NEATLY sealed in an envelope that will never be mailed are strands of my pale blonde baby hair. Sometimes these infant cuttings link generations and stimulate stories.
I opened a pastel envelope and fingered my daughter's locks, then smiled and touched the paper that concealed her daughter's locks. Each was tangible proof of time and place.
Time. Place. So many small details make up lives, yet we tend to stress events or focus on milestones.
My mother had trouble dealing with my silky strands of straight hair. When I was 3, the huge hair bows she so carefully made to match my hand-sewn dresses slipped. No barrettes stayed in place, and the hairpins she twisted like a sailor's knot were too weak to hold up ribbons. Hearing that a drastic cut would force new-growing hairs to produce stiffer shafts, she took me to a barber shop.
Amid globs of shaving cream in squat mugs, I climbed on a booster seat that resembled a long shelf. The Dutch-boy cut was awful.
''It'll grow, honey,'' my mother soothed.
It grew back limp, silky, and fine -- just the way it was before. She kept trying until I was in kindergarten and begged to wear a cap in school.
My preteen years, in the 1940s, found me being forced into a machine-wave permanent that actually burned hair in its attempt to bend it. Electric wires dangled, and I thought I was the center of a horror novel.
Once puberty arrived, I could rebel and it was accepted as normal teen behavior. I then let my hair grow, set it myself in a full pageboy even if the set only lasted 45 minutes, and refused to go to a beauty parlor even before my older sister's wedding.
My two sons and daughter started life with flaxen hair that went well with their eyes. (The older son has green, the other two offspring have blue.) I didn't try to ''thicken'', shape, or chemically treat ... until my daughter was 8. I gave her a home permanent.
She scowled, complained about the stench of lotion and the tedious rolling of curls, which meant she had to keep her head still. She argued that she'd hate it, liked it straight, and didn't care that it fell forward even when she tried to loop it behind her ears.
I smiled and insisted she'd love a flip that bounced when she walked. She told me that I may like my hair to bounce and flip, but that was not her choice.
I combed, fluffed her hair, and praised her appearance when I was finished. She whined, ran to her room, tried to brush back straightness rather than artificially processed curls.
Why had I forgotten? Perhaps, I reasoned, she liked it but wouldn't acknowledge that fact. When she pulled on a cap and refused to remove it until the permanent un-permanented itself, I remembered my own hair struggles.
She never had a perm again, and, even before her wedding, she just washed and combed her hair, let it air dry, and placed her bridal veil over short straight strands.
So we, as a family, share ''hair'' stories and tales of how much emotion is tied to our tresses.
My older son reminds us he felt like an outsider when we insisted he have a well-groomed look in high-school when his male classmates had ponytails
And he resented that we no longer were hair disciplinarians when his brother, five years younger, attended high school. Now, a father expecting a fourth child in July, he still speaks of that, but understands about being a parent.
Time and place. We've common threads of feelings to share rather than question ''what did you want to be when you were growing up?''
Perhaps, in your own home, sealed in an envelope that will never be mailed, is a baby tooth, a summer camp award, or a lock of hair.