Good Deed Gone Bad: Nan’s Hairy Moment
If there is one thing my Nan taught me, it was efficiency. How much more efficient can a person be when they are prepared to rip out their own teeth for the sake of their family, like she did? Or – in a less extreme way – why go out shopping for a new jumper when you could spend 5 minutes sewing up the elbow hole in your current one?
One person’s action of a good deed can be seen as a “what the hell?” action by someone else, and the following story I’m about to tell you had me carrying out an action that admittedly had me overtaken by the devil somewhat, but my efficiency couldn’t be faulted!
My Nan had been my barber right throughout my childhood, and I would occasionally be allowed to give her a trim too. It wasn’t until I reached high school, and wanted to be cool with a proper haircut, that I visited an actual barber.
Throughout the years of her cutting my hair, I had observed her and thought – as all pre-teens think – that I didn’t just know how to do it myself, I knew how to do it better. This was added to by the fact that in the barbers, I was introduced to a set of clippers that determined the type of cut you wanted. A number one, two or three? No problem, the clippers could get the perfect length! I went out and bought a set of the clippers and couldn’t wait to use them.
And so the day came that my Nan asked me if I could trim her hair. This was around 1991, when bowl cuts and undercuts were the height of fashion, and when my Nan thought the proper thing to do was to keep your hair off your collar. “Sean, would you trim the hair off my collar?” she’d ask, and I was forever the willing aide. Now, with these new trimmers, I was even more eager to help. I was also eager to give her an undercut. My Nan would be neat, tidy AND cool. Nicky Clake, eat your heart out!
Nan sat in her usual chair, ready for her cut. I started with the undercut, going up an inch and around. I tried to level it off, but it was wonky, so in my attempt to balance the cut I ended up cutting a little bit more, and a little bit more. And more still.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Sean?” she’d ask occasionally, the uncertainty showing in her voice as she tried to mask her concern. I brushed the concern off, masking my own rising panic with a “Yeah, it’s fine, Nan, I’m just getting it even!” By the time I stopped trying to balance it, her hair had been undercut to eyebrow level and shaved at the back. The top of her hair just sat on the top of her head, like some sort of misshapen toupee just dangling over the baldness, skin as fresh and bare as a baby’s backside.
My mum came home at 4.30pm, about 40 minutes into the haircut. She walked into the room with an exclamation of, “JESUS CHRIST! What have you done?” My Nan flew up off her chair at this point, screaming “Oh God, oh God!” as she ran to the mirror to see the damage for the first time.
Eleven-year-old me wasn’t happy. “You know what? You tell me to help and to be efficient and that’s what I’ve tried to do!”
“You’re a terrible boy!” muttered my Nan as she frantically tried to fix her practically bald head in the mirror, “I’m never asking you to cut my hair again!”
“You wanted a clean neck!” I argued, “and look at it now! Completely clean and tidy!”
A dilemma ensued that evening, especially for my mum. They were so upset with me, but with the hair on the floor there was not much that could be done. What made the situation worse, of course, was that whilst my mum was upset with me, she couldn’t hold in the fits of giggles every time she looked at my Nan’s head.
My Nan took to wearing a little woollen hat that came down to her ears. The unfortunate thing was that the hat left the rest of the back of her shaved head exposed, and everyone thought my Nan was drastically ill, and had lost her hair to treatment. Tongues in her church community were wagging, and even the priest would come to tell her he’d say extra prayers for her, with sympathy in his eyes and sorrow in his voice.
“Everyone thinks I’m sick!” she’d exclaim after Mass, not having the guts to reveal the truth.
She must have had extras prayers said for her for around two months, until her hair started to grow back and – I must say – looked incredibly neat and tidy.
I maintain to this day that I did the job I was instructed to do, and thanks to my handy work, Nan had countless clean collars.
My mum, meanwhile, maintains to this day that I did an awful – albeit hysterically funny – job.
I’d give anything to get my Nan’s take on it now. And I never was allowed to cut her hair again!