Mom could have gone to college

good hair

I had heard this vague story that my mom could have gone to college. By vague, I mean I don’t know where she would have attended. Moreover, someone (who?) was willing to pay for it. Further, the reason she didn’t go to college or join Girl Scouts was her hair. Specifically, the fact that her hair would become kinky when wet.

Was this a genuine concern of my mother’s? Maybe. But it sounded more like HER mother. Mom’s first cousin, Frances Beal, told this tale about Fran’s daughters and my grandmother, who was temporarily taking care of them. The story, which I have excerpted here:

“The girls were five and four [in the mid-1960s]. They had never seen a curling iron in their life. And in this house, the heat, there was this big, big cast-iron stove… Gert had started the fire and put [in] these coal-burning things, and flames are leaping up when she takes the burner off. She sticks the comb in there. The elder one’s watching all of this, getting more horrified by the minute. And so then she takes it out, wipes it on the dish towel, right? And she says, ‘Come here.’ ‘What are you going to do with that?’ She said, ‘I’m going to straighten your hair. You look like the wild woman from Borneo.'”

So if her potential frizzy hair was a college deal-breaker for my mom, it was from the conditioning [hair pun there] of her mother. Regardless, it was a real shame. She was astute. Even in the stages of dementia she experienced in her last years, she was still very savvy with math.

Marrying that man

One of my sisters asked her, late in our mom’s life, “If your mother was so restrictive, how was she able to marry Les Green?” She said, “I don’t know.”

But her cousin Fran did. “When my cousin Gertie — Trudy, they call her now — started to date the man who eventually became her husband, he was deemed too dark for the family. And I think my father [Ernest Yates] and my Uncle Ed had to intervene and say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to be able to ever speak to you again unless you stop this nonsense.'”

This tracks. Ernie, who died the year after I was born, was a labor leader who ran for political office and married a white Jewish woman. Ed fought in World War II and had a more expansive worldview. Could Ed and/or Ernie have been my mom’s would-be college benefactor? I may never know.

My mom was a wonderful woman. Still, it pains me that the narrow-mindedness of her mother limited my mom. Given the time my sisters and I spent with my grandmother, we knew first-hand that side of my mother’s mom.

Today would have been my mom’s 95th birthday.

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