THE BIRTH OF THE BOUFFANT by Peter Nolan Smith


In the late-18th Century Marie Antoinette’ coiffeur sought to camouflage the queen’s baldness by upsweeping her thinning tresses to cascade over her ears. The femme fatales of the ancien regime imitated ‘le bouffant, until the royal coif lost its popularity with the Marie’s final haircut by the guillotine.

Two centuries later Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s wife, reincarnated the fashion during her tenure at the White House.

American women idolized the glamorous First Lady regardless of their politics.

Overnight millions of housewives hit their local hair salon to acquire the look.

Movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Kim Novak further popularized the rage and within months the only women rejecting the coif were Durgin Park’s gang of crew-cut bull dyke waitresses and the nuns at my grammar school, Our Lady of the Foothills.

The bouffant died out with the advent of the hippie era.

Young women grew long hair and the coif was once more threatened with extinction, except for brief respite from the lead singers of the B-52s and the late English singer Amy Winehouse.

Last year Jamie Parker and I were happy-houring at Solas in the East Village. We had the Irish bartender to ourselves. Moira liked a good laugh and Jamie told her stories of his go-go bar in Pattaya.

After our second margarita an attractive woman walked into a shadowy bar. Her bleached blonde hair was stacked high on her head. Stiletto heels added another five inches to her Amazonian height.

“A model.” Jamie Parker smirked at the passing beauty in designer drag.

“Probably coming from a shoot.” The actresses in TV show MADMEN had revitalized the early 60s, although few woman in present-day America could pull off the time-travel make-over.

“She looks like a 1960s transvestite.” The lanky ex-con squinted down the bar.

“And that’s a bad thing?” I caught the scent of Chanel No.5. She was high-class.

The goddess sat at the end of the bar and Moira went to attend to her need. She was into girls.

“Not in this light.” It was almost night that deep in Solas.

“You don’t like the bouffant?”

“Not at all.”

“And why not?”

“Because the Mr. Kenneth who re-invented the hair style for Jackie Kennedy was queer.”

“You have something against gays?” Back in the 60s gays were feared by young men, unless they were looking for a good time, but his was the modern times and gay-bashing was not in fashion.

“Me, I love gays, but gay hairdressers used the bouffant hair style as a strategy to turn straight men gay.”

“What do you mean?” I wasn’t following Jamie’s line of thoughtlessness.

“Just that it’s not a really natural look and women refused to have sex to avoid ruining the helmet of hair on their head, so men sought release elsewhere.”

“With other men?”

“The sexual revolution freed us from our chains.” Jamie was a couple of years older than me, although he didn’t look it.

“I had a girlfriend with a bouffant in 1965.” Jo and I met in the Mattapan Oriental Theater. We were both 13.

“And you went all the way?”

“Not even close.” Steel-rimmed bras safeguarded against any attempts by unschooled boys to reach ‘second base’.

“See.”

“It had nothing to do with the bouffant.”

“You’re from Boston. Men from Boston love Jackie Kennedy’s bouffant. You probably went to bed jerking off to the First Lady.”

“Not that I can remember.” Jackie O rode horses and spoke French. Women like her were destined to marry rich regardless of their hairstyle. “Jo was my muse. I know my place.”

“Don’t we all.” Jamie was in the States visiting his mother. She lived in the Bronx and thought that he was teaching school in Thailand, instead of running the Pigpen A Go-Go featuring fat pretty bar girls and skinny ugly pole dancers.

“My mom had a bouffant.”

“Mine too.”

“It had them feel like a queen.”

“Better than knowing your place.”

“Send the princess a drink on us,” Jamie told Moira.

“Happily.” Moira played for the other side.

“Do you like the bouffant?”

“It’s very Kim Novak.” The blonde had mesmerized Hitchcock in his film VERTIGO.

“Wasn’t she gay?” Jamie asked eying me.

“I think so.” Moira played for the other side. She was holding the model’s hand. They looked like a nice couple.

If only for happy hour.

“Ah, here’s to the bouffant.” Jamie raised his glass.

“And Jackie O.”

At my age I might think about her once in a while.

After all she was the mother of the modern bouffant.

A MOTHER’S LAST WISH by Peter Nolan Smith

After the last holidays of 2006 my mother entered the final stages of her battle with cancer. These last rounds were not a pretty site, but her beauty remained intact to the end. Several days after the New Year my mother held my hand and said, “I’m so happy I made Christmas.”

“Me too.” I thought about John Wayne at the end of THE SEARCHERS and forced back my tears.

