A brush with the snow

OUR family is engaged in a conflict over hair spray. My 13-year-old daughter is an advertiser's dream; if a product promises beauty, happiness, and popularity, she will buy it, no matter what its fragrance. Or, as my husband says, odor. Herein lies the argument. Sara rises at 6 a.m. to apply various redolent salves, perfumes, and hair sprays before she goes to school at 8. The resulting effluvia cause Larry to break out in a clammy sweat. What's worse, he says the eventual hairdo resembles a nest. I think she looks stylish, but we both have wondered whether excess attention to the outer appearance is giving short shrift to character development underneath.

Yesterday morning, I drove to pick up Sara from a home where she and five friends stayed overnight, presumably to practice the latest teen-beauty techniques without the interference of sleep.

The night before, a heavy, wet snow weighted the branches of trees and bushes still laden with autumn leaves. The result was heartbreaking; no species of deciduous tree seemed to have escaped damage. In one yard, an apricot tree was split to the ground as if Paul Bunyan had cleaved the trunk with one mighty swing of his ax. In the park, limbs a foot in diameter had crashed down from the heights of American elms planted a hundred years ago.

The damage in our yard was difficult to assess. A few branches from our 80-year-old black locusts lay in the yard. And snow forced the limbs of the lilac, cherry, and plum bushes almost flat to the ground. I couldn't tell whether any limbs were cracked.

During our drive home, Sara joined in my lament for the broken trees. ``Oh, Mom,'' she cried, distracted from her own appearance, ``this is so sad.'' When we arrived at our yard, her cries turned into wails. The sight of the near-flattened 6-foot plum bush hedge was just too much.

Sara rushed into the house and dug through baseball mitts and golf clubs on the closet floor until she found her snow boots. She pulled them on, then ran out into the snowstorm, bareheaded and barehanded. From the window I watched in amazement as she moved from bush to bush, knocking the snow off the branches with her crimson hands; one by one the bushes regained their stature.

Soon Sara's hair hung in wet strands around her ruddy face, but she didn't stop. Sweatshirt and jeans dripping wet, she moved to the backyard and began beating the snow-covered branches of the apple and apricot trees with a broom.

Finally satisfied, she came inside. With hair dripping and fierce blue eyes sparkling, she announced, ``There, Mom, I've saved our trees.''

Of course, later on she restyled her hair. And Larry, who had been immersed in the baseball play-offs during the saving, shouted his usual, ``That's it! Can't you smell it?'' from the TV room.

I just smiled. As far as I'm concerned, any teen-age girl who will sacrifice her hairdo to save a tree is going to turn out all right.

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