All of us had not had our hair cut for six months. Thick and long hair could bulge out the paraphernalia on our head and the coif fit so tightly that we couldn't let the hair trail down our neck.
Picture this on top of the bundled hair: the white, close-fitting head covering shaped like a surgeon’s cap; the two top corners of the starched coif pinned to that cap; the strings of the starched forehead ban tied around our head; and the white veil draped over all this and secured with a hatpin.
If someone had a cowlick, as I did, all these layers of cloth could truly bring on a headache. And yet I resisted that haircut out of sheer waywardness. Perverseness. Contrariness. Or maybe I just wanted to draw attention to myself. I don’t know.
What I do know is that seventeen novices went into the office of the assistant novice mistress, sat down, and had their haircut.
Via one of them, I sent her the following message: “Thank you very much but I don’t want a haircut.”
I received back the following order: “Get in here. Now.”
So shortly before we were to go to chapel to pray Matins, I ambled nonchalantly into her office. She motioned me to take off my headgear and place it on the table. After I did so, she invited me to sit down. “Sister Innocence,” she asked, quite amiably, “do you think you’ll make first vows in a year and become a scholastic?”
“I don’t know. It’ll depend on whether the nuns think I have a vocation.”
“I think today we have the first indicator for why they might blackball you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Resisting having your hair cut doesn’t bode well for taking the vow of obedience.”
“Now I’m going to cut your hair shorter than anyone else’s.”
I said nothing, fearing the worse as I watched long locks fall to the floor. When she’d finished, the assistant novice mistress said, "Remember, Sister Innocence, pride cometh before the fall." Then she directed me to stand before the mirror and look at my haircut. I kept my eyes closed while preparing myself to see a shorn head.
Finally I looked.
The one-inch-high hair on the top of my head stood straight up. She’d given me a “butch” haircut.
Suddenly I began to smile. Broader. And broader. And broader. For much of my life I’d thought I was adopted because no one saw any resemblance in me to other members of my family.
And yet. And yet. Here I was with this butch haircut and . . . I looked just like my brother.
I wasn’t adopted. Hurray and hallelujah. I belonged with my family even though I didn’t resemble any of them.
The assistant novice mistress stood bemused by my beaming face. Just then the bell rang for Matins. Quickly, I reassembled the headgear, skewered it with the hatpin, and turned to thank her for the haircut. With joy blossoming within, I opened her office door to leave. I'd never seen anyone look so dumbfounded.
Gleefully, I raced out of the novitiate, across the driveway, and into the convent basement. Walking as fast as I could, I mounted the steps and hurried down the main hall to the chapel. No running. As quietly as possible, I entered the chapel just as Matins began.
I’d need to kneel before the novice mistress the next day to make culpa for being late. But this didn’t faze me. If I hadn’t resisted the haircut, I never would have known I wasn’t adopted. As the book title says, “O ye jigs and juleps!”
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