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Can I Touch Your Hair?

I was raised in the city of Philadelphia in the 1960s.

My friends in the neighborhood were mainly the children of Irish immigrants as was I. There was Annmarie O’Sullivan whose mom always seemed to be having another baby. We both had the perpetually skinned knees of city kids who grew up where there is no grass.

There were the Tierney’s across the back alley. My mom frantically rushed me to their back door when I woke up covered in spots that turned out to be chicken pox.

There was also Jack, the 35 year old mentally handicapped man who lived next door with his elderly parents and was one of the best friends a six-year-old can have.

There was the Jewish family down the street, the Loves. My mom hemmed their skirts for pocket money and they gave me hand me downs through my teen years. They seemed very glamorous to me.

This was the late sixties though, which brought an end to segregation and an influx of African American families to our neighborhood. I had no idea that this was supposed to be scary and bad and would soon lead to the white flight of neighborhood families to the idyllic suburbs.

I just thought it meant some new friends. (I maintain that it was my six year old self  who was correct, not the hand wringing grown-ups.)

Most notably was Dolores, who would soon be my closest friend, albeit for probably less than a year before we also left for the suburbs.

We played in the alley, on the sidewalk and in my house. We were pretty much inseparable. One day Dolores, who wore her hair in little braids all over her head secured by plastic clips, shyly asked if she could touch my hair. I said sure, not really understanding was was interesting about my very straight long hair.

She reached a hand out and stroked my hair gently, whispering, “It feels like cotton candy.”

The next day there were half a dozen African American girls who I didn’t even know waiting outside to touch my hair.

We moved away soon as well and Dolores and I didn’t keep in touch, but I think if her from time to time and wonder if she remembers the little white girl with the long straight hair.

(this is written in response to the “Besties” challenge from my writing challenge group.

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2 comments on “Can I Touch Your Hair?

  1. This is really lovely.

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