Who do you think you are?

 photo by Anna Esposito

photo by Anna Esposito

Who do you think you are?

A friend and I were editing her short story. It was based on her rural childhood, filled with details and dialogue that was unique to her roots. 

“You should read this at your next county picnic,” I suggested. “It’s very good.”

She shook her head, slowly. “I could never do that,” she said. “They would all ask, ‘Who does she think she is?’”

I was stunned. All these years, I had thought I was the only one who carried that little question inside my head.

 Easter, 1957

Easter, 1957

Who does she think she is?

I don’t think my immigrant grandmother was a Polish princess, but she acted like royalty, with her plastic covered sofa and fur coat. And my mother’s parents weren't rich either, living on a small west Texas cotton farm.  When we went to visit, we always dressed up when we went to town. It was not only my grandmother’s way of keeping alive the heritage she was proud of, it was also her way of teaching us to always put our best foot forward, no matter the circumstances of our everyday life.  

“You know who you are, honey,” was implied, if not spoken.

The tone changes when you exchange 

think 

for 

know

 

Locks

First, Mother made sections

laid a rag across her finger

combed smooth

the silky strands

wrapped them down, under,

up and around

tying a knot

sliding her finger out.

 

Next morning

she untied each one

chocolate swirls

pulling them back

I sat, pretty

 Laverne Zabielski, 1951

Laverne Zabielski, 1951

Who do you want to be?

Words are powerful. And rewriting our stories takes time. 

The year I graduated from Rome Free Academy in Rome, New York, 1964, my Dad was stationed at Griffith Air Force Base. That summer between my sophomore and junior year I decided to change my whole style. First thing I did was remove my glasses. I couldn’t see without them but I felt I looked a whole lot better. They had just come out with them and I wanted them, too, but they cost eighty dollars and that was with our base discount. They’d be twice that off base so I had to get them before I graduated from high school or I wouldn’t qualify for the discount anymore. And it was me who would have to come up with the eighty dollars. That would require a lot of babysitting so I started figuring ways to talk myself out of wanting contacts. For one thing I’d heard about the getting used to them part and, I didn’t too much like the idea of going through all of that. 

The second thing I did moving to a new base was that I decided not to be shy anymore. I didn’t know if you could just up and do something like that, just decide not be shy. I always figured shy was something you were born with but I figured I’d give it a try. I borrowed a white, low cut, sleeveless, cinched waist, circular-skirt dress from Lorraine. I had a suntan from being a water safety assistant at the pool all summer and that white dress next to my dark tan and no glasses, well, when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe it was me.

We were going to a CAP dance, Civil Air Patrol. It was an outside dance and since I had this new attitude about not being shy, it must have worked because these cadets and airmen were asking me to dance. It might have had something to do with the fact that guys outnumbered girls ten to one, but I didn’t think about that at the time. I just said yes and danced.

Many years later in 1977 when I opened my own hair design business, Om Hair Designs, “Who do you want to be?” became the question I asked my clients, either directly or indirectly, before I could create a haircut that embraced their lifestyle.  We were in a transition.  The weekly appointment of a wash and set was slowly being replaced with hair cuts that would last six weeks andwe could shampoo and blow dry ourselves.  Freedom for full self expression was desired and it had to be easy.

At Om, such designs was our forte: precision haircuts that could be easily shampooed, blown dried and would look good all day, even on a windy day or after making love! When I asked myself that question, I always added, comfortable. 

I began to design my looks from the shoes up. 

I want the comfortable flowing skirts and dresses, felted jackets, boleros and dusters.  I like tight jeans, even though my belly is fuller. And comfortable shoes.  Now when I hear that question, "Who do I think I am?" I answer,

"This is who I am and I am comfortable."

 Dyed silk and merino jacket, wet felted and prefelted on the FeltLOOM

Dyed silk and merino jacket, wet felted and prefelted on the FeltLOOM