Have you noticed how short people want to be tall, brown-eyed people want blue eyes, city dwellers want to live in the country and curly haired people want straight hair? It seems that everybody wants what the other person has.
I have poker straight hair and that is just the way I like it, but I did not always feel this way about it. I was jealous of my friends’ soft curls.
Many of my straight-haired friends used to set their hair in curlers every night. I remember two popular types of curlers. First, there were the multi-coloured sponge kind that one wrapped the hair around and clipped closed.
Then there were the prickly hairbrush ones that had a separate scalp-piercing pin to hold them in place. It felt like sleeping on a porcupine pillow, not that I have ever slept on or with one.
Wearing curlers or rollers to school was a big no-no. Once in a while, a student would disregard the rules and come to school with their head wrapped in a scarf to conceal the curlers. This usually happened when there was a special event on Friday night. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
I confess that I still don’t understand why it was such an egregious violation of etiquette. Was it akin to going to school in your underwear? I asked my daughter about this and she agreed wholeheartedly that it is not okay to go out in public, well maybe to Wally-world, with curlers in your hair. She compared it to standing on the sidewalk brushing your teeth. What is wrong with that? I guess it’s my Irish fishmonger roots coming out in me. Maybe I should change my name to Molly Malone and push my wheel-barrow through the streets of Bobcaygeon crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
In my early teens, I wanted curly hair. A hair salon perm was very expensive. The popular home perm of the day was the “Toni.” Mom bought the kit and a friend’s mother attempted to perm my hair. Hours later the process ended, but where were all the curls? Ummmmm, there weren’t any. It just made my fine, straight hair very poofy.
That experience took care of my desire for curly hair for many years. It was time to embrace my God-given straight hair. I kept cutting it shorter and shorter until I nearly had none. Then I let it grow long, but the tangles were out of this world. I settled on a happy medium, neither short nor long.
Then along came the 1980s and “the perm” made a resurgence. In no time at all, I succumbed to the “I want curly hair” trap. This time, it wasn’t a Toni Home Perm in someone’s kitchen. Rather, it was in a fancy, highfalutin hair salon. The stylist took a small strip of hair, wrapped the ends in thin paper and rolled it up with a perm rod. Once every bit of hair had been rolled up, he took a strip of fuzzy cotton and tucked it around my hairline to prevent the solution from burning my skin. Alas, the price of beauty.
Then the waiting began. Every few minutes, the stylist would unroll one of the rods to check on the waviness of my hair. Then he rolled it back up again and waited on another client. This went on for a very long time because my straight hair refused to curl. After checking numerous times and consulting with other stylists he removed the rods and rinsed the stinky, sinus-clearing solution out of my hair. Woohoot! I had curly hair.
I thought I was the hottest brunette in all of Peterborough with my expensive perm. I left the salon with instructions not to wash my hair for three days. Sadly, my curls were short-lived. In fewer than three weeks my hair was straight again. I marched back to the salon and had the whole process repeated. It’s a wonder the solution left me with any hair at all.
One year, when my perm was just right, we spent Christmas in Nova Scotia. I thought it looked very stylish. The curls were neither too tight nor too loose. In the words of that great philosopher Goldilocks, “They were just right.”
A fellow from the community who fished with my Dad stopped by for a visit.
“Melda,” he said, “Nice hairdo.”
I gushed about it and thanked him for the compliment. And then, he ruined it all in his next comment.
“Yeah, you look just like that rock singer Alice Cooper.”
What had he been drinking? Shaving Lotion?
I had several perms with varying results throughout the 1980s. I was teaching at Rhema Christian School in Peterborough when I had my final perm. My hair was rather long and I envisioned soft flowing curls. Who was I fooling? Curls in my stubborn hair? The results fell far below my expectations, but I was too embarrassed to throw a tantrum.
I think the school photographer summed it up best when he looked me straight in the eye and said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek,
“Melda, I don’t know if I can fit your hair in the picture.”
As of today, I have straight hair. But you just never know, I could relapse and begin a new search for the elusive perfect perm. You may walk past me on the street and not even realize it. Later you may think you saw someone who reminded you of me, but with one big difference — the person had the wrong hair. Think again, it could be me. I might look something like this.
I think my days of wine and roses perms and curls are well behind me. Curly hair isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask my son, Jeremy. He has a head full of curls which he certainly did not inherit from his mother. As far as I know chemically curled hair is not hereditary.