“You’ve been everywhere in the world. You’ve never been to Ireland. I’m leaving you a little money. I want you to go to Ireland and find a girl like your aunts or sisters to marry. Will you do that for me?” Her grip tightened to crack my knuckles. She knew her own strength to the measure. Her grandmother had fled the Aran Isles as a girl of twelve. Nana never went back home. The one boat trip was enough for her.

“Yes, I will.” There was no refusing here, despite the incestuous nature of her last wish for her second son.

“You’re a good boy.” She released my hand with a sigh. “Help me with the medicine.”

By medicine my mother meant her morphine drip. I hit her up good. Her tender eyes rolled into heaven and I kissed her forehead. Three weeks later she passed from this life. No one in my family contested her will and in August I received enough money to survive four months in Ireland. I had a new computer and the germ of an idea I wanted to nurture into a gem of a book. The west coast of Ireland

My good friend Camp arranged a rental in the far west of Galway beneath the Seven Pins of the Connemara.

“That would be great.” My Nana came from that part of the West. “What kind of house?”

“It belongs to a very aristocratic family.”

“So it has to be grand?”

“How grand couldn’t it be?” Camp was English. He lived north of New York in a valley dedicated to the pleasures of the wealthy. I trusted his taste, even if the Brit had never been to Ballyconneely. Camp was an interior designer. Straight, but still an interior designer. They had style. “Are you in or are you out?”

“Count me in.” I had read about the nearest town. Clifden had fifteen pubs. The guide books mentioned nothing about women.

“One more thing. Buy yourself some Wellingtons.”

“Wellingtons?” I knew that the Irish-born Duke had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. “Are they cookies?”

“No, rubber boots. You’ll be needing them.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good luck with your writing and with your finding a bride.”

“Thanks.” I’d be happy with one out of two.

At summer’s end I sublet my apartment and my boss at the diamond exchange wished me luck with my wife hunt.

“May you make your mother happy.” Manny was a mother’s boy. We all are in the end.

“I’m doing this for her. I doubt there will be any women.” Most Irish women like women everywhere else left their hicktowns for big cities and the guide book had indicated that a small village could get more hickster than Ballyconneely, which was renown for its cows and windy moors.

“Better you than me.” The seventy year-old jeweler was in the first stages of divorcing his second wife. “I’m done with women. But you’re still a young man.”

“43.” My father had six kids at this age. I had none.

“43. I would cut off your right ball to be 43 again.” Manny slipped me a c-note. “Save it until you find a girl to take out to dinner. A yard has to go a long way with a girl from the sticks.”

“Thanks.” I stuck the hundred dollars deep in my wallet. It had to be good luck.

The next days’s flight to Dublin took six hours. Customs and immigration went quickly and I caught a taxi from the airport into the city. The sky was crowded with low clouds trailing veils of rain. There was little threat of sun.

“Ah, so this your first time to Ireland?”

“Yes.”

“Well, get used to the weather. It’s either raining, just rained, or about to rain. You got a good pair of shoes?”

“Yes.” Heavy boots and also green Wellingtons.”The driver recommended a cheap bed and breakfast on the other side of the Penny Bridge. The room was clean with a window overlooking an alley of brick walls. I didn’t bother to unpack my bag and went to the front desk to I phoned my new landlord.

“So you made the flight over here okay.”

“Yes, sir.” I was respectful to my betters and elders.

“Why don’t you come out here to pick up the keys for the house in the West. The taxi driver will know the way.”

“I’ll leave now.”

I pulled on my cap and buttoned I caught a taxi outside on the street. The drive on the motorway was a short one. Upon arrival at the landlord’s address the red-headed driver whistled in appreciation. The gravel driveway led through a quiet park to a large Georgian mansion with a nearby Victorian shed housing a steam museum. The only word for the estate was grand.

“What’s this man do?” He impressed by my destination.

“I think he sells beer.”

“A lot of beers from the looks of it. Me and mine must have helped pay for this with all the Arthurs I bought.”

“Arthurs?” My ear was adjusting to the accent.

“Pints. The founder of brewery name was Arthur.”

“So you know the family?” I had never met them.

“There’s only the one, but I only know them from the glass in my hand. Good beer. Good people.”

“Right.” I stored this tidbit of local lore for use at a later time and tipped the driver.

He drove off and I walked up to the front door.” Selling beer was a good business and I thought to myself, “If the cottage is a hundredth of this barrack, then I will be living in the lap of luxury.”

The door opened before I had a chance to ring the bell.

“Welcome.” A silver-haired gentleman greeted me with a handshake and ushered me inside the house. “See you had no trouble find the place.”

“None at all, sir.” It was a palace complete with medieval tapestries and 16th Century paintings. I tried not to stare. This much wealth was usually reserved for museums.

