God’s Big Hair

dolly“God runs a beauty parlor.”
Norman Vincent Peale

When I was very little, I played with my mother’s Bible. I also fashioned heavy, easy-to-trip-over “habits” from blankets and sheets, a tea-towel “veil” bobbypinned to my four-year-old head, and played nun. No loaf of Wonder Bread was safe from my pinching fingers, as I squished slice after slice into bite-sized “hosts.”

And I much preferred “holy” statues to Barbies. True, you couldn’t change Joseph’s hair or Mary’s outfit, but that didn’t stop me from concocting elaborate adventures starring my nativity scene “dolls.”

But that Bible: Like my mother’s evening bag, it was black and shiny, with a bright gold zipper. Instead of Kleenex, however, the book contained pages. On a special glossy one marked DEATHS, someone’s unmistakably Scottish — and touchingly misspelled — scrawl: Grandfarther Shaidle.


Instead of powderpuffs, pictures: Noah’s ark bulging like a wooden bicep, complete with rainbow tattoo; a scowling, red-robed, white-bearded Moses — I thought the unthinkable: an angry Santa — throwing what looks like a granite drive-in menu from “The Flintstones” at some guy’s turbaned head; Jesus, just as angry, DRIVING OUT THE SOMEBIGWORD, a broken cage of doves at his feet and the doves flying out. I’d seen caged doves at a birthday party — could Jesus also do card tricks?


“Send forth your Spirit, O Lord
And renew the face of the earth.”
Psalm 104

The last picture was the oddest: PENTECOST. Whatever that was. Another dove, and birthday-candle-people, flames on their heads, yet strangely unafraid.

Sitting in a row like that (their faces surprised, delighted — all trying to speak at once) the picture-people reminded me of the ladies I saw every Friday when my mother took me with her to the beauty parlor. The picture-people sitting under tongues-of-fire hairdryers, shouting to be heard, those little flames, too, like the amber pilot-lights on coffee urns and curling-irons. Like, in winter, the scary, molten-steel space heater they plugged in near the cash register (a fire so frightening it needed its own cage; like a burning bush. Boots huddled around it, drying out). Like the blazing brush of red dye the hairdresser daubs on my mother’s scalp with one crimson-nailed hand; in the other, a fluttering, glowing cigarette she uses like a punctuation mark: “So I says to him I says…”

Except, of course, that most of the people in the PENTECOST picture aren’t ladies.

Which, luckily, I don’t even notice until years later.


“If I hadn’t been a star I would’ve
been a beautician or a missionary.”
Dolly Parton

A man I saw years ago on TV, a Zoroastrian and professional hairdresser, had developed a unique spare-time ministry: giving free make-overs to battered women.

He styled their long-neglected hair, massaged their scalps, covered up bruises. As the only man allowed, even welcomed, in the shelters he visited, this hairdresser had an awesome responsibility: to earn the women’s trust (to let him, after all, hold scissors so close to their faces); to show them that a man’s hands could heal as well as hurt.

“Show” because words, empty twisted words, had let these women down before; calloused words had slapped them. That he knew he was a nice guy wasn’t enough, and saying so meant even less. So this modest man spoke with his brush and comb.

He shrugged off the praise he received for his volunteer work.

“My religion asks me to use my talents to help others,” he said quietly. “And I am a hairdresser.”

Kathy Shaidle is the editor of RelapsedCatholic.com. Her book of poems, Lobotomy Magnificat, was shortlisted for the Canadian Govenor-General's Award, and her columns for The Catholic New Times are collected in God Rides a Yamaha: Musings on Pain, Poetry, and Pop Culture.