My Father at 19, with hair.
At about eight years old I heard the word... "Nappy". Irma said: "you got the nappiest hair for a white girl. I think some of my people musta mix up with the massa." From that day on- my quest began.
I was looking for that long and silky straight hair. Peggy Lipton had the straight blonde shoulder length hair. The kind that has a wide brush stroke of highlight. I wanted long, straight and shiny hair. Run your fingers through it, turn my head and it swirls through the air. I wanted to be the Breck Girl, Lady Clairol, and Lady Godiva.
It started long before I would be sent home from school for wearing corn rows. Long before cream rinse had been invented. My mother pasted my short curls to my head. There are a few baby pictures of my curls. But for as long as I can remember she was trying to "relax" it. She gave up and pulled it as tight as she could into a pony tail.
I hated having my hair washed. Afterword, the painful comb out using a tiny toothed black comb. This certainly is a form of torture that is under used. I'd beg my Mom at breakfast to leave the rubber band in and I'd smooth down the fuzz around my face. One day I took matters into my own hands. I took the kitchen shears and cut off my pony tail at the rubber band. Yes, the green or red rubber band that came wrapped around the newspaper every morning. I was sent to my room "until it grows back." That seemed like it might be an eternity even if it only lasted for one night. But I was liberated!!!
When my Mom would do the comb out, I would hear the same litany. "You got your hair from your Father's side of the family. You were a bald baby cause it was hard for this kinky coarse hair to poke through your scalp. Get over your tender scalp. Some day you will be grown up and have your own hair dresser to manage this." "Comb your hair!" She'd say when she picked my up from school. Was she crazy? The last thing I wanted to do was run a comb through this dry kinked up blonde mess. She spoke to me as if I had a deformity of some kind.
As I got older I tried ironing it with a clothes irons, on the ironing board. I had Irma bring me a jar of "relaxer"(sodium hydroxide). Put that stuff on, and burned the living daylights out of my scalp. I spent most of high school and college with a pony tail on top of my head, and a large empty frozen orange juice can with my hair wrapped around it. I left it in until the last second before I met my public. My father would say: "How many stations you get on that thing?" :-)
Mom and Dad back in the Day!
Mom and Dad back in the Day!
1982 a "good hair" day
Occasionally I had my Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin natural woman moments. But they always felt bad. I'd catch myself with some strange shaped shredded wheat looking stuff on my head. Recently I let it be curly for a few weeks. I'd get that glimpse in the mirror and gasp. It's not my best look.
Turns out Irma was a little bit right. A genealogy search found me to be about 1.5% black. And not from my Father's side. I guess I knew it all a long. Don't be fooled by the blonde hair and blue eyes. My black friends called me "the dropper." That cracks me up.
My Aunt with her French Bob 1920ish
Bob always says: "I never had good hair." He's talking about himself. In the days of having hair, it was brown and curly...not much different than my father's look at that age. Things really haven't changed over the years. Look at the models in today's magazines, they all have straight long shiny hair. The same stuff I coveted in my youth, 30's, 40's, and now in my 50's. I have a flat iron today...that does the trick. Don't think I haven't thought of getting a weave. But my budget won't allow me to buy that kind of ticket that needs maintenance and upkeep. I like water far too much to get a weave. Living in the dry Southwest has helped greatly.
When my daughter was about 3, my Mother took ownership of her hair: "thank God she has hair like me." And breathed a sigh of relief. Below is a silhouette my mom had made of me at 12. She asked the artist to "smooth out' my hair.
I saw Chris Rock's "Good Hair" special and it brought it all home again. I recommend this HBO special to all with nappy hair like mine.
So I wonder: will today be a "good hair" day? We'll see.
Thanks for reading. I'm amazed that you do.
PS. Those who read this post know "N" is for "Nappy."