I still have the comb Mrs. Muus gave me for Christmas when I was 12 years old. That was 35 years ago.
I know that makes me sound like a hoarder, which I’m not. Very few things have followed me from childhood to the point I’m at in life now: a couple of toys that didn’t get trashed or given away, a couple of books, and for some unknowable reason, this comb.
The ironic thing is that I hated it when I got it. It was one of those gifts you don’t want, a far less embarrassing version of the bunny outfit that Ralphie gets from his aunt in A Christmas Story. Mrs. Muus was the lady who lived next door when I was growing up, a kindly retired teacher who’d raised her kids, lost her husband, and basically took on the role of surrogate grandmother for my sister and me.
And like a lot of grandmothers, she didn’t always know what sorts of gifts to give a 12-year-old boy. She actually apologized to me as I was unwrapping the package with the comb in it. I thanked her politely and moved on, but I’m sure that she had noticed my confusion–if not my horror–as I’d held the thing in my hand.
You see, it was a girl’s comb–blue with a big handle and a raised logo that fancily announced it as a “Salon Styler.”
Sometime within the year or two before this, I’d taken to carrying a comb in some sort of pre-pubescent vanity, maybe in response to the attention my best friend paid to his hair. Tucked in my back pocket along with my Velcro wallet would be one of those simple little black combs, the kind without a handle, that you’d see in a jar beside the cash register in the liquor stores where we’d go to buy candy and sodas. Definitely not a girl’s comb.
I was mortified at the thought of this big, blue girl’s comb. I remember mentioning to my mom that I didn’t want it, but my mom was always practical (extremely practical) and insisted that I keep it. You didn’t throw out a perfectly good comb, after all.
The thing about those little handle-less black combs, though, was that they were easy to lose. And so, on some school mornings I was faced with the choice of going without a comb, or going with that blue handle sticking out of my back pocket. I’m sure there were some times I went comb-less, but there had to have been one time, and I don’t remember when, where I just decided I needed a comb, and that blue girl’s comb was my only choice.
Somewhere along the way, it just became the comb I carried all the time, and I never got teased for it. The horror of carrying a girl’s comb never materialized: a perfect example of the things we fear in life not turning out to be anywhere near as bad as we expect.
With the handle sticking out of my pocket, the comb got pretty banged up with scratches and dents–and a one-inch slice in the handle from my days working in the maintenance department at a hotel where a guy named Bob DeCola came up behind me with a pair of bolt cutters one day and tried to snip through the handle as a practical joke.
At some point I stopped carrying the comb with me, and it just ended up in a drawer with other combs and brushes. Somehow, it never got thrown out. You don’t throw out a perfectly good comb, after all.
These days, I don’t have enough hair to really need a comb, but it still gets used: my wife combs my daughter’s hair with it.
A girl’s comb. Finally.