that mama and daddy weren’t always in perfect agreement – sometimes they had slightly loud discussions, at least that’s what they called them. Not yelling, not arguing, not fighting, but discussing points of view that sometimes clashed. I never listened and therefore I have no clear idea what those differences were all about. It’s probably just as well.

In my early teens, I began to know daddy as the family bread-winner who sometimes couldn’t work, who was suffering from heart disease caused by rheumatic fever contracted during WWII. For several years he and mama corresponded with various veteran offices, attempting to meet the many paperwork requirements for daddy to get veterans / disability benefits for this service-related heart condition. Many thanks to Congressman Johnny McMillan, he finally began receiving the benefits.

In September 1959, daddy and mama took me out to dinner for my birthday at the P & M Steakhouse in downtown Florence. It was quite an event, to have such a nice steak dinner in such a nice place. And they gave me such a nice birthday present – a birthstone ring, gold filigree with a large blue sapphire stone. I loved it. Here I was, having a very special grown-up occasion with my parents!

1960 daddy and mama traveled back and forth to the Medical College Hospital in Charleston, where plans were made for surgery to repair daddy’s heart valve, damaged by the rheumatic fever. But a week before the date for that surgery, daddy died of a massive heart attack. I was 16 years old.

I never got the chance to know daddy in all the many-faceted adult roles that other people knew. A few people have shared with me over the years about daddy as their friend. He was a valued friend to many. My mother never really recovered from losing her best friend, lover and husband, and I never really recovered from losing my daddy.

Over the years I have come to realize that daddy was a multi-faceted person, including a multi-faceted father to my brother and me. I knew him, but not as well as I would have liked, and the opportunity to know him better ended for me in 1960.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I still miss you.

We didn’t need a car

HMotte@SanbornHotel0001Daddy (Harold Motte, Sr.) enjoying Sunday afternoon visit with friend in the lobby of the Sanborn Hotel. Love those socks!

Florence was easy to get around in when I was growing up. We had a variety of transportation modes, car for out-of-town, bicycle for around-town, and feet for in-town. Kids and grownups alike did a lot of walking in those days.

Things were closer together then, homes, gas stations, grocery stores, fish markets, churches, parks, schools, theaters, the shopping district, everything. You needed a car if you were going out to the airport, out to Second Loop Road or out to Five Points, but if you went downtown, you walked.

Buying something too big to carry, like a sofa or refrigerator? The store would deliver it right to your door. Weekly groceries too. The A&P and Colonial Grocery Stores were both in the 200 block of West Evans with smaller, locally-owned grocery stores sprinkled around. If you weren’t driving a car, the clerk would bag up your purchases and a nice fellow would bring them home for you.

Harvey’s Thriftway would even take your order over the telephone and deliver it, if you couldn’t make it in to buy your meat and canned goods.

Milk from Coble Dairy was plopped down on our front step every morning bright and early, just like the morning paper. Pickup trucks loaded down with produce fresh from the farm drove throughout our neighborhood, just like the ice-cream man. Mama selected our cabbages and butter beans and tomatoes just a few yards from our own kitchen.

Need ice? An old-fashioned ice box occupied a spot in our kitchen for much of my younger years. The mule-drawn ice wagon, later the flatbed ice truck, stopped at our address to haul in whatever we needed for the week.

One of my earliest memories is strolling down Pine Street sidewalk, headed to Sunday School at First Baptist Church where Daddy was a member. Daddy walked on the street side in case a car came along and splashed a mud puddle or something and mother on the house side. I usually walked in front of them, skipping along in my white Mary Jane shoes and frilly white socks.

They encouraged my brother and me to keep our young feet on the sidewalk and off the neighbors’ lawns, and discouraged us from taking a minor detour to chase a neighborhood cat or squirrel. After Sunday School, we all walked another block to attend the 11:00 o’clock worship service at Central Methodist, where Mother was a member.

BostonCafeSmallAll that walking naturally worked up an appetite, so after church we walked several more blocks to the Boston Cafe on Dargan Street. The few restaurants in downtown Florence were really busy on Sundays after church.

The Boston was one of our favorites, offering meat loaf and fried chicken and pork chops, butter beans and corn and string beans, dinner rolls, tea or coffee. Dessert might be vanilla pudding, chocolate cake, or lemon meringue pie.

We regularly saw a lot of Mama and Daddy’s friends there with their kids in tow and the low-back booths allowed easy conversation between families. If you cleaned your plate before Mama and Daddy were finished, you could go sit with a buddy in his booth and chat.

After lunch, the pace was a bit slower and this time the family split in two. Around the corner and up East Evans Street we would arrive at the Sanborn Hotel, where Daddy and Harold would sit in the great lobby and catch up on the week’s news with friend Sanborn Chase. (See photo above.)

Mother and I continued on, crossing East Evans Street to peruse the showcases in Belk’s before heading up one side of West Evans and down the other. We carefully examined every shop window. Dresses in Gladstone’s, shoes in Miller’s Bootery. Pocketbooks. Jewelry. Hardware. Men’s ties and suits.

Window displays changed every week and we needed to keep up with the newest merchandise, just in case we needed to come back and buy something in the near future. By the time we closed the circle back at the Sanborn, Daddy and Harold were ready to call it an afternoon. We might return home by a different route so we could check out somebody else’s lawn, or cat, or squirrel.

Families and kids walked other times, too, of course. There was always something entertaining to do, and sometimes getting there was part of the entertainment.