If I added all the hours spent on taming, maintaining, and cussing my hair, it would equal well over a third of a century. In the 70s, I wore it parted down the middle, pulled back by a clip on each side, and grown down to my posterior. On many Saturday nights, Mom would comb out my tangled tresses, and roll them up in pink sponge curlers while we watched The Carol Burnett Show. Comedy was the perfect diversion for my pain and her monotony.
In the summer, I often sprayed it with Sun In to get “natural” highlighting. Doc, my brother, would say, “Quit spraying that stuff on your hair. It was pretty like it was.” It didn’t occur to me for many years how extraordinary it was to get that kind of compliment from an older brother. The same brother who would say, “Awww, someone gave you a black eye,” when I wore heavy blue and purple eye shadow. Other times he would add, “Oh, there’s a hair out of place,” as he held his hand an inch above my head, threatening to touch my locks. I would duck, then walk away quickly to avoid his infraction.
As I grew, so did my vanity. The meaning of life was hair. But I came by my obsession honestly. Dad, whose hair turned from coal black to snow white by the time he was 45, was worse than I. When I attempted to touch his head, he’d protest, “Don’t, Honey” as he swerved out of the way of my fingers. The peacock was quite proud of his top feathers, and women were quite attracted to them. He primped longer than I before going out.
The 80s brought perms, curling irons, and professional highlights. Thinking that perhaps blondes do have more fun, I tried on a short blonde wig in a department store one day. The result was visual proof that God knew what He was doing when he made me a brunette.
When Flash and I got married in the mid-90s, I left the world of perms and color. But not long after Cowboy was born, I decided to try highlights again. Some of my friends did their own coloring, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I went to a beauty supply store and selected a dye color that looked like my natural blonde streaks the sun brings every summer. It would be beautiful, and Flash would be impressed by all the money I was saving.
I drove home, ready to transform my appearance and my life. The instructions said to use a wide-tooth comb. I found one in my bathroom drawer that looked wider than the others around the house. When the dye came out of the tube, it looked purple, which had me a little concerned, but I took a deep breath and combed in the color in sections. I set the timer for 30 minutes, as directed.
While I was waiting, Mom dropped by. I explained my purple head.
“How long have you had that color on?” She looked concerned.
“It said to leave it on for 30 minutes. It’s been 20.”
“You might want to check it; it looks pretty light.” I didn’t know how she could tell, since it looked purple, but I decided to rinse a little early.
As I glanced in the mirror, my mouth dropped open. Apparently, “wide-tooth comb” was an important instrument for highlighting; mine had teeth much too close together. There were no blonde highlights; all of my hair was colored. But not blonde like Marilyn Monroe. No, I was the only woman in America whose hair matched Winnie the Pooh’s fur.
Immediately, I phoned my hairdresser, while praying she was available. When she answered on the second ring, I breathlessly explained, “Noni, I have a hair emergency! Can you help me?”
“What have you done?” Since I didn’t have a history of self-coloring, I’m not sure how she knew I had ruined my own hair. Maybe it was my history of between-appointment trimmings I had performed. Thanks to my Angel in a Smock, I was a brunette again by the time Flash got home from work; he was disappointed he’d missed the A. A. Milne version of his bride.
Again, my hair took a sabbatical from artificial coloring for several years.
Then, the grays multiplied overnight. War was declared between the Brown and the Gray, and enemy troops quickly infiltrated areas beyond The Part; silver strands made their way down to my shoulders. Once again, my Miracle Worker hairdresser saved the day in an all-out offensive by the Brunette Brigade.
Flash had a few colorful years, too. He walked into the living room one evening looking like a stranger to me.
“What did you do?!”
“I colored my goatee. Does it look good?”
“You look like the bad guy in Robin Hood (Alan Rickman). Kind of evil,” I answered as I shuddered.
“No I don’t,” the Scary Man replied. “Do you think they’ll notice at work?”
“You were Santa Claus before, and now you’re the Sheriff of Nottingham. I think they’ll notice.”
When he came home the following evening, I asked how his coworkers reacted.
“All I heard all day was, ‘Did you get a haircut or something?’”
Now Flash has returned to au naturel; he looks kind again.
In the midst of all the coloring, my hair went through a personality change; waves became curls. It’s been a lengthy adjustment period. And with more curl came more frizz.
There are days when I do housework - two of them per calendar year - and the sweatier I get, the bigger my hair gets. Last week, I went into the closet to clean; I entered with a few loose ringlets and came out looking like Annie. The sun may come out tomorrow, but my head won’t be able to fit through the door to go bask in it.
My heartfelt sympathy goes out to my friend Lylas. Growing up, she wrestled her curls daily. Living in a house with three other teenagers, I don’t know how she negotiated enough bathroom-mirror time to straighten her hair with a curling iron. Maybe she took on their chores to get their time slots. Many days, I watched her taming of the “do.” Poor thing. She could’ve used a Chi back then and, I’m sure, would’ve traded her most prized possession for one.
But I refuse to straighten. You don’t see enough curls these days, and I like the volume they bring. And the variety - every morning brings a new bed-head coiffure for Flash to gaze upon.
“Have you been baking cookies?”
I was still groggy and had no idea why he thought I’d be doing anything that strenuous, not to mention rare, at 5:45 a.m.
He burst out laughing, staring at the top of my head.
I went to the mirror and saw before me Keebler-elf hair, with the big curl on top.
How ironic that the Bald-Spotted Man laughs at me. I’ve made helpful suggestions about remedies he could try to bring his hair back. I want it back more than he does. I married Serpico and may end up with Kojak.
But my hair continues to expand. In spite of the frizz factor, I blow it dry with my head upside-down, to make it fluffier. I wear only button-down shirts because my hair won’t fit through neck holes anymore. And I switched to a minivan for more head room. Like diamonds, hair can never be too big.
I’ve come to terms with my hair. On mornings when the hair sculpture formed from the night before can’t be fixed with hair spray, I put my hair up. Just last week, a young woman asked where I got my gold sparkly banana clip. “In the 80s,” I said, “and they don’t make them like this anymore.”
“No, they don’t,” she said sadly as her covetous eyes watched my ponytail walk away.
The curls are here to stay. Life’s too short to change what God’s given me. With a little added brunette, and mousse, and blow drying, and hair spray, I’ll continue on with my natural look.