“Call me Robert.” He was tall and slender. His clothing suggested a life of grace.

“Yes, sir.” Shaking off my place in the world was not easy, despite Robert’s bonhomie.

The two of us sat in the kitchen and conducted the business of exchanging money and keys. The big room was colder than the outside. We drank a glass of an excellent St. Emillion to seal our verbal agreement.

“You’ll find the house easy enough. It’s the first one on the right before Ballyconneely. There’s peat for the fireplace, but I suggest getting a hot water bottle for bed. Houses out that way are not centrally heated like back in the States.”

“Thanks for the advice.” A light rain pattered against the lead window. I was glad to have my cap.

“One more thing. The phone is on, but only for incoming calls. You want to use it for calls?”

“No.” I knew no one in Ireland and international calls were expensive.

“Okay, smart thing. You’re writing a book, so I hear?”

“Yes.” It was about a black pimp in Hamburg. The subject matter seemed out of place in this house and I closed the subject by saying, “A quiet place without any interference from the modern world should be great for writing.”

“The old schoolhouse is quiet.”

“Glad to hear it.” I also wasn’t telling him about my mother’s last wish.

“Let me drive you back to Dublin. We can go for a drink at the Shelbourne. It’s the best bar in town.”

“I’d like that.”

Robert’s ride was a gray Ferrari from the 60s. The 250 GTE hit 120 mph on the rainy motorway. The windshield wipers worked over-time. A mansion and an Italian sports car were good omen for the cottage in the West.

“I love this car, but I’m getting too old to drive it.” Nearing Dublin he slowed down to 60.

“I know what you mean.” Getting in was easy. Getting out required a man-servant.

We stopped at the hotel on Stephen’s Green for drinks. In the bar my landlord was greeted by several of the men. He ordered the finest whiskey at the bar. My rent money paid for both rounds. It was an early night for both of us. He dropped me at my bed and breakfast and I bid him fare-well.

“Enjoy yourself. My friends have spend many summers in that house.”

“You don’t stay there?”

“Oh no, we stay at the family house.”

Oh.” I entered the B and B thinking how bad could the guest house be. The man had a Ferrari.

The next morning I rode the train to Galway. A bus brought me to Clifden. The town was small, but five bars crowded the main square. The rain fell with ease. A taxi was at the curb. A beer could wait.I got in the back.

“Where you going?” The fortyish woman’s accent was thick than a slab of breakfast toast. Her face was worn from hard work. Gold glinted on her left hand. Her married status eliminated the driver from my list of eligible.

“The old school house in Ballyconneely.”

“Right, it is.” She stepped on the gas and we traveled down a two-laner too narrow for the passage of two cars. The sea was to the right on occasion and small farms rolled over the small inland hills. To the north mountains fought for my attention. Their summits were blunted by clouds. Not a single person was working the fields. They belonged to the cows.

“Here we are.” We were passing the ruins of a church.

“There?” My great expectations diminished to utter disappointment. I had been scammed by his Lordship.

“No, that’s the old Protestant church. It burned down unexpectedly in 1920. Stayed burned too. The schoolhouse is that one.”

“Oh.” A squat white house lay across a gully from the ghostly church.

“Ah, yes, it’s a fine building.” The turn indicator presaged our entering a dirt track. The uneven surface would have broken the axel of the 250 GTE. “This is it.”

“I guess it is.” I got out of the car and shivered in my light jacket.

The lawn was overrun by thistles and the tufts of grass wavering in a wet wind. The whitewashed house was devoid of any modern design or ancient practicality. The tall walls stood facing the west. The Atlantic lay beyond the field. The color blue matched the shreds of sky visible through the tattered clouds.

“You’ll be wanting to wear a few more sweaters in the house. It’s cold inside.” She joined my shiver. “I went to school here. The teacher lived in the upstairs. Some people say the house is haunted. What do they know. You have a good day now?”

“Thanks.”

“You need a ride, call me. The name’s Peg.”

“I will.” I watched, as she drove away in the direction of Clifden, then turned to examine my home for the next three months.

The old schoolhouse was not a mansion. Part of the roof was in need of repair. A neglected graveyard lay in the bog separating the schoolhouse and the burnt church. The wan sun slipped into a cloud bank and the rain beat on the hard dirt. I ran inside the house. Peg had been right, It was colder within the old schoolhouse than outside.

The simple decor of sitting room reflected its use as a summer house and the well-used furniture have been rummaged from the local dump. I lifted the phone. There was a connection. I blew in my hands and bent over to pile peat in the small fireplace. The prehistoric carbon lit fast and generated a soft heat, although smoke was curling into the room. Something was wrong with the flue. The old schoolhouse was no mansion. A nearly empty bottle of whiskey was on the desk.

