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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Way Back When Wednesday: Even As A Child, My Hair Drove Me Crazy

My mother had very specific ideas regarding her three daughters' hair when we were young. My older sister, Patti, had a long, single, blue-black ponytail, high up at the back of her head. My younger sister, Susan, startlingly blond amongst all of us dark-hairs, wore a blunt Dutch Boy cut. For some reason, my long, dark brown hair was always woven into two tight braids, one on either side of my head. I hated those braids and the agonizing procedure it took to get them.

St. Patsy was a no-nonsense mother when it came to things like Routine Maintenance. When it was time to braid my hair, I had to stand there with my back to her, motionless, and hold my own Implements Of Torture. As she combed or brushed my hair free of the dreaded Snarls (using either Implement, depending on which I could find), a minimum of fussing on my part would be endured, and no movement. "Stand still! Stop fussing!" she'd say, exasperated. "Hold the brush. Now hand me that rubber band. Now the other one." No amount of pleading and placating would convince her to allow me to wear my hair loose and free, either. Nope. It was braids, braids, braids. "You look so nice in braids, and everyone thinks so. Look how nice they are! You're lucky to have such nice, thick hair for braids," my mother would say every time I asked, and it never once occurred to me to take out my braids as I walked on my way to school.

Washing my hair, which back then was done weekly, was a complicated affair. I was raised in a house that never had a shower the entire time I lived there, twenty-two years. We always took baths and found it easier to wash our hair in the kitchen sink. In order to wash my extremely long hair as a child, my mother would have me lie out on the kitchen counter with my head over the sink; she would then shampoo my scalp and the length of my hair, which was a terrible trial for me. And her.

Not only do I hate water on my face, but I have always had a very sensitive scalp and forehead. Once Mom would start wetting my hair, I would start getting ticklish and jumpy. And then start laughing. And pretty soon, the laughing would become crying and things would get really ridiculous. My mother would try to settle me down, and invariably my father's voice would come floating over it all from another room, mildly concerned (but not enough to put down his reading and come in), and we would both yell, "It's okay!" and something about me getting my hair washed. By the time it was all over and my mane was in a towel turban, I could barely sit up and hop off the counter.

How the hell was it worth it? You'll have to ask St. Patsy; she was the Insister Of The Braids.

I do remember one day in first or second grade, a day when I was allowed to have my hair down at school. I was wearing a beautiful dress--one of my favourites, with a big fluffy skirt and a little Peter Pan collar. At some point during the day, I started feeling a pain in the back of my head. As the day went on, it hurt more and more, and I had to go up to tell my teacher. She asked me to point to where it hurt. She turned me around so that she could look, and when she brushed my hair aside so that she could see more clearly, I heard her gasp. She asked me to go to the nurse's office where she would meet me shortly.

At the nurse's office, she and the nurse gently pushed most of my hair away to reveal the problem. Apparently, as the day had gone on, many strands of my hair underneath had wound themselves around and around the top two buttons on the back of my dress. They had to cut some of my hair to free me.

It was, I guess, a partial vindication of St. Patsy's Ban On Loose Locks.

By the time I got to third grade, I was released from Braids once and for all. And my long, long hair was cut slightly above my shoulders, too. Better days for us both.

How about you? Any hair-raising tales? Please tell me I'm not the only one (and not the only one who wore braids).

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18 comments:

  1. OH my god, that story is horrific. I can't believe you had to wash your hair in the sink that way! Horrific. I'm so sorry. I wish you had had a shower.

    I was not allowed to grow my hair long. It was a bob until I got to be maybe 9 or 10. I longed so much for long hair, but perhaps my mom had talked to your mom, and thus thought it was too darned much. Once I was allowed to grow my hair out, it bit me, and I grew mouse nests in the back of my head. My mom had thick, course hair, and didn't see the need for conditioner. A little conditioner or 'no more tears' made all the difference to me and my fine hair. I had a LOT of hair, but it was all very fine. Sigh.

    Once I learned to take care of it and grew it out, it got long and stringy, with no blow drying until maybe 9th grade. That was a whole new level of good hair, the hair dryer. Why do some people get to just wash and go, and have beautiful hair? Unfair.

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    1. When we lived out at the homestead, we didn't have running water, so we took our shower at the local college. Happy to have a shower. The next couple of houses after that, I honestly can't remember if we had showers or not. Weird, huh? I think I would remember if I had been tortured. I'm guessing I just washed them in the bathtub, with all of the tub filth. Blech.

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    2. J@jj--Conditioner? Never heard of it back then. LOL. It would have made a lot of things easier, as you said.

      And, of course, no blow dryers back then either. We had one old portable hair dryer with a shower cap-type attachment and hose which barely blew any air. It was worthless for all my hair.

      Not having a shower was Just One Of Those Things, like you trekking to a college to take yours. We had one bathroom for 6 family members, and it had a tub. Period. That was our life. The logistics of that bathroom was probably a far bigger deal for my mother than its impact on me.

      I'm trying hard now to think if I ever had Long, Beautiful Wash-N-Go Hair in my youth. Likely I could have, but persisted in using all sorts of doodads being successfully hawked at me instead, like electric rollers, hair gels, curling irons, and hairsprays. Now I miss the ridiculously thick hair of those days, which I did not appreciate nearly enough.

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  2. My mother and my sisters had thick, dark, naturally wavy hair. I had blonde, thin, wispy hair. I spent so many years living through the torture and the results of home permanents! They never looked good (mostly I looked like a poodle for a few days) and they didn't last (my hair would be straight again in a week). It used to drive my mother nuts, and by extension, she drove me nuts. :-)

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    1. Bridget--And that smell! It's been a long, long time since I've had a perm, but I don't think any manufacturer has done anything about that smell.

