From as early as I can remember, my hair has been an important part of me. Perhaps because Mother and June, my older sister, had very pretty hair and June spent most of her time on her hair as she got ready for work each morning. Like me she had long black hair, down to her shoulders. I don’t mean dark brown hair, but I mean dark black hair the color of a raven’s wing, that black that shines in the sun.
|We get our black hair from our mother|
Mother let my hair grow long and she braided it into two pigtails that hung down past my skinny shoulders. Gay’s hair was naturally curly until she became ill with whooping cough around the age of three. Then the curl fell out of her fine hair. As a child she had a simple haircut, what I think of as the Pilgrim look, the same length all around and bangs cut straight across. I am sure mother cut her hair the easiest way possible.
|June had beautiful black hair|
When I was in first grade at Mulberry Elementary School, Mother and June thought it a good idea to take me to a beauty shop in the home of a lady near the school. I think it was June’s idea to take mother for a Permanent Wave. June worked and had some money to spend on such. I don’t know why they put me through this torture. Maybe it was because curly hair was desirable and mine was far from curly. The owner of the shop rolled my hair with a foul smelling liquid on it. Then she hooked each roller to a cord that ran to a machine on a stand. The rollers heated up I believe and cooked that awful smelling concoction into my long hair.
Mother used to say my hair was like a horses’ tail, coarse and thick. When finally the rollers were taken out, my head looked like it had been wrapped in a mass of tight curls. The beautician tried to run a brush through those curls, but it tangled, stuck and would not go through. She held my head and struggled with her brush, pulling my hair until I cried. Mother could not stand by and see me cry so she paid the lady and took me home.
June was there and she began to try doing something with the mass on my head. She thought a comb would work better than a brush, but the comb would not penetrate my new hairdo either. I hated my hair and felt ashamed of how I looked.
Each morning was sheer torture as June tried to make me presentable before I ran out to the school bus. As soon as I heard the bus horn, I escaped from June’s clutches, and tore out the door, my face wet from crying.
Looking back, I think I might have been the first white person with an Afro hairdo. My head looked twice as big as it was and it looked way too large for my tiny face. June and Mother constantly discussed what should be done with my hair. Even I knew I could not continue going day after day without my hair being combed. One day Mother took me back to the beauty shop and told the owner that she needed to do something about my hair. In spite of my objections, she cut about three inches off, shampooed my hair and when it was dried, she brushed and combed it into a more reasonable style. Mother said I was too tender-headed to have curly hair and in time the Permanent Wave grew out and left me with straight hair again.
My brothers, who were in their late teens, spent hours in front of mirrors putting on hair tonic, Brill Cream and arranging their hair. They sang together in a gospel quartet and learned from the concerts they attended, that the men who performed on the gospel stages had taken considerable time with their hair styles.
My brothers looked as comfortable on the stage as the Statesmen Quartet. Ray had blue eyes and short, black and rather thin hair but it was neatly in place. Max had black hair, carefully oiled and combed. Rex, the blond one in the family, wore his hair long in front and combed to the side. Hal, the lead singer of the quartet, took pride in his good looks and never a hair was out of place on his head. They were quite handsome and the women loved them.
We can hardly describe anyone without mentioning their hair. My tall, thin father wet his head and combed his thinning dark hair straight back from his forehead, wearing it the same as when he was a boy, I imagine. He seemed to not care a whit what his hair looked like nor did he want to do anything unusual with it.When he was outside he always wore a hat.
|My hair was as black as my poodle, Brandy, when I was first married.|
Over the years, I have loved my hair and I have loathed it. Permanents that went wrong, haircuts too short, and some terrible hair styles. In the seventies, wigs became fashionable again. My sisters-in-law, Yvonne and Salita, bought wigs far different from their natural hair color. I wondered why at the time. But they looked good as blonds, and they say blonds have more fun. I tried to wear one, but it was hot and never stayed in place.
I once tried to change my hair color when I was in my thirties. However, the color I had hoped for was not the color I saw in the mirror. I had not wanted red hair. I didn’t look bad, but it was not me. The pictures of me at that time look like photos of a stranger.
When, a few years ago, the gray in my hair began to outnumber the black, I turned to coloring my hair again. The dark brown low-lights covered much of the white. I had a salt and pepper look. Salt and pepper just gives a hint of age to a woman.
|Ten years ago, June in the chair, Glenda on the left and Gay on the right. I was more salt and pepper then.|
Today, my hair is white, but I have a few strands of blond thrown in to keep the color from being too flat. I don't like looking old, and I hate that people automatically think you are senile or feeble when you have gray hair. People definitely do treat you differently when your hair changes from dark to light. I can vouch for that.
I like my haircut and the compliments I get on my hair, but when I look at myself in the mirror, it startles me. Who is that woman? Where did my shiny black hair go? Inside, I am still that girl with the dark hair, only smarter and more confident, and, in many ways, much happier.