A Little Story About The Obsessions of Hair and A Teenage Girl’s Worst Nightmare
From the time we are born into this world … a big deal, actually it’s more like … a humongous deal ... is made about those glorious tresses on our heads, known as hair. Or, as in the case of many newborns, including mine, the lack of such a crowning blessing. The babe is not even a day old when his ancestors ponder and discuss and try to determine what family member the infant inherited his or her hair from. We debate about the color, the texture, the thickness, the curliness or the straightness of those locks. As both of my boys were pretty much hairless when they were born, I knew right away they must have gotten it from my father-in-law, since the head that sat on top of his shoulders was quite shiny with baldness.
Massive empires are built by developing and manufacturing all those forever changing products, guaranteed to do anything one could ever need for that mane known as the crowning effect. Also, let us not forget about the fortunes made by advertising these products that are used to; thicken, curl, straighten, relax, shine, de-tangle, repair, regrow and of course clean your hair.
Movies and plays have been written and produced about our wonderful hair and all the hoopla surrounding it. Dealing with everything from where and when we get it styled, so we can keep up with the gossip, to the products we use on it. One such play was even called “Hair” which is really not about hair at all (but that’s another story to do some other time).
So, what about all those hairstyles? I know everyone has had a chuckle or two when looking through that box of old photos in the closet. Or, what about those high school yearbooks and old fashion magazines? All of these are great places to spend a little time and have a few good laughs. After all, laughter is good for the soul.
More than once there were Biblical references made about hair also. Samson had been set apart to God and part of the vow was to never cut his hair. Through a crafty plan, Delilah discovered this was his strength and power. While he slept she shaved off the seven braids of his hair and he was captured … Judges 16. There’s a big lesson in that story which we won’t get into at this time.
Strange ... but ...True !
The story I’m about to share has never been put on paper before now. It may seem strange something like this could actually happen to any girl, but I swear what you are about to read is true.
Now, if hair is mentioned in the Bible and has been used to depict status, wealth, occupation. and a mass of other things since time’s been recorded, it must be an Important thing. Right? You betcha!
And when I was 17 years old, back in 1967, hair was a really big part of my life … and every other girl … then and now. This story begins a couple of years earlier …
During this time in our country it was not hip to have curly hair. Straight hair or hair all teased up with a "bubble flip" were favorites and the rage for teenage girls. On special occasions the "beehive" was most popular. Unfortunately, I was born with curls. My Daddy passed them down to me. At the time I would have been a much happier teenager had I gotten Mother’s very straight hair genes. I dreamed for and would have died for straight hair. Because of my curls, which by the way for years I have considered myself blessed to have, I spent hour upon hour and an array of products and gadgets to get rid of them.
Keep in mind, all you young ones out there, this was before hand held blow dryers and flat irons. That’s right, like cell phones and hand held computers, those kinds of wonderful inventions were still on the drawing boards.
So, I used huge three inch diameter rollers to relax and smooth the stuff and believe me you certainly can’t sleep in those things either. What an alien look that was! My younger brothers would laugh and make fun of me and Daddy never understood why all the drama about my hair. With Mother’s help we even attempted ironing the curls out. Many a hair brush was sacrificed, when out of frustration, I would hurl it through the air to the other side of the room. My much younger sister became quite good at ducking these flying objects or she would just stay out of the room, whenever I was causing such drama about my hair.
Finally, one day, Mother came home with a solution to my predicament. It was a miracle in a box! Much like a home perm solution, only you didn’t use the curlers, you just combed the curls for a while and then rinsed it out. It was good for a couple of months. Oh, what a celebration we had! Finally, I would stop breaking all those brushes! Both of my parents rejoiced for the drama subsided for a little while and there was peace in my bedroom.
I Started Life As A Curly Blond
Blonds On A Budget
Then during the summer of 1967 between my junior and senior high school years I had a brilliant idea. I wanted my hair to be blonder. It was not however, in my meager allowance budget, to have it done by a pro and the parents would not spring for this luxury. So I took it upon myself to bleach it … with peroxide … right from the medicine cabinet! I had devised the perfect and budget friendly resolution, to be a blond when the new school year began. I was after all … a Senior … and impressions are the most important thing one needs on that first day of school. Everyone knows that!
Well, school gets underway and within a couple of weeks, the unruliness of the curls starts to return. That was just not acceptable! I make a bargain with Mother to do some extra chores for a box of the magic solution.
The Drama Really Begins!
Then, the night of unimaginable torment begins.
With Mother as my assistant, we follow the instructions, waiting with confidence. to have straighter hair when we finished the procedure. It had worked before, right? That is, BEFORE the summer and the self bleaching process.
Neither of us knew much about chemistry and had not an inkling what was about to happen. The Bleach, the Straightener solution, the Water … three simple ingredients … the results … a teenager and her mother gone mad! Or that’s what everyone else in the house thought.
