I am now 57 years old and many changes have taken place in my mind, body and spirit. Some are a bit more radical than others. However, the one that I'll never know for sure about is my hair! As a species we exhibit an overwhelming preoccupation with our hair. Everything in the world can be done to it. It can be cut, shaped, shaved, sprayed, curled and colored. I've done it all.
I was born with very fine but thick hair, dark and straight. It wouldn't even hold a bobby pin so I spent my child-hood years with braids and bangs. That was my style all the way to age twelve when I went to sleep with a wad of bubble gum in my mouth. It ended up in my hair and nothing except cutting it out worked. Miss Ruby, our neighbor had gone to beauty school so she did the honors. I had the first shag cut in St. Mary Parish and was a hit. However, when it started growing out, I looked like a dog. I think mama and I agreed that I should get a perm.
Of course, I thought I'd be beautiful when I got out of that chair. I had tight little blue, yellow and pink plastic perm curlers all around my head and a very heady solution all over my head. I think they called this the Toni cold perm. Anyway, when Mrs. Hilda took out the little rollers and paper, I took one look in the mirror. Bless mama's heart, she knew I was mad as a wet hen but paid and we left and on the way home I said, I hate it. I called my best friend, Sara. We had just cut our fortrel polyester one piece bathing suits into two pieces and we were dying to try them out at the local swimming pool. As soon as I got into the water and wet my head, people started moving away from me. You could smell the chemical solution for ten feet.
I'm not sure if the perm really took, as they say, after that. My hair just sort of grew out slowly but my wheels were turning as to what to do next. I wasn't content to sit at the kitchen table and have regular perms as mama did. Her first perm was in the early 1930's when she sat under a permanent wave machine. The hair was wrapped in a spiral around rods connected to the machine with an electric heating device. Sodium hydroxide was applied and the hair was heated to 212 degree farenheit for a long time. This whole thing took six hours. Mama had scars in her scalp her whole life - all for the sake of beauty! I never saw mama's straight hair, ever.
She had the same hair as I did but I wasn't going to have another permanent in my life. I turned to dye instead. I had found a coupon for New Dawn hair dye in a Reader's Digest magazine. It was a whole quarter and I ordered mid-night black. Well, naturally that was a mistake. I was in the 8th grade by then and am still called, Cleo, to this day after that episode. That didn't stop me. I found out that peroxide works fantastic and turns hair a wonderful rich auburn color. Needless to say, I was ready for halloween.
The seasons came and went. I was in high school now and decided to just leave my hair alone. I found out when it grew out I had a natural streak in the front and the texture was quite nice. It looked great with ribbons. Every now and then, I'd put some gooey stuff called Dippity doo in it and mama would wrap it up with rag rollers. I wish I had the pictures. I must not have thought I was doing enough to my hair because every now and then, I would sleep with it set with orange cans. I think I did this because I wanted a little flip. When the prom and homecoming came around, I'd go back to the beauty shop and have it done in what was known as Love Curls. Ok, we wore these for about three days. After that, the itching from all the hairspray took over. We had to take a half a bottle of cream rinse and pour it in our heads, let it soak and then all the tease would unravel. We'd have our hair back.
Oh, except on weekends. Every Saturday, we'd get up and wash our hair with Prell. I'm saying we because by then even though I was always unique, I was enjoying a big group of girlfriends. We'd wash and set our hair on these brush rollers, huge brush rollers. Then, we'd go off to the Kool King, order cokes and try to look cool. Some of us had these scarves we called babushka's to cover this head full of brush rollers. None of us had dates that night but we wanted to look as if we did. If we ever did really have a date, sometimes we made each other a French Twist and spit curls.
I graduated from high school in 1967 and after trade school went to work in a bank. I was in charge of making radio commercials. On one of them, I remember talking about opening accounts and getting a free wig. Naturally, I had each of the five style wigs we gave away and wore them proudly. My own beautiful hair tucked completely underneath wigs that looked as bad as my first perm to short frosted do's...until The Fall came along. I went off to one of my many careers in Atlanta wearing my Fall. I had hair longer than the Fall so looking back, I still wonder why I did that. I think I began wearing my hair in those little doughnut buns with chopsticks about this time. Oh, the pony tail was popular with me back then too.
Time marched on, I moved out to California to work and attend the University in Santa Barbara. And had another perm - this time, it was called a Spiral perm and one didn't take so I had two and that gave me a wonderful big headed frizzy look. I loved it. After it grew out, I had it cut Farah Fawcett style and began using henna. I used henna all through my college years and into my 30's. I loved this. It was a beautiful rich color called sparkling burgundy and smelled wonderful.
Then, I found a wonderful color rinse by Clariol. I had a blast with this because there was such a variety of colors. I believe that the color I used was called Bark Brown mixed with some sort of red. I'd actually have streaks bleached in the front of my hair! I didn't think much about my natural hair color until one summer back in Louisiana. My sister's hair had these gorgeous natural white streaks. I knew that hidden underneath all the colorants I used was at least one streak . Well, I went through the slow process of letting my hair color grow out and low and behold, my hair was beautiful. I have dark hair the same shade as when I wore braids and bangs but with a natural white streak in the front. Even though, I haven't dyed my hair in 3 years, I'm often accused of dying it. No, folks for a change, it's natural!
I'm quite thankful that my hair was so good-tempered, pliable, and could regenerate itself. The central song of the musical, Hair says it all:
"There ain't no words for the beauty
the splendor, the wonder of my
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair.
I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy
Ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining,
Flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka dotted,
Twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied."