Emily Padgett entered this world with a head full of hair.
"Oh my, do I have a baby brush?"
That's what her mom said when she saw her.
In time, little Emily's hair grew and grew, weathering occasional trims but never a cut.
Strangers would compliment her locks, which flowed to her waist like fine thread the color of corn silk.
Her kindergarten teacher at Pride Elementary would be rich if she had a dime for every time she had to tell a classmate to stop touching Emily's hair.
Her dad could spot her immediately in a crowd. He just looked for the hair.
But maintaining the hair was not so easy and, eventually, Emily would give it away to someone who needed it more.
When she swam, it had to be braided or else get tangled into crazy knots.
At bath time, she had to saturate it with conditioner, then wait several minutes for it to absorb.
And only her pink Goody "Ouchless" brand brush worked. Last month, Emily left it at a friend's house after a swim date. Sara Padgett told the other mom to just bring it to school the following Monday.
"It was the worst weekend of our lives," Padgett said. "Nothing we used worked."
About a year ago, her mom asked her about getting it cut, but Emily refused.
Then, not long ago, Padgett told Emily about a cousin's past ordeal with cancer and how other kids who get very sick can lose their hair.
Emily thought about it and agreed to donate the one thing she'd become known for in her six years of life.
The night before the big cut, her mother admired the way Emily's hair swayed gently on the surface of the bathwater.
"This is going to be the last time it's going to float like this," she said.
Last Wednesday, salon owner Lori Malm used hot pink hairbands to tie Emily's hair into two long and low ponytails.
She straightened out a measuring tape and shifted the hair bands up and down until the length from the band to the end of the ponytail reached 10 inches.
Women looking for their own transformations in styling chairs at Cameo Salon and Spa in Lutz swiveled to watch.
Padgett put her hand at the hairband and felt Emily's back to make sure her hair would still fall beneath her shoulders. The women fidgeted with the hairbands and decided on 11 inches.
Then snip, snip, snip.
Malm cut off one ponytail.
Emily sat quietly.
Eyes watered from both parents, from stylists and customers, too.
Malm turned to Padgett and offered her the shears to cut the other ponytail. Mom cut at it nervously, creating a slightly uneven line.
She chuckled: "That's why I never cut her hair!"
They put the tresses into a Ziploc bag for shipment to the Locks of Love organization. A decade ago, when Emily's cousin, Ashlee Lopez, had leukemia and lost her long brown hair during chemotherapy, she got a wig from the American Cancer Society.
"As a 14-year-old girl, that was the hardest thing for me," Lopez recently said about her hair loss. "I'm really proud of Emily."
Malm tousled Emily's now shoulder-length mane and said to her reflection: "How do you want your hair?"
"A style," came her soft voice.
"Flipped under or out?"
Malm blew it dry and used a curling iron to create outward flips.
When she gave her a mirror to check out the back of her hair, Emily's face beamed.
She was delighted, but not just because of her new hairstyle.
"I wanted to make another little girl happy."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or email@example.com.