The newspaper said this summer has been the hottest one in
Georgia in thirty years. I remember that other summer, 1962, like it happened
yesterday. It was so hot and humid that Mama's beauty parlor business was down.
There were hardly any customers. No one wanted to go under a hair dryer, not
even for a minute, and it stayed that way from June to October.
I turned sixteen in 1962, got my first permanent in 1962,
and in August of the same year, I finally told Mama and the whole Flower family
off. I told them I wanted to go to business school and be a secretary. The gasps
at the Sunday family supper that hot day was like I wanted to be a gogo dancer
in one of them cages at the Touch'e bar that used to be down on the turnpike.
Mama jumped up from the table and took both my hands in
hers, and with tears and sweat running down her face said, "Hydrangea,
honey, you have the hands, like all the Flower girls, and you have to carry on
the tradition of beautician." Really, like I had hair spray in my blood or
something. Now I loved my Mama and didn't like to see her cry, but I told them
they were all loony nutsos.
Tradition or not, I had made my mind up to be a secretary,
not a beautician.
To make matters worse, I did the next unforgivable thing -
I dyed my natural blond hair brown, which caused even more gasps. Kinda like a
brown sheep, you know. No one had ever broken that blond tradition. I had the
whole Flower family yelling that year. They didn't talk to me for a few weeks.
Then, they being as kind as they were loony, came around and gave me enough
money to go to business school. Yes, that was 1962.
My mother Lilac was born a Flower sister on a farm on the
outskirts of a little old town in Georgia. There were four of them: Aunty Holly,
Aunty Azalea, Aunty Daisy and Mama. The whole family had names like that. Rose,
Lily, Fern, and Grandma Heather. I had two sisters, Iris and Peony. The whole
damn family was a garden. When Mama gave birth to me, I got named Hydrangea.
That's right, Hydrangea, after the bush. They say my father fought like hell for
Jessica, but as usual Lilac won the argument. Can you imagine naming a kid
I would have liked to have been there when Aunty Holly gave
birth to a boy. Mama said all hell broke loose. When she looked down at the baby
they'd laid across her stomach and saw this boy child that resembled no baby
she'd birthed, she screamed bloody murder. She hadn't screamed that loud in the
pain, they say. Mind you, there hadn't been a boy in the Flower family for
"Oh my God, what am I gonna name this child? What am I
ever gonna name this child?" After a family meeting between the sisters and
Grandma, they decided to call my poor cousin Elmtree. That's right, Elmtree
Flower. The only boy in the whole damn garden and they named him Elmtree. He
never changed it though, and he grew to be as big as a tree and as strong as an
ox. When he walked into high school on his first day with a cigarette dangling
out of his mouth and wearing a black leather jacket, nobody made fun of Elmtree.
Even when he wore his white smock at the beauty parlor where he worked as the
best beautician Mama had, nobody said a word.
Those Flower sisters oozed Southern. Sure, Southerners have
an accent, but when the sisters spoke they were syrupy and filled with
"y'all" a lot. The accent got thicker and harder to understand around
men. A man would say, "Pardon? I didn't quite understand you, ma'am,"
and the women'd lean close, and with their licorice smelling breath explain it
all again, giving whatever man a peek of what they owned, and then flutter their
They all had natural platinum blonde hair, almost white.
All were beauticians and all wore no bra. This, mind you, happened before it was
stylish. They looked like floozies, even my own dear Mama.
In the '50s, while the sisters pranced around town on high
heel shoes, all twittering and giggly, all of us poor girls were growing up with
these crazy names. I used to cringe when teachers called out my name in class. I
swore that when I grew up, not only would I change my name to Barbara or Carol,
a real name, I would never name any child of mine after a flower or a bush or
Now, I realize I haven't mentioned any other men in this
family, other than Elmtree and my father. That's because there weren't any left.
All the men were either driven to drink, died, or left the beautiful Flower
sisters. It wasn't easy being married to a nutso loony who spent most of her
life applying makeup and curling her hair. My father coined that phrase as he
walked out on my mama Lilac. He yelled "Your whole damn family is nutso
loony," and at sixteen in 1962 I also hated the family. It wasn't just
because they were different, it was like Pa said, they were nuts.
What finally turned me against my own Mama though, happened
at the spring concert of the same year right before that hot sticky Southern
summer. I had joined the band that year for the first time. I'd been smart up
‘til then not to let mama catch on that there was a concert or a play. Well,
she got wind of it in the beauty parlor and "she came to see her baby
girl," as she said, "play that big horn." I hoped for a tornado,
anything to stop her, but I knew, as the audience grew quiet that Mama and the
girls had walked in. Everyone stopped talking when the Flower sisters came to
town. Bobby Maguire, who played second coronet and not very well either,
whistled and said, "Ang!" (I took the ANG out of Hydrangea and told
everybody to call me Ang when I started high school). "Ang," he said.
"Would you look at what just walked in?" I knew without looking that
Mama was there. She wore a tight white dress with no bra, red nail polish, red
lips and high heels. Ringlets of perfumed blonde curls were
all tied up with a red ribbon and a big gardenia.
The boys on the bandstand almost jumped out of their pants.
