A Trip (without tripping) Down Memory Lane: HOME PERMS
Last week, in one of my ventures outside – (quick trip to pick up medication at Walgreen’s drive through) I saw a neighbor cutting her son’s hair. They were outside on their driveway. She had him sitting on a stool with a towel around his neck. She was using a clipper to cut the back and sides of his hair. A younger sister was standing close, carefully watching. It was a Norman Rockwell image.
And that image brought back many memories. I recalled my stepmother giving my 3 brothers their summer cuts. Crew cuts. That is what they called the hairstyle, although uneven patches and some close-to-bald spots were more like it. But without any drama, my brothers would go play with their friends who had equally bad haircuts. If someone made a negative remark, the boys would simply wrestle and then forget about it. Usually, in a month, most of the hair had returned.
The girls were not to be left out from this homemade beauty salon. Our next-door neighbor and my stepmother decided that the “girls” – my stepsister and I and the neighbor’s two daughters – should have home perms. I was decidedly against it until I saw the picture of a young beautiful girl on the front of the TONI box. Unlike me, she did not have glasses or braces, and her hair looked decidedly better than mine. Just for a short time, I had hope. Being the youngest of the four females, I was selected to go first. At the time, I didn’t understand the concept of “guinea pig.” So, I dutifully handed the small white pieces of tissue paper to be used with the pink rollers. I covered my eyes and tried not to breathe when the toxic solution was squeezed onto my head.
And then I waited. I do not remember the exact amount of time for processing, but it seemed like an eternity. And since I had gone first, (not able to compare any results with the 3 older girls), I had only positive expectations. I bent over the kitchen sink to have my hair rinsed as the rollers and papers came out. They shampooed my TENDER scalp. There were many ringlets I had never seen before when I looked in the mirror. My hair didn’t look anything like the picture on the box, but I was told, I had to dry my hair for the full effect. I pulled on the bonnet connected to the portable hair dryer. I still remember the burning sensation. In fact, I begged them to remove the bonnet much earlier than the time suggested. They did. Before I could look in the mirror, the expressions of horror on the faces of my stepsister and neighbors said it all. Unfortunately, two more were already getting the perm solution squirted on their heads. Like an efficient assembly line, the torture was being performed.
The frizzy mess that I saw was what I still consider, one more “permanent” scar from my childhood. Perhaps, I’m being a little dramatic at this later stage in life, but at the time, all I could think was - braces, glasses, and bride of Frankenstein hair - it was the trifecta of bad karma. I cried and didn’t want to come out of my shared bedroom. “It’s not that bad,” is never a comforting comment. And, to make matters worse, when my stepsister came into our shared space, her hair looked far better than mine. She gave me that look – the one she reserved for feeling superior and knowing she was much more attractive.
That experience wasn’t the last bad hair experience I’ve had in 7 decades, but I honestly can say, I never had another home perm.
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