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Big Hair, Big Heart

Mary Frances was everything this 11-year-old girl wanted to grow up to be.

By Carolyn Graham, Vidor, Texas

As appeared in

“Well!” Mary Frances exclaimed. “Who’s that pretty young lady?” The clerk nodded in approval.

Before we checked out, Mary Frances added a nightgown, a peach-colored two-piece bathing suit and a leather-fringed purse–not to mention my first adult undergarments. Finally, someone had noticed I was growing up! I couldn’t wait to fold my new clothes in the dresser drawers back at the condo.

Little by little, Mary Frances put me at ease. I started to trust her because she trusted me. She let me pick out whatever I wanted to eat for dinner and gave me lessons in etiquette–which fork to use when, the proper way to cut with a knife, the straight-backed posture she said was appropriate for a young lady.

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She took me swimming and brought me to the library, where she volunteered. Mary Frances was like the grandmother I never had. And she had that personal style–both unique and traditional. I’d never met anyone like her.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Mary Frances said one day. We drove in her Caddy and I tried not to squirm in suspense. She pulled into the movie theater.

Spelled out in backlit letters on the marquee was Star Wars, the movie I’d been dying to see all summer! My secret crush was Luke Skywalker, the main character in the Star Wars novelization I’d read about five times by then.

Sitting in the movie theater next to Mary Frances, a bucket of popcorn between us as we traveled to a galaxy far, far away, was the closest I’d ever come to heaven on earth. It was one of those moments you wanted to live in forever.

Normally, I didn’t intrude on Mary Frances, but that night I felt so happy I poked my head into her room to say goodnight. What I saw horrified me.

“Mary Frances!” I gasped.

She sat before her bedroom mirror, applying night cream to her face–but what had happened to her beautiful blonde hair? She was completely bald!

She looked up and saw she had forgotten to pull the door shut. A moment passed that was as awkward as the other one had been perfect.

“I was sick, dear,” she said softly. “I had a brain tumor.”

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I could see the long, ugly scar. Her wig rested on a foam head. I knew it was impolite to stare, but I couldn’t look away. How could something so terrible happen to a person as perfect as Mary Frances?

“It was a rough illness, Carolyn, but I survived it,” she said. “Just as you will survive what’s happened in your life. God will help you. He helped me. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

She pulled me into a hug. I let myself go, leaning on her shoulder, and let loose all my tears.

After that summer, I went back to live at my foster parents’ house. But they got separated, and I went to live in a different home. Over time I lost track of Mary Frances.

But not really. You never really lose a person you trust and love, and who loves you back. I remember so much about Mary Frances–her pantsuits, her perfectly polished furniture, her big tan Caddy.

What I remember most, though, is that beautiful bouffant resting on its wig stand while the two of us in our nightgowns hugged for what seemed like forever.


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