I chose Mr. Pierre’s Beauty Salon on one of my weekend trips to the toy store with my dad. It came with a plastic woman’s head and golden hair sprouting from her scalp. When you cut her hair you could pull more out of her skull and cut some more. My first cut left her with “bad hair”. So did the others, but I didn’t care because the experience was thrilling. How many six-year olds got to put scissors to hair?
It was one of the few times that hair-styling was fun. My mom was vexed by my bad hair which was bone-straight and thin. She made a hobby out of improving it. She dug huge velvet bows into my head. They perched like missiles between my side part and obstructed my peripheral vision. I didn’t have enough hair to anchor the bows safely so she used Dippity Do as a concrete base.
In second grade my mom went too far and gave me a Toni Home Perm. While my scalp was burning from the solution, she pulled my hair like taffy to get it on the plastic rollers. The last step delivered the biggest shock, fastening the plastic roller with rubber anchors. Imagine tying your pony tail to a door and standing there while someone shut it. I couldn’t help wiggling and whining with each stretch of the rubber fastener. “Aow!”, “It hurts!”, “I’m telling dad!”, “Can I have a puppy now?” – fake crying. The result was a huge bonnet of tight brown curls not suited to a pale, freckle-splattered, skinny Irish child. My family name was Annie because we had two Maureens, and my uncle Tommy used to tell me I was adopted, so my nickname became Little Orphan Annie. Hilarious.
We went to my grandparent’s house in Westchester most weekends. On Monday mornings, my grandfather drove my mom and me into Manhattan where I spilled onto the sidewalk in my patent leather Mary Janes and lurched toward the entrance of the Convent of the Sacred Heart for girls. I wobbled as I walked with a heavy Mark Cross briefcase and a gangster-style white rabbit’s fur coat. It hung to my ankles and had padded shoulders and wide lapels. With my new helmet of curls, you could stamp the words “freak” in gold leaf on my $200 briefcase and be 100% correct. Only one of my classmates openly teased me. Mother Ranney probably pulled them aside and reminded everyone that they were daughters of Christ and required to be kind and keep their opinions to themselves in matters of appearance.
My daughter Emma endured a few bows in preschool. I cut her hair until she was five, just like mine was at that age, China doll style with straight bangs just above her worried brows and the rest cropped below her velvety ear lobes. Emma was born with lots of good hair. It is thick and shiny with a bit of a wave. Lucky for her. Who knows what I might have done to that head if it needed a correction. While I heeded nearly all the lessons our nuns taught us, they couldn’t erase my mom’s influence in matters of appearance. I still pick lint off the back of Emma’s sweaters, even while she is walking. Ever patient and indulgent, she pretends not to notice.