Their mouths hung open and it's sure hard to play a horn like that. Bobby
Maguire's hand started sliding up my thigh like it always did and I bent his
finger all the way back, like I always did. This time he said I broke it.
Through gritted teeth I told him that was my mother and her sisters.
"Wow, the one in white, she sure is a toot. You gonna
look that way, Ang, when you all grown up? Huh, Ang?" I, being completely
humiliated by now, told him to shove his horn where the sun don't shine. Though,
all them flower girls really had fine figures. As Mama sashayed down the center
aisle and took a front seat next to a man whose mouth was also hanging open and
whose wife almost broke his ribs poking, she waved and in her syrupy voice that
made me want to puke, said, "Hi, Hydrangea." Bobby Maguire started
choking. I was only trying to help as I hit him on the back, again and again.
"You trying to break my back too?" he asked as he
held up his purplish finger. "What she call you, Ang? Hydrangea? Like the
flower?" "It's just a nickname; my real name is Ang." I wanted to
die. I wanted to snap my fingers and be gone like the girl in the magician's
show. But it didn't work that way. They all stayed there watching and clapping
through the whole concert, and by the time it ended so had all my dreams about
Mama twittered her way up to the stage, her high heels
echoing as she tried to get her legs far enough apart in that tight skirt to
climb the steep steps.
"Hydrangea, ain't you gonna introduce your mama to
your little friends?"
"Hi," Bobby Maguire said as he stepped in front
of me. "I'm in the band with your daughter Ang. It sure is a pleasure to
meet you, ma'am."
"Well, aren't you the cutest? You actually got James
Dean eyes. Hydrangea, you see that?"
At that moment I knew there was no God. I knew that in my
soul. Mama and her sisters took us for ice cream sodas at the local candy store,
and I don't think the store was ever the same. I know I wasn't. You see
everybody knew about the Flower sisters in town but nobody knew I was one of the
Graduation couldn't come too soon. I stopped talking to
Bobby Maguire 'cause every time he saw me he'd hum a little tune about all the
flowers in the garden.
I did what I said though. I went to that business school
where nobody knew me. On the application I wrote that my name was Carol and
hoped they wouldn't check. I dressed differently too, in loose dresses and low
practical shoes. After I graduated from that school up in the capital, I got a
good job as a brunette secretary in the governor's office, and for a while I was
happy and just like everyone else - till Mama and the girls visited me.
The state capital was no small town and there were a lot of
different people living there. So you woulda thought they might fit in. But just
like in school, when they walked into a room not a sound could be heard, except
for their gushing and twittering. My boss, Mr. Pettlemen, came out to meet my
dear mother Lilac.
"Mama," I said, "this is Mr. Pettlemen."
"Well, how do you do?" she said, kinda slurred.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't quite understand
you," he answered, as this tall blonde goddess leaned in closer for the
"Mr. Pettlemen, I do believe you have eyes like the
late James Dean. Hydrangea, dear, you never told me that." No God. I'd
thought it once and I thought it again; there is no God.
Mr. Pettlemen wondered why they all called me Hydrangea.
"Just a nickname," I said, "just a nickname." After that I
went home for visits, and except for a few more wrinkles the Flowers didn't seem
to age. But even with all their nuttiness they were such happy people that each
time the visit ended I'd go back to my little quiet normal apartment alone and
unhappy. I didn't see Bobby Maguire again although Mama said he'd called a few
times looking for me.
Funny, the older I got the more I missed them and it was
sure hard to keep dying my hair brown. So, at the age of 25 I came home, half
blonde and half brunette. They threw a party that the state capital would have
envied. There were flowers all around. Besides being the best beauticians in
Poinsettia, Georgia, by far they were the best cooks. (I don't know if I
mentioned the town name before.) They cooked for a week, everything from hams
and turkeys, corn bread and macaroni salad to the most delicious chocolate tart
laced with rum that you could die for.
And then, at the coming home party there was Bobby Maguire.
He'd gotten taller, put on a few pounds, and seemed to have become quite
successful in Poinsettia. His voice was deeper and he really had grown
up. I never noticed the color of his eyes before, light blue, and they kinda
In the fall of that year I married Bobby Maguire, who by
that time owned his own feed store and gas station. He was a toot. Bobby said I
was better looking than even my mama. Now, how couldn't you love someone like
that? I let my hair go back to blonde; Bobby said it was beautiful. The
outrageous Flower sisters were all bridesmaids in my wedding. They all wore
peach colored dresses with big hats and everyone had the same hairdo,
compliments of Elmtree.
In 1972 I had my first of four girls, and on that day when
I looked down at the perfection God had made in my child with the platinum
blonde fuzzy hair, I knew there was a god - he really existed. I named the baby
Violet Flower Maguire after her great-great-grandmother.
Guess I better stop daydreaming and close this newspaper. I
have to start supper 'cause all the sisters are coming by. Grandma won't be
coming. She's been gone now for many years, but I named one of the girls after
I adjust one of my pure white ringlets as my sixteen-year
old comes in. I look at her. "Marigold, y'all read in the newspaper this is
the hottest summer on record?" Then I just smile and shrug as I watch the
face of my beautiful blonde daughter cloud up. That's a cringe I do understand,
don't you know.