Move Over, Medusa, We Got Ya’ Beat!

First Grade School Picture

First Grade School Pictur

To curly-haired people Mother might have seemed mild-mannered enough, but beneath her calm exterior she nursed a sadistic streak, committing home permanents with malice aforethought, ignoring her helpless daughters’ protests that “I like my hair this way.” and “nobody but old ladies has THAT kind of hair.” squashing arguments with a terrifying directive, “Don’t dispute my word.”  “Disputing my word” assured swift and terrible punishment, followed by a furious lecture about how great we had it and ending tearfully with, “and I would have given anything to have a permanent wave like Margaret Lucille, but I had to wear my hair chopped off straight around.”  Had I met Margaret Lucille, the author of my misery, I would have gladly pulled out every permanently-waved hair on her despicable head.  I hated her than Mother.

Around July 4th every summer, Mother would casually start to dangle the threat that she had to give us a permanent before school started.  We’d protest vainly against her response that “She wasn’t going to look at that long, stringy hair all year.”

A procrastinator, Mother didn’t get to the evil deed right away.  Just before Labor Day, when the humiliation of last year’s perm had grown out enough to be approaching normalcy, Mother would stretch her budget to include a home permanent for each of us.  I longed for cyanide when she dragged out those hateful pink and white “Lilt” boxes.  After a long night of dreading the inevitable, Mother got us up early to clean the house so she could start the long perming process.  I’d mope over to borrow the pink curlers from Miss Joyce, hoping to be hit by a truck.  When I got back home, defeated, I surrendered to my frizzy fate.  Mother seated me on a kitchen chair and cut my hair, using her time-honored secret for a perfect hairdo.  I don’t know where she got the idea her haircuts were perfect, but I’d have been happy if I could have kept them secret!  Maybe a bag over my head for the next six months?  She methodically divided my luscious locks (my description, not hers)into sections, started at the bottom, and held up about fifty hairs at a time, measured them against a mark she’d made on a rat-tail comb, and cut.  My my mood became increasingly glum as she measured and cut, measured and cut.

After an interminable period, I was beaten down enough for the next step.  Mother opened the home permanent kit and mixed the deadly chemicals, assaulting the senses with the sulfurous scent of rotten eggs and a healthy touch of essence of pee.  Dividing what remained of my hair into tiny sections, wetting it with putrid permanent solution, she wrapped it in papers, and wound it as tight as possible on the hard pink plastic curlers.  If my eyes weren’t popping out enough, she’d rewind.  Once this misery was accomplished, she sent me on to enjoy the rest of the day, anticipating the frizzy mess I could expect tomorrow, and got to work on my sister’s hair.  I tried to stay out of sight to avoid being ridiculed by the neighbor kids.

After trouble and expense of inflicting a perm on us, Mother made us leave the hard plastic curlers in overnight, fearing an early release might let the curl “fall out.” I’d have sooner slept on pine cones. My fine hair was no match for the perm solution, and I was never fortunate enough for my curl to “fall out.”  I was glad to get the curlers out the next morning, but dreaded the reveal of the “fried, frizzy, old lady hairdo.”  I was never disappointed.  Mother took the perm curlers out and we all looked like Brillo Pads.

When we complained about how horrible it looked, Mother assured us it would be fine after we rolled it.  That just postponed the disaster.  When the brush rollers and hair pens came out at the end of the day, it was always even worse than I remembered from the year before.  I wanted to die.  Mother always tried to cheer us up by saying, “The frizz will wear off in about a week.”  When we weren’t cheered by that, she offered the cold comfort, “Well, it will always grow back,”

What kind of monster would do the same thing to her kids ever year, just so they could listen them bawl when they told them it would grow back?  When she tired of our bellyaching, she’d work herself into a self-righteous frenzy of pity when we refused to be grateful for the torture she’d inflicted on us just to ensure we’d be social outcasts for another year. We always went back to school with a frizzy mess, looking we’d escaped from an insane granny cult.  The fact that my sisters shared my fate did nothing to cheer me.  I didn’t want to look like that bunch of freaks.

50 thoughts on “Move Over, Medusa, We Got Ya’ Beat!

  1. I’m exhausted from laughing…and my son is annoyed because he can’t hear his video game above it.

    My sisters and I had perms as well (mine became an afro at age 13 – not exactly a good age for tampering with self-esteem!!).

    However, the picture you show is really, really cute.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, gosh, so funny.
    My mum would get the hairdresser to cut our fringes so short we’d instantly run upstairs in tears, trying to pull them down. Then in my teens she convinced me that a perm would be a good idea. It wasn’t. A perm is surely never a good idea.


  3. Oh my. I can so relate to this. 1950s. Every three months, because my fine, rather think hair wouldn’t hold a perm! Bee-hive rubber spool curlers every night. Terrible. I finally rebelled in high school. Told my mother to cut my hair short and leave it. No perm. She didn’t like it, but she did it. Free at last! And it looked pretty good, too! Your description of the putrid noxious smells is pitch perfect! Thanks so much for this trip down memory lane.


  4. OMG, this is really funny. Your mother even did a perm on you and your sisters deliberately. I had a perm for many years from 1984 to about 1994. And I was healed after that. But I never had curls like you described it. My hair was kind of anti-perm conditioned. But I killed it anyway…


  5. Dare I say I think you look gorgeous in the photo? Do you believe it’s possible for the perm to fall out if not sufficiently “cooked”? It is. I’ve been back to the hairdresser more than once when a perm fell out within a week. Can’t remember the last time I had one but the 1970s were a great time for perms if you weren’t “naturally blessed”. 🙂


  6. I guess perms or curls are a rite of passage for girls (and boys). My mom loved my brothers’ curly hair so much, she just let theirs grow so they ended up looking a little girly. My naturally curly red hair was up in curlers EVERY night. Yes, my middle name was Ann (as in Orphan Annie). Yay! It was great reading your post!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My mother did the same thing to me. My hair looked like a pyramid. With the pastel cat-eyish glasses, I was a fright. That decade seemed to be heavily influenced by advertising that tried to convince women that they weren’t good enough wives and mothers if they weren’t buying whatever product was being hawked, so I’m thinking they were shamed into believing that everyone HAD to have a perm.


    • Either that or they were maniacal, sadists with no shame of be seen in public with fried-headed kids. My mother was the latter. I’m only 64. It will take at least another hundred years to forgive her.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mercy.
    I suffer from naturally curly frizzy hairs, so I cannot imagine INDUCING it, lol — I have one child with the nice lie-down hair, and she got that from her father — we’re all disgusted/jealous with her and she’s the same with us. No matter the reason, people are never fully satisfied with their hair!
    My mother has several school photos, round the same years as yours, where her thin hair has been turned into curls identical to the one above. So I guess you weren’t alone in your suffering!


  9. That’s funny. The day after school let out in my small town, every boy in town lined up outside the barber shop. It was like a military induction as we all got our summer crew cut. One of my friend’s fathers insisted his son got a mohawk. We were all jealous when our dad’s wouldn’t let us.


  10. Josh Wrenn says:

    “The fact that my sisters shared my fate did nothing to cheer me. I didn’t want to look like that bunch of freaks.” That might be your best line yet!


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