The view out the window was bleak. The wet grass gave way to savage gorse. The sky was descending to the earth. No houses were in sight. Finding a woman here was going to be a challenge.

I poured two measures of Paddy into a fruit glass grimy with fingerprints. I downed the fiery antithesis of Jamison’s Malted Whiskey in one go. My body shook with displeasure.

“Cheap whiskey.”

I had a second glass and sat by the fire. The glow within matching the glow from the peat.

All and all the old schoolhouse wasn’t bad, because this was where my mother wanted me to be and wherever she was in the afterlife, she knew that I had obeyed the first part of her wish.

Getting to Ireland was easy.

Meeting a girl like my sisters or aunt was the hard part.

There was only one way to make it easy and I finished off the bottle. It went down a little smoother than before and I wouldn’t have expected anything different from the old schoolhouse.

Peace on Mother’s Day

According to Wikipedia the First Mother’s Day was established as a “Mother’s Day for Peace” by Anna Jarvis from Virginia in honor of her mother, Ann, who had been a pacifist during the Civil War.

According to the Anna Jarvis Museum in Webster the daughter received her inspiration after a Sunday service when her mother shut the New Testament and said, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

After her mother’s demise in 1905 Anna Jarvis petitioned the government to grant a holiday to all mothers and President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 just before the advent of the Great War.

Anna Jarvis was appalled by the instant commercialization of the holiday now promoting the sale of flowers, cards, and candies.

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

Jarvis fought to honor her mother by protesting at1925 confectioners convention in Philadelphia, where the police arrested her for disturbing the peace.

Anna Jarvis gave her all to protect her mother’s ideals.

She was rewarded with ridicule, destitution,and incarceration for the final four years of her life at the Marshall Square Sanitarium in Chester PA.

Her medical bills were shared by the cardmakers and candy purveyors of America, who now earn $22 billion from the holiday

Personally I believe Jarvis’ version of undying love for one’s mother.

Love to all mothers.

Love is all.

Mothers.

And daughters too.

Like Anna Jarvis.

Beloved of Ann Reeves Jarvis.

NORTH END MIRACLE by Peter Nolan Smith

Throughout my childhood my mother cooked dinner for six kids and every Friday evening she drove our station wagon into Boston. We picked up my father at 50 Milk Street, where he worked for Ma Bell as an electrical engineer. He took the wheel and headed to a restaurant.

My father loved my mother and they loved dining out even with us in tow.

One evening my father strode from the NET&T headquarters like a man in a mission.

“Where to tonight?” asked my mother.

She always dressed for the occasion.

“A little restaurant in the North End.” He pulled out into the street. “A co-worker said George’s was cheap and cheerful.

Feeding six hungry kids was a struggle even on a white-collar salary.

“Parking’s horrible there,” complained my mother

“I always find a parking spot.” My father crossed Atlantic Avenue and weaved through the traffic on Hanover Street to turn onto a crooked lane.

“There it is and look. There’s a parking spot.” My father pulled into the space.

The two burly men outside the eatery frowned at my father, but said nothing, as our tribe trooped into George’s.

The restaurant had no customers. The men at the bar glanced over their shoulders and then returned to muttered conversations. The tuxedoed waiter approached our family, as if we were lost.

“You really wanna eat here?” He waved his hand at the empty tables.

“I have six hungry kids and you have food. Where else you want me to go?” My father came from Maine. There was only one Italian restaurant in Portland. Every Sunday night of my early years he traveled across the Martin Point Bridge from Falmouth Foresides to pick up pizza and antipasto, which we ate while watching THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW on our Zenith TV. We were no strangers to Italian cuisine.

“Nowhere, but here. I give you da best table.” He led us to a big booth underneath a painting of Naples. My father ordered meatball and spaghetti for us. My mother had a plate of pasta reeking of garlic and they shared a small carafe of red wine.

A few more men entered the bar.

They narrowed their gaze upon seeing us.

One of them pointed at my father and I ate with my head down to avoid his black eyes. My brother did the same, but my mother and father ordered another carafe of wine. The waiter put a coin into the jukebox and played YELLOW BIRD. The men in the bar spoke louder, until my mother started singing along with Harry Belafonte.

I had seen her quiet a cathedral choir with her voice and my father beamed with pride as she wrenched every emotion from the Jamaican song. I was embarrassed by her singing so loud. In many ways I never understood her gift, however when she finished the men at the bar applauded my mother.

The toughest man crossed the floor to our table. A scar bisected his forehead. He bowed to my mother.

