L – LOTS of Hair

This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations. I first published a version of this post ten years ago.

Click to enlarge. From babyhood until today, my hair.

I was born with a head full of black hair that could be pulled up into a little top pony tail. It soon fell out leaving me practically bald with a bit of blond hair. It slowly grew in sandy and kinky like my father’s and grandfather’s rather than wavy/straight like my mother’s and grandmother’s.

From a letter written to her in-laws by my mother, March 18, 1947. I was six and a half months old:
Kris (with her 2 teeth) says any time for you all laughing at her bald head – I fear it’ll be covered all too soon with first one thing and then another.

When Pearl and I were little, my mother didn’t wash our hair often. Once every two weeks? Once a month? Not very often. She used Breck shampoo, put a little olive oil in the sink full of warm water and poured it over for the final rinse. After and between washings she’d part our hair and put “Three Flowers” grease on our scalp. I remember that sometimes, when I was in elementary school, she would roll it up on tissue curlers and let me wear it “down” for one day after she washed it. I enjoyed the change from braids but it wasn’t really “down”.

Aunt Abbie, my maternal great grandmother’s sister, lived with my grandparents. She assured my mother that is was all right that Pearl and I didn’t have “good” hair because we had blue eyes.  She assured my Aunt Mary V. it was okay her daughter’s didn’t have light hair or eyes because they had “good” hair. The sister’s shook their heads about it.

When I was in sixth grade, a classmate asked me during art class if I had ever had my hair straightened. I had not. She hadn’t either. Ironically, that afternoon after school, my sister and I went to the beauty shop on 12th street near Calvert recommended by Aunt Mary V. and had our hair straightened for the first time. We got pony tails in back and a pony tail down the side. Going to the beauty shop always gave me a headache. I remember listening to my beautician talking to the other women about how hot it was and how her husband was going to have to sleep on the couch because it was too hot to be all up in the bed with another hot, sweaty body.

Eventually I stopped going to the beauty shop, although my sister continued for years. There were the beauty shop headaches, plus I started taking swimming in junior high and high school. Those horrible bathing caps didn’t keep out the water and my hair soon took back it’s natural form.

My mother still straightened my hair for special occasions. She heated the comb on the stove and there were the inevitable burns on the ears. Other times I wore my hair in what a classmate described as a “shredded wheat biscuit”.  Sometimes I borrowed some of my father’s Murray’s Pomade and after brushing the stiff, yellowish stuff in, it did lay down and had small waves.

During the summers when I was about nine to thirteen, I spent a week at the mostly white Camp Talahi.  Some of the girl campers would ask me “Why is your hair like that?”.  At first I would say because that’s the way it grows.  Eventually I just responded with “Why is your hair like that?”  They would look puzzled.

My last semester of high school I didn’t take swimming and discovered that if I rolled my hair up on those hard, pink curlers I could wear it in a sort of curly side wave on the side and pull the back into a barrette for a low pony tail. Sometimes I even wore it down, somewhat like those hairdos in elementary school.  Once Pearl and I braided it all up into lots and lots of little braids, which reminded us of the paintings in Egyptian tombs. We thought it was great, and I would have been way ahead of the times, however my father hated it and I never wore it like that anywhere.

While visiting Pearl at Howard for Thanksgiving of 1966, I let one of her roommates straighten my hair. My mother complimented me and thought it looked lovely. When I went down to Wayne, I met Jim in the Montieth Center. He was aghast that I had straightened my hair. I went into the restroom and washed it out in the sink and that was the last time I straightened my hair. I was 20.

At one point in our lives, Pearl and I complained to each other that we had inherited our father’s kinky hair instead of our mother’s wavy hair. We reasoned that boys were supposed to get their mother’s hair so if he had gotten his mother’s wavy hair, we would have inherited that because girls (in our theory) inherited their father’s hair. Later, when natural hair came in we were so glad we had the hair we did. We didn’t have to do anything but wash and wear to have afros.

The next summer, 1967, we had the Detroit riot/rebellion. My cousins, Janis and Greta, came to visit us for the first time from Athens, TN.  They were the same age as Pearl and I. Somehow, it came up that I wanted to cut my hair for an afro. Greta volunteered to do it for me and she did. It was great! I loved it. The only scary part was going to my Grandmother Cleages for the first time afterwards. We were afraid she might say something negative or even mention it during mealtime prayers, but she didn’t. I was one of the first to wear an afro on Wayne’s campus.  That fall, in Miriam’s Jeffries student apartment, I cut several people’s hair for their first afros. I remember Kathy Gamble was sad to see her long hair fall on the floor.  I cut Martha Prescod’s and can’t remember who else. I hadn’t cut anybody’s hair before, although I cut my own when it got too long.

I wore an afro until about 1988 when I decided to let my hair grow out and see what happened. I let it grow until 2004 or so when I cut it all off again and kept it cut until 2014 when I decided to let it grow out. It was more trouble to trim it than it would be to grow it out and have it longer. Lately a lot comes out when I comb it. Luckily I started with a LOT of hair. What’s left grows faster and strangely straighter.

