Two Hair Stories: my grandma the beautician and lice in the school library (Part 1)

I remember my grandma Mary Jean floating in her neighbors’ pool, stretching her legs out, and saying, “Don’t I have pretty feet? I think I have pretty feet. Aren’t they pretty?” She was always so proud of her feet and it was a feature she took care of and felt good about on her body. I’d hear that same line many times. Sometimes it would follow something she’d say that she maybe didn’t like so much about herself, but I remember her following it up with… “But I do have pretty feet!” As a little girl, I remember this teaching me to love something about myself that much. For me, it’s pretty much always been my naturally blonde, curly hair.

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My Grandma, swimming with her feet up, floating like she loved.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of physical things about myself growing up that I’d rather not have dealt with or continue to deal with: acne, sensitive skin and eczema to name a few. Oh, and I had a big space between my two front teeth until about fourth grade. I hated getting teased about having “buck teeth” as they were called. I’m sure I’ll touch more on that and other times I was bullied for things out of my control as we go along here. But generally, I’ve really liked my hair most of my life. I hope I model to my grandkids someday this kind of attitude my grandma had, a healthy way to express self love and self care no matter how we’re made.

One of her dreams was to rent a houseboat and go floating down the Mississippi river. The picture below is of her on a day trip we took inner tubing down the Wisconsin river as kids. Aren’t her shoes cute!

Grandma tubing down the Wisconsin River
Grandma tubing down the Wisconsin River

The inspiration for my nostalgic stories in this post and those to follow in my Hair Stories series come from a few pieces I came across recently. I may skip around a bit in the sequence, but I’ll try to keep them as chronological as possible so it’s easier to follow. So here it goes:

I’ve always had blonde hair. When I was a little girl it was dang near almost white it was so blonde, as you can see in the pictures above. It started out more straight, but over the years got curlier. It’s always been fairly thin, or “fine” as my grandma would say. She was a trained hairstylist, “beautician” she used to say. Back then they used to call it “beauty school.” But she mainly only cut my grandpa’s hair, and even his long eyebrows. My sisters and I used to laugh about that, he didn’t find it so funny. But she’d cut my hair once in a while too. In later years I remember thinking how much she loved playing with hair and would have loved having her own chair somewhere. She love, love, loved to talk too, so I’m sure she would have found socializing with clients just a hoot! Here’s a picture of her hair cutting scissors I inherited. They’re one of the inspirations for many of my nostalgic hair stories.

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My grandma’s hair cutting scissors

When I hold these hair cutting scissors I imagine her chatting away and twirling a curl of my hair around her fingers. She’d be tucking it behind my ear and then pulling it back front again over my cheek, and fluffing it. She’d say something like: “I’ve always liked a more natural, soft look around the face, like this. Isn’t that pretty?” She’d be looking back and forth in the mirror across from us and at me sitting still next to her. I’d nod a little and smile because I knew it made her so happy to play with hair.

I still have dreams about the upstairs bathroom she had in her house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where we’d spend hours playing hair salon as little girls.

coach house second bath

 

Okay, moving on. So I also found my sister’s and my homemade rainbow barrette from the 1980s. It’s my inspiration for the next nostalgic story about my hair.

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My sister’s and my barrette

I’m the youngest of three girls. My mom used to have us each sit on the bar stools at our kitchen counter to get our hair done in the morning before school. We’d each wait our turn for her to brush and style our hair. Sometimes pigtails or a braid, and if it was our turn… we’d get to wear this rainbow barrette!

I’m five years younger than my oldest sister who wants to be referred to as “Thing One” in this post, “like in the Dr. Seuss books” she said. My sister Sarah is only two years older than me and we shared a room for most of our young life. We were all about in elementary school at the time we all wanted to wear this. I remember our school making crafts like this each year that we’d sell in the gym for a fundraiser. Most of the time it was something like an ornament. This looks like it was probably made by a student and bought by us. Either way, its bright colors, lace detail and matching colored beads at each end made it so special to us. It’s only missing one red bead today.

Now the sharing of the very special rainbow barrette was going pretty well, until… WE ALL GOT LICE! I’m feeling itchy just typing this.

Yup. So we had this log cabin right in the middle of my elementary school’s library. This was the time of card catalogs folks. Remember those? No internet or google yet. The log cabin had a bunch of large pillows kids could snuggle up with and read a book next to. What little kid wouldn’t wanna cozy up, right? Well, one of us must have picked up some lice from in that library nook and spread it to each other one by one.

I remember my mom freaking out! The kitchen stools now became delousing central. One by one we each had to have our scalps picked through with a little comb and checked for lice eggs and then properly treated with some super smelly stuff. Super gross. After that, my mom had a strict no sharing brushes, combs, hats or hair ties with anyone, including each other. Sadly, I think this is where our rainbow barrette sharing days might have ended too. Somehow I snuck it into my possession for the past few decades. It’s so cheerful, and makes me happy when I hold it.

This is the nostalgic story I think of when I see this rainbow barrette.

I leave you with a picture of my sisters and I around this time. Oh, and my grandma the beautician did our hair.

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What about you? Do you have a hair story that comes to mind from your childhood? I’d love to hear it below in the comments. I’ve got more hair stories to come. Check back soon, and thanks so much for reading!

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