Hair: Not Long, Not Beautiful

My hair was a constant source of difficulty when I was growing up.   A mixture of curls, waves and wiry frizz, it was entirely unmanageable. This was before the advent of the myriad of gels, creams, sprays and treatments that line a full aisle of CVS today, products that I take full advantage of now.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, fashion required girls to wear their hair long and stick straight, if they could. I was in a state of war with mine – and my unruly hair was winning.

Combing and/or brushing my hair after washing were a nightmare for me and my mother, and anyone who was within earshot. It was always a jumble of knots that made it unbelievably painful to brush out. I wonder if our neighbors considered calling child protective services – if that existed in the 1960s. I must have sounded like I was being tortured.

Nana entered the fray by offering to take me to her hairdresser. Nana would get her hair done every couple of weeks. She would come back from a session at the beauty parlor with her silver hair teased high, each hair sprayed into submission. Fortunately, that wasn’t what she had in mind for me, though that still might have been an improvement.

After getting Mom’s agreement, Zada drove Nana and me across Brooklyn to her beauty parlor. Neither Nana nor my mother drove, that job was left up to the men or public transportation. We arrived at the salon; Nana was greeted with enthusiastic hellos. The smell of hairspray hung in the air. Most of the other patrons were Nana’s age. I was invited to sit in a raised vinyl chair. I was nervous and excited.

A new style had come into fashion – a shag, which was a layered cut that allowed for curls. I watched the hairdresser cut and shape my hair. Turned out this cut worked for me! When it was done and I looked in the mirror, I smiled. Somehow the texture and wave of my hair worked with the cut. The other people in the beauty parlor commented on how good my hair looked – a new experience for me!

Zada picked us up and drove us back home. We were excited about showing everyone when we got back to the house. Nana walked in with me to see Mom’s reaction. Mom looked at me puzzled for a long minute, brow furrowed, and said, “I have to get used to it.” Her face said she didn’t like it. I burst into tears and ran to my bedroom. As I left I heard Nana say loudly, “Feige, you don’t know your ass from your elbow!”

I had never heard Nana use a curse word – ever. And, I had never heard her say a cross word to my mother. I also had never heard that expression – it conjured up an image that shocked my eleven-year old self. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry – so I did both.

After a minute or two, Mom knocked on my bedroom door. “Nana’s right, Linda,” she said as she sat down next to me on my bed, gently stroking my back. “The cut looks great. I’m sorry for reacting that way. I was just surprised.”

“Ok…but I can’t believe Nana said that!”

“Well, she was upset with me. Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the haircut.”

“You really think my hair looks okay?” I sniffled.

“I do. Go upstairs and let Nana know you’re feeling better.”

I did.

As I look back on that incident, and more generally growing up in that house with my parents, grandparents, uncles and brothers, it was more fraught than I understood at the time. There were undercurrents of resentment, disappointment and perhaps jealousy. I didn’t think about how it might have felt for my mother; that came much later. Fortunately, through those undercurrents, love shone through.

13 thoughts on “Hair: Not Long, Not Beautiful

  1. Linda,
    Your writing allows the reader to actually live life with you as an 11 year old. Your writing is superb!!. It makes me think just how perfect WE are as parents—-not……..

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  2. enjoy reading about your early life i am sorry that i didn’t or couldn’t do it as well as you i grew up with three sisters a year apart in age i was the baby nine years younger than the older had i recalled everytghing when i was around 50or60 now i really have forgotten much of the earlier years you are a wonderful writer keep up the good work.

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  3. Linda– ahhhh. So that was why there was screaming coming from your room. ….It may be just a tad bit belated…but let me now say….your haircut was indeed excellent.

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  4. Linda, you might not believe this but as soon as I read the headline of this story, I KNEW you were going to describe your shag-do. I loved your haircut so much that I begged my mother to take me to the beauty parlor (wow, is that dated, or what? I have to resist the urge to call it the beauty parlor, now referring to it as the salon) and get the same cut. My hair was thick and frizzy too, but one length. I should have gone to your operator (stylist!) but my mother took me to the hairdresser in the Bayview shopping center. My hair has never been the same since. I’ve been wearing it the same way since I’m eleven years old! I think my hair grows in reverse; one day they’ll discover long tresses have been growing beneath the scalp. Thanks again for the memories, kiddo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Cindy, I’m so happy your are reading my stories! I love your comments. I can’t believe you remember my shag! So validating (if that’s a verb). More memories to come…I wish I had the cassette of our faux newscasts. I laugh thinking about it.

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  5. Let me tell you about hair my dear sister…. I had the best fro in the Brooklyn or anywhere else for that matter. Yeah I remember you screaming, didn’t really bother me. Seems like there was always aloud racket going on in the house in those days. Who knew any different? And Nana cursing, that’s a revelation. I never heard a foul word from her mouth……

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  6. Grandma used to brush my hair no matter how much I cried. I may be one of the few, if not only, who share that experience with you! Lucky us and Lucky for me, I eventually discovered that brushing my hair while wet eliminated the pain 😉

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