Not the musical, but just hair in general. It’s strange how certain everyday actions bring back a wealth of memories. Every time I towel-dry my hair after a shower I recall my mother undertaking that same thing for me when I was little. Sometimes performing that simple task is very comforting but there are times when it brings such an overwhelming sense of loss that it brings me to tears.
When I was a very young child I had a cute little curl on the top of my head but somewhere along the line it straightened out. In fact, you couldn’t have had straighter hair if you’d tried. It’s funny how we’re never satisfied with what we’ve got. Some people pay a fortune to get their hair straightened while others long for natural curls.
It didn’t help matters when my mother, God bless her, insisted on trimming my bangs, short and right across the entire width of my forehead, which prompted my grandfather to sing this little ditty to me.
“When I was a baby, not so long ago,
On me little topknot, ‘air began to grow.
Mother took a basin and put it on me ‘ead.
Cut me little locks off and turned to me and said……
(Chorus) Oh you do look funny with yer ‘air cut short.
Shake that rattle what yer father bought.
Call in the neighbors living down our court,
‘Cos you do look funny with yer ‘air cut short.”
I think it might have been an old-time cockney music-hall song. I’ve tried Googling it but didn’t have any luck.
My grandfather’s own ‘hairy’ experience came just after he returned from the horrors of WWI in France and Belgium. Like most other servicemen at that time, he became infested with lice whilst in the trenches and, when he got home, my grandmother had to shave his head completely bald. Until then his hair had been as straight as mine is now, but when it grew back out it was thick and wavy. Both his parents had wavy hair so maybe it was a family trait that was just waiting for the right opportunity to show itself. (I’ve never had the nerve to try it for myself.)
Mum was a great fan of ‘the perm’ and because she didn’t have money to spare to go gadding off to the hairdressers, my Dad gallantly took on the job, starting early on a Sunday morning, dabbing and curling as the pungent smell of perming solution filled our little two-room flat in London. It was always one of the things that surprised me about him. He didn’t have a lot of patience with most things, including me, but he was willing to fiddle about with pins and potions in order to help Mum feel like a movie star (Not such a stretch of the imagination when I recall that she was once mistaken for actress Jessie Matthews by a director while dining at a restaurant near Elstree Studios.)
Naturally, I ended up with a perm or two of my own, thanks to Mum’s ministrations. I was probably about eight years old when I got the first one and when my teacher looked at our class photo and asked, with uncontrollable laughter, “Is this girl in our class? I don’t recognize her.” I knew the results had not been all that I could have hoped for.
During my teen years, while other girls were proudly strutting about with beehive and bouffant hairdos, I was desperately back-brushing and coaxing my baby-fine hair without success. Since then I have gone from long hair to crew cuts and back again.
Before my parents came to live in the US, my father used to have his hair cut by an Italian barber who visited our house periodically. But when they arrived in American he more or less handed me a pair of clippers and said, “You can do just as good a job.” I was absolutely terrified of making a mistake but luckily most of my hairdressing errors were made at the back where they weren’t easily visible, at least not to my father. I don’t think he minded, really. He didn’t want to pay someone else to cut his hair and since I could do little wrong in his eyes, I was the natural choice.
When our three girls came along, I submitted to having my hair curled and crimped by budding beauticians (I seem to recall having to cut my way out of a disastrous entanglement with a hairbrush) and one of them did eventually go on to become a very successful stylist at a fancy salon in downtown Chicago. Whenever she visited home, there would always be a queue of family members waiting to get a haircut from someone who had styled hair for fashion models and had been featured in magazines and on TV.
We even visited her at the salon, something I, for one, could probably never have afforded without the good old family discount.
These days, I rarely see the inside of a salon. I’m going grey but refuse to dye my hair. I know I’m growing old and so does everyone who knows me, so why bother to hide it. For now, I’ve decided to grow it again. It was never exactly my ‘crowning glory’ but for some reason I feel like it’s the way it was meant to be.