She styles memories for the grieving

Don McAlavy

Not every hairdresser would work at a funeral home. The former Verdine Crume, now Mrs. Duane Howard of Clovis, has been praised by many husbands, fathers and children of the deceased with the wonderful work she performs.
Verdine received her cosmetology license in 1938 and was soon called by a funeral home to use her hairdressing talent on a 3-year-old girl. She’d been killed in an auto accident, along with her parents, coming through from California.
“I was working in Portales at Kirby’s Beauty Shop when I was asked to go to Wheeler Mortuary to do this little girl’s hair. I thought ‘I can’t do it. I’ve never done this before,’ ” she said.
“I was the youngest one to take the state board that year. The pretty little girl had a head injury. The grandmother wanted long curls like Shirley Temple. I never touched her body. It was kind of shaky for me, but I got it done. Since then I’ve done the hair for women all the way up to 100 years old, when the family asked me to do it.”
Verdine said she’s worked in six funeral homes, including one in Portales and two in Clovis.
“I’ve glued hair on, cut hair, braided hair, dyed hair, rolled hair, etc. One time a man killed in a truck accident had his blond crew-cut burned off the top of his head. They wanted me to rebuild his hair. I found all the blond hair I could in my beauty shop and got cut hair at a barbershop next door. Then I was asked to give him a crew cut like he had worn it.
“I work on all ages, all colors … I’ve used wigs cause sometimes you have to use wigs. Then I did the hair for an FBI agent’s wife and I knew I’d have to do a good job for she reminded me of my mother. I did it like I thought her hair should be done. The FBI agent was so happy he just cried. He said ‘Now the kids can see her as she is — real pretty.’
“You know it’s hair styling and you have to do it like you think the hair should look. I fixed hair for doctors’ wives to welfare people, and others of all ages.
“The children kind of tear me up cause I lost a little girl of my own who was about 3 months old. Just after that I worked on a little 2-year-old girl who had died of a virus. She had fine blond hair like my own little girl. I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ but I had to do it. At the funeral of that little girl I just cried and also still do.
“One family, with eight kids all grown, had a mother with a brain tumor and her head had been shaved, but they had saved her hair. They asked me to glue her hair back on as the kids had only seen her with her head shaved. Her hair had only been one-half inch long. I had a wig that I used, working and combing the mother’s hair into the wig. I thought it was beautiful. Then I waited in the mortuary for the family to come in. If Tode, the oldest boy liked it, then I would feel good. He came in, saw his mother, put his arm around me crying ‘Oh, Verdine, you’ll never know how happy you’ve made us. The family can see her now.’ They had me crying by this time.
“I had to please three different types of people — myself, the family of the deceased, and the mortuary director or owner. If I could please them, it made me happy. Like some people had been in a hospital or rest home for a long time and they looked pitiful. When a make-up artist does her face and I do the hair, it’s beautiful. That’s how the family really remembers them, how pretty she looked that day. So to do that and please the family it gives me a good feeling.”
For the last 13 years, Verdine has styled hair for 246 women at Muffley Funeral Home.
“Of course I’ve spent more time working in a beauty salon, mine and others. But when Russell (Muffley) needs me, I go and help him. He’s the best funeral home director I’ve ever worked for. I just feel comfortable working for him. His job is not easy, nor is mine, but somebody good has to do it.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.