“Lady, you have the voice of an angel. My name is George. This is my place. Anytime you want to come, you call and we’ll have a table ready for you and yours.” He gave my father his card and waved for the waiter to bring another carafe of wine and ice cream for us.

“On me, but mind if you song some more.”

“I’ll be my pleasure.”

My mother sang Dean Martin’s THAT’S AMORE and VOLARE. Her rendition of those two songs sealed the eternal gratitude of the gruff clientele and her version of I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN, KATHLEEN brought tears to every man’s eyes.

After that evening we returned to George’s at least once a month. My father parked in front of the restaurant and his kids marveled at this driving feat. We never strayed from the meatballs and spaghetti and my mother always sang a few songs for the bar, as my father beamed with love. She was the one woman in his life and his kids were his pride and joy, even as I rebelled against his way of life.

One night in the Spring of 1971 I decided to take my hippie friends down to George’s.

Hank Watson, two co-eds from BU, and I took the T to Haymarket. We walked under the Artery into the North End. The parking space in front of the restaurant was filled by a big Cadillac. The two men on the sidewalk blocked our entrance. Hank had hair down to the back of his ass. Mine was shoulder-length. Hippies l weren’t welcome in the North End.

“Youse ain’t coming in.” One of them placed a hand in my chest.

I looked over his shoulder.

George sat at the bar. His eyes glared at me with a puzzled recognition and then he snapped his fingers.

“Hey, Louie, let them in, the good-looking one’s the son of the songbird,” George shouted from the bar.

“Thanks,” I politely said at the bar.

“How’s your mother and father?”

“Good.” The bartender served us wine.

“Come here. I wanna talk to you a second.” George led me into the back and spoke with his arm around my shoulder, “Listen, I don’t got no problem with longhairs, but my people they don’t like hippies. You coming here is no problem, but you bring other hippies and people will start talking, you understand?”

“You want me to leave?”

“No, I can’t do that to you, but next time dress a little better and only come with a girl. No friends. Out of respect for your mother.”

“Whatever you want.” I was a good boy when it came to family. “Can I ask you one question?”

“Maybe.”

“That first time we came to your restaurant and my father parked in front. He wasn’t supposed to do that, was he?” THE GODFATHER had come out the previous year. Any questions about George’s business were answered in that film. He was one of those guys about whom no one talked if they knew what was good for them.

“That’s my spot. Everyone in the neighborhood knows that, but after your mother sang it became her spot. Still is. Enjoy your meal and give your best to your mother.” He started to walk to the bar, then stopped, “One more thing, don’t ever tell your father that. He’s a good man. Name’s Frank, right?”

“I call him ‘Dad’ and my lips are sealed.”

“Good boy, one more thing.”

“What?”

“Cut your hair. You look like your mother with that thatched roof.”

“My mother?” Like most teenagers in the 60s I had told myself that I would never grow up to be my father. Nobody had warned me about my mother. The hair had to go.

“Yes, your mother.”

I never mentioned this incident to my father or mother, but every time they went to the North End I call George and the parking spot would be waiting for them. It was a miracle, but then again so was my mother’s voice.

THE GUILT OF MOTHERS by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in the 90s I deserted New York to spend the Christmas holidays with my family on the South Shore.

Despite my abandonment of God as a child my mother persisted in requesting my attendance at Midnight Mass. It was a small sacrifice to make for the woman who brought me into this world and I always said, “Sure.”

One Christmas Eve I dressed in a dark-gray suit with a black cashmere polo shirt.

My mother came into the bedroom and asked, “Where’s your tie?

“Mom, this shirt is pure cashmere.”

“But you look better in a tie?” My mother was old school.

“You can’t wear a tie with a polo shirt.” I had worn a tie every day at Our Lady of the Foothills.

My mother frowned with disappointment at both my wardrobe and rejection of her God.

“I hope at my funeral you’ll wear a tie.” Her eyes were dewy with tears.

“I will.” Refusing my mother was impossible and I changed my shirt and put on a tie. It felt like a garrote.

“Better?” I asked in the kitchen. My father was seated at the table in his best suit.

“Much better.” She smiled with triumph and kissed my cheek. “You’re a good boy.”

Upon my return to New York I related this story to the mother of my diamond employer. Hilda tsked and said, “That’s the difference between Jews and goyim.”

“What?” Her son and I were befuddled by Hilda’s statement.

“Your mother simply asked for you to wear a tie at her funeral, if it had been me I would have said, “Once you kill me, I want you to wear a tie to the funeral.”

“Aha.” I replied, for Hilda had explained the true depth of Jewish guilt in a single sentence.

Matricide.

We were all bad boys, except to our mothers.

To them we were saints.