Starting the 10th grade with newly bobbed hair was never the intention. On the contrary, Mother and I intended that my sophomore year would commence with my stick-straight, baby-soft, fairly longish hair transformed via gentle home perm (administered by Mother) into flowing golden locks.
Gentle waves that helped curl stay put was what we envisioned – a Sister Goldenhair effect, if you will.
The Breck girl look was what we were thinking.
What I got was more suicide blonde.
That’s because we forgot to factor in the summer of ’69, with its mass quantities of Sun-In applied at the Indian Hills pool.
I was born a cotton-top and the Marilyn Monroe platinum lasted a few years before giving way to a golden ash blonde, which gradually – as does most non-Nordic blonde – turned to medium ash brown with blonde streaks.
Mother’s rules against mixing adolescence with hair color prevented me from becoming a Summer Blonde, but we bought right in to the “works with the sun to lighten your hair naturally” promises offered by the makers of Sun-In, so at 13, I’d applied it liberally.
My hair took on that tell-tale orangey-blonde cast so many of us shared in those days. I’d have done better to stick with lemon juice, which, though harsh, would always strip the brown out to a consistent platinum-to-white shade. Orange has never been a good color for me.
The second summer, sans Sun-In, the “naturally” lightened part, which was well below my chin by then, continued to bleach out, giving me a Laura TuTone effect.
I don’t remember if the perm was a Lilt or Toni – maybe it was an Ogilvie – but I do remember the day we applied it. Pam was there to watch and for moral support. Our kitchen was the scene of the accident.
It started off well enough, stinky, as perms always were, but quick, and the three of us talked and laughed during the curling and application. Then we waited for the curl to set.
Mother rinsed off as much stink as possible, with me leaning over the kitchen sink; we patted the hair-wrapped curlers with a towel to soak up as much water as possible, then she began the unfurling of the hair.
I remember the weight of the curlers as they rolled downward and the sudden release as they dropped off. Some things stay with you forever.
My hair, unfortunately, didn’t.
As the first curler dropped to the floor, Mother gasped loudly behind me. Pam’s eyes and mouth opened into large round O’s, like Dancing Bear on Captain Kangaroo.
The curlers fell with such emphasis because several inches of my hair was still wrapped around each one. The hair below the Sun-In divide was no longer attached.
Mother began to cry and Pam was speechless, but for some reason the whole thing struck me as hysterically funny.
“It’s OK, it’s just hair,” I kept reassuring my mother. “It’ll grow.”
Pam joined in the hilarity after the initial shock (and after she saw I wasn’t upset about it). We laughed while Mother sniffled and picked up the mess.
All it took was a good trim with the scissors, and I had a nice little pageboy or flip, depending on my mood. By October, I shortened it a little more and liked it a lot.
But I never touched Sun-In again.