Upon seeing a faded photo of her heretofore unknown about half-sister, Mary Karr writes in her memoir, The Liars’ Club, “She had a tight little Afro, and this was long before Angela Davis made that hairdo mean something. In fact, it was the age of the Toni Home Permanent, a kind of chemical skull-burn enacted on girl children all through the late fifties and early sixties. In our area, the perm solution was so strong that they rigged matchboxes over your ears with rubber bands and cotton wool to keep the drippings from blistering your ears slap off.”
I laughed out loud when I read this slight exaggeration about Toni Home Permanents, but they did stink to high heaven. Actually, they were enacted on little girls from the late forties. I had naturally curly hair. My sister, two years older, did not. Mama cut off my curls after this photo was taken (natural Shirley Temple curls), then proceeded to give us both perms, mine generally turning my hair the texture of a Brillo pad.
Mom gave me the last perm my freshman year of high school. I still remember my embarrassment. No more. I started cutting my own hair. Curly hair doesn’t show haircut mistakes like straight hair does, at least I didn’t see any.
Not too many years later, long straight hair became the fashion so I started ironing my then long wavy hair to my dad’s and step mother’s dismay. “Your beautiful curls,” they would lament.
Ah, memories… Have any childhood “hair-ror” stories you’d care to share?