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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Transformation

      All the cousins, ages four through seven , about six of them, are running in and around the house. In the  side door up the stairs through the kitchen then the living room through the hall and back out the front door to run down the stairs of the stoop and turn around toward the other side of the house through the yard then dash across the backyard to see if there  were any figs to pick then through the driveway back to the side door to run through the house again. Running is what children do at that age, going nowhere, in a hurry to get there. Grandma is at the stove cooking food that smells good, Grandpa is sitting in the dining area beside the kitchen table. It is his usual seat by the window. At the table is his glass of water with the glass straw in it. On the windowsill is his pack of Paulombo's (we call them Guinea stinkers, little cigars the size of cigarettes wrapped so tightly in  dark brown tobacco instead of paper they remind us of prunes and smell up the house when lit.

     For lunch Grandpa usually has some wedges of provolone cheese, wedges of Italian bread and a pear or apple cut in quarters on the plate near the glass of water, both are close to the end of the table and easy for Grandpa to reach. His fingers are stiff with paralysis  from the stroke he had and the Parkinson 's disease he lives with. It takes him a long time to lift the food and even long to get the food into his mouth to take a bite. He watches out the window. Speech is difficult for him, his voice is soft, just above a whisper. He knows the names of his grandchildren and they all are among his caregivers. No matter who is running through the house they all are tuned, ready to run to help Grandpa get up from the kitchen chair to go sit in the living room or go to the bathroom. They all at an early age have learned the art of leverage even though they do not know it is physics. Each child knows to put their feet on the toes of Grandpa's shoes grab hand in hand and rock back until there is enough leverage to raise Grandpa from his seat. When they hear Grandpa's voice they stop to listen to find out if Grandpa is speaking to them. And then back to the running.

     At the sidewalk in front of the house two kids stop to take a breather. They look up the street and spot Benny walking down the street with his little black bag, that is small like a doctors bag.
Excited, the two kids in the front start to run to tell everyone Benny's coming.

     Benny is slight of build, in boxing terms he is a featherweight, with thin bones and fine features. All the children run into the dining area and stop, frozen, all eyes. All their energy is now rushing to their eyes to open as wide as possible to see everything. It is a ritual they know, they have seen it before, but they are figures, little statues, they don't even move their feet, they breathe as little as possible. Little watching machines documenting every motion. 

    Benny comes into the kitchen, says hello to Grandma and Grandpa, he puts his bag on the table, opens it and removes his jacket which he puts on.  He moves a chair away from the table and places it in the center of the room. Next Grandpa moves to the chair and sits. Benny then takes a towel, places it around Grandpa's neck, wrapping it over itself, next Benny places the apron around Grandpa making sure all of him is covered except his head. From the leather bag, Benny takes a scissor and comb and gives Grandpa a haircut. The kids watch as the hair falls to the floor. Benny removes the leather strop which he attaches to the chair Grandpa is sitting in. From his pocket Benny removes the razor which he opens from the sheaf that protects it. Methodically Benny begins stroking the razors edge up the strop, he turns his wrist and strokes the other side of the blade down the strop. He continues until he gets the blade just the way he wants it. He puts down the blade and removes a brush and cup from his bag. He adds alittle water to the cup and turns the brush in the cup until the lather foams. Benny brushes Grandpa's face with the foam and some on his neck. Then with the razor he begins to remove the foam and week's whiskers from Grandpa's face. With his fingertips he moves Grandpa's nose so he can use the razor under Grandpa's nose, he holds Grandpa's ear so he can pull the skin to smooth the wrinkles and shave from side of his face down to his chin. All the while the children are silent frozen in their places, with eyes open wide watching as Benny removes the bristles of the beard and the lather and wipes the razor through a towel to clean it and continue shaving Grandpa.

   When Benny moves Grandpa's head back slightly all eyes open wider to see the last of the lather removed. Benny takes a clean towel from his bag and wipes Grandpa's face dry. Benny then takes a small bottle from his bag, sprinkles a little liquid in the palm of his hand, he rubs his hands together then pats them on Grandpa's face. All the children's faces light up with big smiles, the transformation is complete. Benny sweeps  the hair from the floor around Grandpa then removes the apron and cloth from around his neck.

   The children all run to Grandpa and kiss him. The each love the feel of the soft clean smooth shaved skin on Grandpa's face and the smell of his aftershave. Every other day of the week when they kiss Grandpa there are scratchy whiskers in the way. Not today, Saturday when Benny the barber comes to Grandma and Grandpa's house to give Grandpa a haircut and shave.

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