      I wonder if all curly-haired people want straight hair and all straight-haired people long for curly hair. I often wish for a head full of long ringlets so that I don't have to think about my hairstyle so much. I'm sure that's naive.

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  3. I had very curly hair and like you, no conditioner. I recall painful days of standing in front of my mother (facing her) while she held my chin tightly in her left hand and brushed my hair with her right hand. Obviously, there was no hand free to hold the hair and prevent painful pulling as she brushed through the tangled curls. She was not above moving her hand from my chin to slap my face if I wasn't still. I vowed I would NEVER slap my children and I never did. After years of rolling my hair on orange juice cans and/or ironing it, I learned that short hair does not curl as much. What a wonderful thing.

    As for wishing for straight hair, YES! I so admired the shiny sleek heads of hair on the straight-haired girls and wished to trade my fuzzy head for that kind of hair.

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    1. NCmountainwoman--Bless your poor heart. My mother never slapped me and either did my father. They did not believe in corporal punishment. Like you and them, I decided that was not the best way for me to parent, either.

      Once and a while, Mom would tie up our hair in rags overnight so that we could have wavy and curly hair. I loved that look, but it was seldom worth sleeping on those lumps and bumps. And there you were, ironing your hair and trying to sleep on huge rollers for the opposite effect. Goodness!

      Oh, how did we all survive our shared feminine histories?

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  4. Growing up I had a lot of thin, fine blond hair. But it never looked "full" or bouncy. I mostly had short hair, although there was a short period of time where I long hair up until maybe 2nd grade, and then my parents chopped it off again. I would go on to have short hair until my junior year in high school.

    It sort of made sense, I was athletic, both my parents worked and had little time to help me with my hair. And we too had only one bathroom for four people.

    Was there not a way that you could have used a pitcher or something to wash your hair in the tub? Having to stand at the sink sounds harder than doing it in the tub, but what do I know? I don't remember having a shower, only a bathtub, but we must have always done our hair in the tub because I have never washed my hair in a sink and was shocked when I saw my husband's sister doing it when I first started dating him.

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    1. Gina--My hair was so long and my sister and I often bathed together. I'm sure the water got pretty awful, and my hair took a while to wash. It was waist length and incredibly thick. And with four kids using the tub, time was an issue too. I'm sure there were times that washing it in the tub may have been done, but getting all the soap out with soapy bath water would have been a problem, and washing my hair first would have been an ordeal because of my behaviour. I really could not stand the water in my face and the whole thing. And can you imagine my mother doing all of that as she's bending over or sitting at the side of the tub?

      Short hair for you was a practical solution for all the reasons you name. Being athletic was never my thing, and I was also very chubby, so short hair was not a good style for me. I had it once as a child, then never again.

      I still like washing my hair at the sink rather than having all that water all over my face in the shower, to this day.

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  5. I've always hated having thick, curly hair. I never suffered as much as you did with your braids, but I always wished it was just straight and easy to deal with. Brushing or combing never helps unless it's right after a shower.

    I've definitely had Alfalfa moments, when the easiest solution was to just cut off the offending strands.

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    1. Mikey--I still cut off pieces of my hair that don't behave. It irritates whomever my stylist is at the time, and me when later, that part of my hair is in a different place and really looks terrible. I never do learn, however.

      Oh, Alfalfa. I know that The Little Rascals and Our Gang were terribly backward and racist, but there were parts of it that were charming.

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  6. My mom didn’t really know how to “do” hair, so mine was usually just a simple short-ish cut. We had a shower, but my mom didn’t like showers, so we always took baths. I remember washing my hair in the bath.

    (Funny shower side note: When I was in 4th grade I went to 4-H camp. I had never had a shower before & couldn’t figure out how to do it without getting water in my eyes. Therefore, I didn’t try again. Spent a week at camp & had one shower. Pee-ew!)

    I had lots of perms too - and body waves. Not sad to see those days behind me now. The hair color smell is bad enough.

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    1. Bug--Poor 4H Camper You, trying to figure out showers in a camp shower. It probably wasn't the best shower to begin with.

      I guess I never thought about hair colour having a bad smell. That would be your punishment as a Jezebel for using it, I guess. But then, makeup should smell bad, and it really doesn't. Thank goodness mascara smells just fine, or I'd be in Big Trouble.

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    2. Jezebel - snicker :) I actually wrote a paper in seminary comparing myself to Jezebel. Fun times!

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  7. Nope I was the victim of home perms and then the Sassoon cut, which made me look like a boy. Bad looks, both

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    1. Rose--Another Home Perm Survivor!

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  8. Oh yes. Lots. I too was braided. Until sometime around Grade 6 when I took my birthday money and went to my Dad's barber, whom we knew well, and persuaded him to cut them off for me. My mother framed one. I have had short hair ever since with one foray into growing it out that ended up with me having a bald spot on top from the pins for the French Twist I wore it in.
    If I were male, I would have male pattern baldness. My hairdresser just sighs and cuts it off, then cuts more off when I complain she has left too much and I will have hat hair. Toques you see. Canada. Winter.

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    1. Mary--Oh, how Victorian to have a framed hair keepsake. ;-) I have a keepsake of Rick's long hair from when it was first all cut off. Back then it was light brown and streaked with blonde.

      I get you about Hat Hair. I would love to wear hats, but...Vanity. We have Winter here in NEO, too, as you well know. All my winter coats must have hoods.

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