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Ears to Ya!

by Shirley Pieters Vogel

I've always hated my right ear. It sticks out. Just like my mother's. Imagine her excitement at my birth – her first child and the girl she wanted. She named me Shirley – not because of Shirley Temple or because it was a popular name then, but just because she liked it.

Like all new Moms, she counted my fingers and toes, checked my belly button, nose, mouth, eyes and ears – all there! But then she sighed, "Oh dear." I had a right ear that stuck out – just like hers!

Well, my Mom deserves a badge for effort! She tried everything, but taping my ear, snug bonnets, and lying me always on my right side didn't help at all. In fact, the latter only flattened the right side of my head, but gratefully that was temporary. Nothing could persuade that ear to stay close to my down-covered scalp, but Mom thought I was beautiful anyway.

As I got older, she always did her best when fixing my hair; sometimes braiding the sides and pinning the plaits across the top of my head. She obviously had come to think of my ear as a trophy to be displayed, and just to make sure everyone noticed, she tied bright bows to both ends of the braids.

Bows were carefully selected from a cream-colored cardboard box which once held assorted chocolates. Now it was filled with a variety of striped, plaid and polka-dotted ribbons in enough colors to match my dresses – even though I never had more than four at any given time.

Despite the bows, my elementary school pictures were pretty pathetic. But thanks to my Mom's love and support, I thought I was okay. (I had no idea then that when my mother was 97 years old, I would find one of those ribbons – pink with a blue edge – in her Bible! A precious find!)

Adolescence dawned and I was not only shy and self conscious, but I was desperate for flat ears so I could wear pony tails, braids and the latest hairstyles like my friends. I wanted my hair short and sculpted around the ears too, but no, I covered mine and wore Mamie Eisenhower bangs.

I didn't think it could get any worse until the morning my bangs needed trimming. I couldn't get them straight so I wet them and tried again, this time with my hair plastered to my forehead. And then I tried again.

You can guess what happened. By the time I finished trimming, my bangs had started to dry and they stuck out straight. I threw myself on my bed and cried and cried until I got my nerve up to look again in a mirror - squinting first with only one eye. "They're even worse than I thought," I shrieked. Now totally dry, my bangs waved as I moved my head from side to side.

Valuable lessons were learned that day. Always cut hair slowly, never cut it wet, and it only takes a second to snip, but it takes what seems forever to grow back!

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In nurse's training, a plastic surgeon I scrubbed for offered to fix my ear, gratis. I was delighted but my Dad didn't want me to risk general anesthesia for something unnecessary.

"Unnecessary to you, maybe," I muttered.

"You're beautiful just the way you are," he insisted.

That was the one time I shouldn't have listened to my Dad. All my life, my right ear has been a problem. Once I tried to get even. I had someone poke a hole in it and its more normal side-kick. Unlike my Mom's braids and bows, I thought dangling earrings would lower the gaze of my peers and I'd like to think it worked.

Nothing ever worked when I went swimming. As a kid I wore one of those ugly rubber hats with a chin strap. I didn't look good and I didn't care – everyone wore one and my ear had disappeared! Later I hid it under the more fashionable swimming caps – still latex, but covered with pastel flowers.

Today swimming hats are out and my strategy has changed. To keep my hair dry and my ear covered, I surface swim only. My husband insists, "You'd go faster if your head was in the water," but ignoring him, I think, I'd also be swimming in circles with my ear as a permanent rudder!

Unfortunately, efforts to keep my head afloat are often unsuccessful, and so I nonchalantly brush my wet hair with my hands as I walk from the pond's edge, covering you know what as I go. Slouching deep into a beach chair, I reach for number 36 sun screen. This is important. If the sun's going to get me, my right ear is its best shot. Once I forgot to coat it and it actually glowed! I was mortified!

And because I haven't forgotten my painfully slow-growing bangs, I take no chances when I go to a new hair stylist. I show her my ear and explain that I like to keep it covered. She's always polite and smiles, but her eyes say, Is she kidding? I couldn't miss that bugger!

I've read there are no nerves in hair shafts and that's why it isn't painful to cut them. Those around my right ear must be the exception. When the beautician's scissors get near, they seem to cry out, "Slow down and take your time. Not too short! Be careful! Don't you understand?" They're so loud and insistent I can hardly sit still, but the stylist never seems to hear. So, of course, I have to remind her again.

I guess I've always considered my ear to be a mistake because God could have saved on cartilage. But later, having reached middle years, my perspective has changed and I can actually smile and look at the positive side.

For example, my ear works – I can hear! It also makes my head almost symmetrical – certainly better than without it, and with two ears I can wear two earrings. Moreover, with its help, my eyeglass frames stay on my nose and they're definitely more fashionable than the elastic I'd have to wear around my head otherwise.

My husband, Stefan, a New Englander all his life, introduced me to his favorite activities – sailing, hiking, mountain climbing, etc. Later he told me he loves my ear and said it was one of the reasons he married me.

"I love sailing," he explained with a grin, "I knew it would be great at catching the wind!"

From my latest book, Faith, Favorites, Fun, and Fotos of Cape Cod 2013

Shirley Pieters Vogel is a respected speaker, ministry leader, author, and RN (in an earlier life) who is passionate about sharing God's marvelous love and faithfulness – especially with those who are hurting and afraid. Her articles have appeared in local newspapers as well as in many publications, including Leadership Journal.

Also a prize-winning author of wHispers (when He is so precious even rocks sing) and a coffee table book, Faith, Favorites, Fun, and Fotos of Cape Cod.

Shirley enjoys speaking for women's groups and retreats, is on the Advisory Council of Bridge to Hope Ministry, and is a mentor to women who have been or are incarcerated.

She and her husband, Stefan, who have lived on Cape Cod for 27 years, have six married children, fifteen grandchildren, and one great-grand dog named Percy!