#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter L

21 thoughts on “L – LOTS of Hair

  1. Girls and their hair. So important! I had long dark straight hair. Cher hair, I called it. I loved it, but I had a cowlick that cause me great grief. I loved having a white streak, but now it is almost all white, and so much thinner than it was. I swore I would never be a blue-haired old lady like my mother, but I have used a rinse with color to make it look brighter. And I use a gloss rinse too. Ah, vanity. I love that you have all of the photos.

    1. I always liked my hair, even while doing whatever to it. Have not used any rinses. Decided conditioner just makes it dry and straighter. Quit using that.

  2. What a fantastic post! Acceptance of our hair and so much else about ourselves seems to come with age. My hair was also curly and I went through the same “long or short” “straighten or not” quandaries. In the end, letting my hair have its way made for the same easy wash and wear you experienced. There’s definitely more to life than worrying about “bad hair days.”

  3. So Awesome! That is an impressive hair history. You’re really been all over the spectrum, haven’t you? 🙂

    My son was born with a lot of hair, too, and it all fell out shortly after, except for a perfect mohawk across the top of his head. We had to keep telling people that we didn’t shave it that way.

    1. My youngest daughter was born with a receding hairline. So receding it looked like she was going bald. People would ask if we cut it like that. Luckily it grew in by the time she was one. People are really strange, thinking one would cut their baby’s hair in odd ways.

  4. No female is ever satisfied with her hair. Mine is as straight as a yard of pump water. My mother-in-law had curly hair which would never grow down, only out, my mother longed to go white when she was older, but only ever managed pepper and salt. My daughter-in-law has wonderful black hair and bemoans the fact that she can’t bleach it (or it goes orange)
    Be thankful you have a full head of hair – many don’t. My 26-year-old grandson is already going bald, while his (older) sisters have full heads of strong hair.
    You have to accept what you’re given (or despair)

    1. I’m very thankful for my hair and glad I’m not bald. However my sister, a granddaughter and a daughter all have their hair so short it sometimes is bald and they like that too.

  5. Even if a lot of your hair has been coming out lately, it is still much thicker and fuller than mine. I’m glad you’re growing it out–it looks terrific. Reading that you abandoned the avant-garde braids because your father hated them made me think of what girls will do for their father’s approval. When I saw how shocked and pained my father looked after my sister cut her hair short, I couldn’t bring myself to cut mine. I felt I was maintaining our Indian long hair. And oh, “good” hair and “bad” hair is like “good” and bad” skin tones–so glad that you and your sister had the self-confidence and family support to be able to deal with that kind of nonsense. Nonsense but hurtful nonsense. So many other girls continue to suffer for it.

    1. When we did the braids was before Afros and braids and all that “new stuff”. Then Afros came out and became popular and even later braids and cornrows caught on.There’s probably a timeline somewhere. I cut mine just after the Detroit Riot. Pearl cut hers probably a year later.

      And you’re right, so many continue to suffer about their hair, their skin tone.

  6. As others have said, our hair can drive us to distraction, love it or hate it. Mine was tick and slightly wavy for most of my life and I’m such a conservative hair person I rarely changed style or length. My friend used to call it wash and wear hair. Sadly, since losing it all, it has regrown much thinner with no waves. Sigh.

  7. Aunt Abbie was quite a diplomat! I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my hair practically my entire life. Maybe all women do? Mine went from slightly curly as a baby and preschooler to stick straight to wavy and then wavier and wavier. Naturally, it decided to get wavy during a time when everyone had stick straight hair. And now it’s gotten crazy curly but I am embracing it (although not always loving it).

  8. Oh my, the fear that the new hairstyle might get a mention in family prayers! That would be a scary thing to have menacing you. Glad that it didn’t happen.

    These are great pictures, and it is wonderful to see all the different ways you’ve worn your hair over the years.

    I let my hair grow out during the pandemic, until it was most of the way down my back and the only thing I ever did with it was to wear it in a tight bun at the top of my head, because everything else was too hard. I just got it cut a few weeks ago, for the first time in years, and I feel amazing. It is remarkable, how much happier I feel, now that my hair is manageable.

    1. I don’t really know why we were afraid that might happen. My grandmother never called us out at the table, much less during the blessing. I’m glad she didn’t break tradition then either.

      I mostly wear mine in a loose bun low on my head or pull it back in a clip. Glad you found what makes you happy with the hair.

  9. I’ve gone through so much with my hair. It’s pretty big deal, ain’t it? We may try and try not to make a fuss over what wants to grow out of our heads but the world does not allow for that. Since the pandemic, I’ve let it grow long. This is the longest I’ve ever had it and it only took 5 decades for me to allow it to happen. I always thought my hair was too thin and to wishy-washy to wear long. It changes for every different temperature and humidity level and my mom would often get sad and say I had “pasa” hair and it needed to be cut. She was wrong, though. It was full and it just needed more length to find its identity. It’s much thinner now than when I was younger but I still love the way it looks as it swings across my back.
    Your hair is so defined and thick, I could not imagine the experiences you had without you putting it into such a brilliant mix of words

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