As I was on my knees, next to the bathtub, with my head under the running water, I heard Mother gasp. Trying hard to remain calm, she said to me, “Patricia, something is wrong”. I put my hands on my head but the wet stuff in my hands did not feel like hair. As we continued to run the water to rinse out the solution, thinking, once it’s rinsed out, it would be alright, Mother’s eyes and both our hands witness a metamorphosis. A transmutation was happening. What was hair, was now more like eerie, plastic, stringy stuff. And, worse than what it was becoming was the fact it was coming out …by handfuls.
They're Coming To Take Her Away !
As it is said by many people, when things go berserk, and by Daddy that night, with his hands in the air …”All hell’s broke loose!” This was a very strong statement for him to make because he was usually very mild mannered and soft spoken.
I was screaming and crying, wishing I was dead in a hole somewhere. Swearing on everything holy I would never go to school or be seen in public again … as long as I lived! Mother was running around trying to calm me down and at the same time trying to come up with some idea about what to do. My brothers and sister were barred from witnessing this ghastly thing and banished to the living room. I’m sure they thought their older sister would soon be taken away by men in white jackets and they would only see me on visiting days.
Well, it was decided this stuff on my head, that used to be long, thick hair would have to be all cut off. Mother explained to Daddy, we were going across the road to our neighbors house, to do take care of this emergency. When we got to her house, her husband joined Daddy and my siblings to wait out this metamorphosis. Our living room had become a surgery waiting room in a hospital, on that fateful September night in 1967.
My Mother, Dad Brothers & Sister and Me Before the Hair Tragedy
The Hair Is Gone !
The world I knew would never be the same again.
Mother and our neighbor, Betty, attempt to calm me down enough so it would be safe to use a sharp object on my head. It seems the only thing I could do was sob and sob some more. I probably shed ten pounds that night in tears. Somehow the two of them managed to get it all cut off. There was about a three quarter inch of my natural root color that had grown out since the bleaching. So, I had the shortest hair I had ever had since I was born.
The ghastly feat was finally over! The so called hair, lay all over the floor, like a lifeless creature from outer space.
The Drama Worsens !
But, the story does not end there. It became even more melodramatic … if you can imagine such a thing. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, just how much can a teenage girl stand?
To my horrible surprise, my boyfriend had decided to stop by for a little impromptu visit. Daddy told him some crazy stuff was going on and where we were. So, he marches over and heads in the house. Betty and Mother spot him first and I see the shocked look on their faces and wonder what is wrong now. About that time my beau says, quite innocently, “Hello yall.” I scream out of control, throw the towel over my head and race out the door, back to the solace and privacy of my bedroom. Things are explained to him and he decides, with Mother’s help, that it would be best if he left for now.
Some how, some way, at some point, after I’m totally exhausted from the most nightmarish time of my life, I finally fall off to sleep. When I woke up the next morning and felt all my hair was gone, I realized it was not a bad dream and it was indeed … very real. My hair was gone ... and I was going to be a high school dropout! What else could I do?
Reality sets in and the situation is dealt with. Mother was a “take charge” kind of woman so we leave as soon as we can to find a wig of some kind. There was a hair fashion fad at the time, known as a “Fall”. It was long hair attached to a comb that attached to the front of the scalp area. Some of my friends even wore them sometimes. At the store, the lady in the wig department thought my hair cut was a new trendy style, much like the English model, Twiggy! I still don't know if she was just being nice because she felt so sorry for me or if she was for real with that comment. In any case it sort of broke the ice and she made a sale that day and probably shared my experience with many of her customers and friends.
Somehow I did manage to go back to school. My drama certainly gave everyone in school something new to talk about for a little while. For a long time I would not be seen, outside of home, without the fall on. My Senior pictures and then seven months later, my Graduation pictures were made, wearing the fall. When my hair got to about an inch long I finally stopped wearing it all the time. It took a long time to regrow my hair to a longer style.
1968 My Graduation Pic Wearing A Fall
Sacrificial Lessons Learned
Through it all, everyone learned some important lessons. My siblings learned, their sister really wasn't crazy. My boyfriend learned, to always call first. Mother and Daddy learned to be better parents in high stressful times and I’m sure they hoped their younger daughter would never attempt such a crazy thing.
Some of my lessons were: to never use coloring products on my hair; to not expect an excused absence for a hair tragedy; that hair grows very slowly, but it does grow eventually; to trust my Mother because she could handle anything life threw at her and I wanted to be just like her.
An Epilogue to this story:
My Grandpa always thought his oldest granddaughter, me, had beautiful hair and he often voiced his opinion of that fact. One of the last things he said to me, after hugging me good-bye on a Sunday afternoon visit in early September 1967, and running his fingers through my long hair, was something about how pretty my hair was. Grandpa passed away, very unexpectantly a few days later. He never saw or knew about me losing my hair. As much as I miss him, I am thankful he never did see me like that. I think he would have had a difficult time ... holding back the tears.