Hair, Not the Musical
I have old hair. In fact, my hair got old before I did.
Some people have bad hair days, but I’ve had a bad hair life. I was born with fine, limp, straight, plain brown hair, with a cowlick in the front. [Well, it was blonde for the first few years of my life, but that didn’t last long.] It grows fast and will not be ignored. It has always dictated to me what it wanted to do. In pristine western Oregon where I was raised, in the days before portable hair dryers, you didn’t give a lot of thought to your hair. The water was naturally soft runoff from Mt. Hood, and the climate was temperate. Whenever I washed my hair, I would comb it in place, maybe put a few curlers on the ends, and either sit by an open window to let the sun and breeze dry it, or in front of the roaring fireplace. When my hair was dry, I brushed it, and that was that—not a lot of fuss.
When I got into high school curls were more socially important, and the fuss quotient increased. I knew by then that I was fighting nature. Through high school I usually wore it collar length, no bangs, often in a French twist or a ponytail. My sister, who has naturally curly hair, wore hers short, did it up in pin curls, and had what was then described as a tossed salad hairdo, right in style. I was so jealous.
Until I went away to school in Utah, I had never used hand lotion or hair conditioner. The water is hard and the climate is dry in Utah, and I didn’t know what to do. The first time I washed my hair and didn’t use conditioner, I looked like someone who had never fixed her own hair before. It was embarrassing, and I still have the yearbook picture to prove it. Editors used your student ID picture for the yearbook in those days, for freshmen anyway. Lacking the natural drying elements I used at home—sun and fire—I got one of those portable hair dryers with a plastic cap that fit over my curlers so I didn’t have to go out in the cold with wet hair.
During college I experimented a lot with hairdos. Some were pretty extreme, and observers might have assumed I was a rebel, but the truth was, I was just trying to make peace with my hair.
Over the years I have not managed my hair as much as it has managed me; sometimes all I could do was give in to its whims. I tried coloring it a few times when I was in my early 20’s, but that turned out to be a treadmill I didn’t want to stay on.
When we lived on Guam, the tropical climate and the Hair With A Mind of Its Own conspired together to undo me again. This time, curl was impossible because of the damp air. I had collar length hair when I arrive, and when I washed it the next morning, there was a power outage that took out my portable hair dryer. The following week I went to a salon where my hair was coifed and sprayed within an inch of its life. “That’ll show you,” I thought as I inspected the finished product. I strode triumphantly out into the weather again looking fabulous, for about ten minutes. Again the hair had the last laugh. By the time I got home about 20 minutes later it was a sticky, back-combed, shapeless mess. Not long after that, I surrendered to a very short wash-and-wear hairdo known in those days as a pixie cut. I have worn it fairly short ever since, though not always that boyishly short.
To maintain some semblance of order, I have to get my hair cut every six or seven weeks. It laughs demonically at curling irons, so permanents have been my only hope for an alternative to that look you see in cartoons when someone has touched a live electrical wire. With a perm every three months to give me a little height, and some softness around my angular face, things have gone along pretty well for quite a few years.
After my children were born, when I was in my late 20’s and mid-30’s, my hair turned a much darker shade of brown. Shortly after my son was born it began to turn gray, which has nothing to do with the fact that he was a boy and also my last child and I wasn’t that far from 40. Actually, my hair has a kind of mink effect, with gray ends and dark roots. People think it costs me a lot of money to keep that up, but I just smile when they suggest such a thing. I’m way too lazy for that.
At that rate, my hair was almost completely gray by the time I was 60, and is well on its way to white. White hair is beautiful, as is gray, but it is also curl-resistant, no matter what my hairdresser has tried. For a while I surrendered and let my hair do what it wants. I let it grow and pinned it up on top of my head, like a matronly silver halo hovering over me, suggesting to my grandchildren something otherworldly and mysterious. That didn’t last long, and I fear I am doomed to an old age hairstyle that could easily make me a George Washington look-alike.
Now I am giving some consideration to hats.