The Braid Connection

Blame this blog on Margarita Engle. I responded to her Facebook posting of a picture of herself in her youth on the back of a horse with long braids hanging behind her with a claim of kinship since I had a set of my own. She challenged me to post my pigtail picture.

Margarita and I illustrate friendship that reaches across attitudes and cultures. Her braids belonged to a horse-loving girl riding a generous neighbor’s animal with Havana in the background. Mine belonged to a North Mississippi girl, fearful of any large animal, who did her very best to avoid the horses on her grandfather’s farm.

She draws on her rich Cuban-American heritage for much of her work just as I extract stories from my legacy among the rural people in the foothills of the Appalachians. Both of us wore clothes lovingly crafted by our mothers. We both grew up with more wealth handed down in lore and values than in anything that could be taken to a bank.

As adults, we share some likeness and near-likenesses. The best I can recall, our friendship began when I responded to one of her verse novels. She likes to write poetry. I like to read it. We share a passion for diversity in children’s books. We believe that young readers should find children both like and different from themselves in books and magazines.

I am enjoying our new connection with the braids that I knew nothing about until she posted her picture. Her mother used braids to tame too much curl. I had terminally straight hair in a curly-headed world. Curls never seem to come in the right amount – just in too much or too little.

Mama and I were both relieved when she stopped the home permanents that singed the ends of my hair before the curl set in. I don’t know how Margarita felt about her pigtails, but mine were a great relief. However, I did hate the bangs that accompanied those braids. Most of the time, sweat held them standing straight up or swiped to the side where I sent them to curb the Mississippi summer heat on my brow.

Feel free to thank or blame Margarita for this excursion into childhood hair styles. And if you haven’t discovered her wonderful novels in verse, what are you waiting for?