Monday, June 15, 2009

Living the Lye

I used to be so happy when “hair” day would come around. This would be the day that the “men folk” would go away from the house and leave us to the task of relaxing our hair. Oh yeah, and it had to be done. My mom was a teacher and she had to keep up her appearance, and well, I was he daughter, I couldn’t be going out embarrassing her. My mom and I would gather our “supplies” and head off for the kitchen to take turns relaxing each other’s hair. It was important that we kept our hair looking good, I mean, that’s what ladies did, right?

Well, my mom got that thinking from her mother. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, used to be a beautician back in the day. From what I hear, she was all that. She still had trophies in her house when I would come to visit her as a child. Sometimes, when we went to Baltimore to visit her, she would treat me to a wash, press, and curl. I used to love for my grandmother to do my hair. I would be in her kitchen for hours while she took her time and was careful not to give me the burns my mother was famous for. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ears and kitchen burns…..yeah those. (I know you flinched at the thought of them. You know what I’m talking about.) I never remember ever having a burn when my grandmother did my hair.

Oh, but the best part was the curling. She was using the beveled curling irons back in the mid 1980’s. She would do these crowkinaw (not sure of the spelling on this one) curls – which were my favorite. These curls were so versatile. I could wear my hair curled under, or flipped up. If I wanted I could coil them around my finger for Shirley Temple curls. My grandmother could work those curling irons like nobody’s business. I still haven’t seen anybody work it like her. All I remember is the clinking of the metal tapping as it hypnotized my hair into a curly submission.

Once done, my hair was shiny and curly and it would last for at least a month or so. I mean even the Alabama humidity was no match for my grandmother’s skills. She laid down a hard press and my hair had to obey. I remember visiting her when I was in the 8th grade during the Christmas break. She did my hair for me. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and show off my new ‘do. It rained a lot and my curls held up through all of it. Imagine my excitement when I could stay outside under the carport and not have to worry about the humidity from the rain destroying my hairstyles. While other girls were running into the school, I was able to stand outside under the metal covering near my homeroom and chat it up.

When hair day came my mom would do my hair and then I would do her hair. Yeah I was a teen-ager relaxing my mom’s hair. I was good at it too. I would be getting it bone str8! She loved it and I loved doing it. Until…I was in the 12th grade and my mom switched relaxers. I still remember, she changed to TCB. I put the relaxer on like I usually did – started in the back. But when I went to rinse her hair, it was rinsing right down the drain!!! I couldn’t believe it. My other’s long beautiful hair was washing away! So many things ran through my mind: “What happened?” “She’s going to kill me!” “I didn’t do anything different this time. Did I?” “How can I tell her that her hair is gone?” Oh my gosh! My mom’s APL hair is gone in the back! I remember her rubbing the back of her head feeling no hair. I had to leave for Army boot camp shortly afterwards and while I was gone, she ended up cutting her hair off – but we were both still going to use relaxers. (To even type this seems insane.)

Even when I went off to college, I tried to cover my napps w/ grease and water. I remember slicking my hair back in the bathroom of my dorm so that no one would know I needed a perm. I remember the little waves I saw and how I almost gave up relaxing then. I wasn’t ready. It was 1990 and the pressure of being new in college and trying to fit a certain stereotype was important to me. I mean, I was able to pull it off for a long time, so why stop relaxing now?

When I was relaxing, I hated to see those nappy edges growing in. Why? Because that was like the curse of all things - to let someone - anyone see "them nappy edges" as my mother would so bluntly put it. In my household, that was the equivalent of your dress flying up only to realize you had on no underwear - you would be exposed! People would know that my hair wasn't that "good hair" or naturally straight. Well, who the heck thought it was "good hair" or naturally straight anyway? I never told anyone that it was. (No, I just pretended that straight flowing hair grew naturally from my scalp.)

It was considered to be embarrassing if your new growth was showing. That was something that had to be “fixed”. My mother had conditioned me to think that my natural hair was something that should not be seen by anyone out of our household. She often reminded me that my hair was “as nappy as a sheep’s ass”, and if you have ever seen a sheep’s ass, that’s not something that you want to walk around looking like – not even as an adult.

So fast forward about 18 years. LOL Imagine my mom’s face when I come to my aunt’s funeral sporting a TWA! Yeah, I was nervous to go home and face everyone after BCing. After all, I was always the one with all of the long hair. Hey, but I am a grown woman, right? Yep. Well, when am I nervous as hell? Because I was still worried about what other folks would say about me. All this time, I’m thinking, “Girl, suck it up and put these folks in their place about your hair!” And you know what? That’s exactly what I did. It was tough, but I did it, and that was the beginning of the confidence.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your story :)
    You've come a long way sis :)