A Good Hair Day

When Your Hair Won’t Do

Mr. Pierre’s Beauty Salon was one of my favorite toys. The centerpiece was a plastic head of a woman topped with thick gold hair. Your were supposed to style her locks, but I chopped them. My first cut left the red-lipped lady ragged. So did the others, but I didn’t care because you could begin again by pulling strands from her scalp. Her hair grew! While I loved my baby doll that peed and the little bottles of milk that emptied when you tipped them to your baby doll’s mouth, nothing compared with sneaking the kitchen scissors, while your dad was sleeping, and chopping away at that perfect head.

It was one of the few times that hair-styling was fun. My mom was vexed by my bad hair. It was brown, bone-straight, fine and thin. She made a hobby out of improving it. She put huge velvet bows, attached to metal clamps, into my head early on. I can still feel the dig. The bows perched like missiles between my side part and ears, obstructing 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. After work one evening, she sat me on a green velvet stool in the living room, told me to sit still, and went to town. With my scalp still burning from the solution, she pulled my hair like taffy to fix it on the pink plastic rollers. The last step, fastening the hair on the roller with hard rubber anchors, delivered the biggest shock. Imagine tying your pony tail to a door and standing still while someone shuts it.

I couldn’t help wiggling and whining with each stretch of the rubber band. “Aow!”, “AAoow!” “It hurts!”, followed by fake crying. The Ta Da was a big, unnatural bonnet of tight brown curls not suited to a pale, freckle-faced, skinny little kid. My family name was Annie because we had two Maureen Annes. With the Toni Home Perm, my nickname became Little Orphan Annie. Hilarious.

With my mom and my aunt Mimi and my new perm

On my first day of school with my new hairdo, I spilled out of the school bus onto the sidewalk and lurched toward the side entrance of the Convent of the Sacred Heart for girls. I wobbled as I walked with a Mark Cross briefcase and a white rabbit’s fur coat. That was a long day. I thank God for the nuns who ran defense, offering select kind words and stern, eyeball warnings to classmates who might be inclined to comment.

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 brows, and the rest cropped just below her tiny 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.

P.S. Imani Shabbazz, an intern at Catherine’s Table, took this photo while I repeatedly asked, “How does my hair look?” followed by “You need to focus on the hair.”