Thou shalt not cut a woman’s hair

In the early 1920s, a stranger came to our hometown of Joure. He was a bachelor, about 25 years old. He was a hairdresser. He spoke Dutch, not Frisian. One of the local barbers had convinced him to come to Joure and set up shop with him. Up to that day there was no hairdresser in Joure, a town of about 5,000 inhabitants. It was a time when women did not go to an establishment to have their hair done. They let their hair grow and put it up in a bun or braid. So a new thing had come to Joure in the form of a young man called Everhardus Witvoet.

Now it so happened that a solidly Christian Reformed woman named Tetje Dijkstra-DeVries said to her daughter, Griet Dijkstra, “I want you to go to this new hairdresser Witvoet and have your hair cut. I have had enough of that dangling of your braids in the porridge.” (“Gean mar nar Kapper Witvoet. Ik ha genog van dat geslinger in de brij mei dien vlechten.”)

So my future mother, Griet Dykstra, went to my future father, Everhardus Witvoet, to have her hair done. What that encounter was like I can only guess, but I do know that my future mother already had a boyfriend named Johannes. Everhardus Witvoet, however, was somewhat smitten by this bright, fun-loving, good-looking Frisian maiden.

Once he saw Griet walk by on the other side of Main street with her boyfriend Johannes. Everhardus crossed the street and asked Johannes for a match to light his cigarette. He later told us kids that it was just an excuse so he could be close to Mom and so she could take notice of him.

Fortunately for Everhardus, Johannes wanted to emigrate to Rochester, New York and wanted Griet to follow him. Griet refused, because she did not want to leave her beloved Joure. And so the courtship with Johannes ended when he left for the States. Thus, Everhardus could make his move.

Tante Aukje’s anger
But let me go back to the time that Griet had her hair done by this stranger Everhardus Witvoet. Griet’s aunt, Tante Aukje, a sister of my grandmother (Beppe Tetje) was furious. “How could her sister be so worldly and send her daughter to have her hair cut at a hairdresser? Vanity of vanities. Didn’t she see the danger of this worldly act? Doesn’t the Bible say that a woman’s hair is her glory?” For the next few years, Tante Aukje did not talk to her sister Tetje. She did not want to be contaminated by her worldly act. They saw each other every Sunday in church. But there was to be no contact.

To make things worse, Griet ended up marrying Everhardus Witvoet in 1929. Now Everhardus, when he came to Joure, had been a man of the world. He played billiards in the local pub. He went to the movies and theatre, and he played cards. My mother’s family was strict Christian Reformed and knew better than to sully themselves with such worldly pleasures. On top of that Everhardus was a stranger to the church. At the age of 13, he had become an orphan. His family was Christian Reformed, and all the six children below him were adopted into three Christian Reformed families, but Everhardus at age 13 was judged to be old enough to fend for himself and live as an apprentice with a distant barber relative. He was set loose in the world.

My dad’s mother’s faith
And thus it happened that when my dad first arrived in Joure, he stayed away from church. Not that he did not believe in God. He never failed to pray because his mother, when she was on her deathbed, had urged him and his sister to stay close to God. So when Everhardus started coming to the Christian Reformed Church of Joure, probably because of Griet Dijkstra, he in a way returned to the sheepfold of his parents and his siblings. But you can imagine that Tante Aukje was suspicious. She still avoided her sister Tetje, my grandmother . . . until my parents had their first child.

All of a sudden my mother was inundated with presents from who else, but Tante Aukje. Tante Aukje had apparently changed her mind about the vanity of women having their hair cut, because it was happening all around her. She could not say to her sister and to my mother, “I am sorry. I was wrong.” That was too embarrassing. So she spoke through her actions. And my mother and grandmother understood. Tante Aukje wants to be reconciled.

Why did I tell you this story? Because it typifies so clearly how we as Christians sometimes come kicking and screaming into God’s new reality. God is from time to time asking us to switch to a modified world. One hundred years ago it was women changing what they could do to their hair. If the only thing Christians have accepted in a hundred years is haircuts for women, we are missing a few important boats here and there!

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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