As I look in the mirror at my hairstyle today it should be labeled as: ‘I tried’. It feels like anything that happens today is going to be held together by a hair scrunchie. I have come to realize in my golden years that you can’t control everything, and your hair was put on your head to remind you of that.
For as long as I remember I have watched my elders throughout the years spare no expense to keep those wisps and odd bits of hair neat and tidy. I was born with straight hair that had a will of its own and my Grandmother attempted to thwart that will every chance she got. Mary Knight came from a lifetime of bad hair days. She lost a lot of her hair entrusting it to the old professional salon hair dryers of the day that overheated and did not have timers. From that day on she invested in the acrylic fibers of the Eva Gabor Wig Company and wore her wigs crooked over her thinning hair until the day she died.
Not wanting her granddaughter to suffer the same fate my hair was constantly chopped into a bob with badly cut bangs. I have a few old black and white photos of such badly cut hair that the old Tressy dolls found in the bottom of a toy box looked better coiffed. From the hand cut bobs my hair follicles progressed to pin curls, and then to the almighty home permanent. There was no talking to my stylist, Mary Louise Deller Knight. She would adjust her wig from side to side in frustration while she wrapped an old plastic tablecloth around me.
The smell of a Toni Perm still haunts me like it was yesterday. Just seeing the little plastic squeeze bottle coming towards me still gives me nightmares. Did you know there were actually rules and instructions for those perms? My family knew their own version all by heart, as it had been handed down by word of mouth through many generations. I don’t think I can ever forget the words: “Let me know when it starts burning!”
When the timer dinged and the perm was over, the towels were taken out to be boiled in hot water because they smelled. The lingering scent almost rivalled Vick’s Vapor Rub– on the top ten most hated list. Half way through being almost blinded by the smell of rotten eggs and vinegar, Grammy Knight went outside to shake her wig. It seems that her Eva Gabor wig wasn’t that comfy when she was stressed out. I had figured that she was probably reliving her days of bad perms while she gave me one.
The year 1961 finally nipped the perm in the bud. When the movie “The Parent Trap” came out, I went to the Lido Hair Salon in Cowansville with a picture of Hayley Mills’s pixie cut and said, “Do this!” I was finally sick of feeling like Rapunzel caught in the tower with a head full of fuzz. Hear no perm, speak no perm, and see no perm–evermore I thought to myself.
In the 60s and 70s the brush rollers neatly covered with a scarf came into vogue. In every supermarket of the era women were seen with see through scarfs to protect their ‘doos’ from the elements and also showing off their expertise in hair styling at the same time. To be seen living in hair curlers meant the locals knew you were going to be doing something fancy soon. No mention was ever made about the ugly sleepless nights you had laying on those tiny torture devices. Beauty is pain, right? Eventually the rollers and yourself were able to come to some sort of mutal arrangement during the night, and maybe , just maybe, you were able to doze off.
Of course there were other hair fashion goals of ironing my hair and sleeping in empty Orange Juice can curlers I had made. Seeing my hair was dead straight I have no idea what I was trying to prove, but the added Noxema slathered on my face at night always just completed the look and set my enthusiasm high.
Through the years I went through hair crimpers, hot curling irons that I still have scars from and hair colours from every colour of the rainbow. Maybe the solution was just to ignore everything about your hair and realize there was always lipstick and clevage.
So now when I wake up and have that flippy thing going on with my hair I just remember that all those princesses from Disney gave me an unrealistic expectation about my hair. So now I know that a heartfelt smile triumphs over any bad hair day and actually I now have a ton of obscene gestures for that morning mirror.