“Say it…Say it…Angel.” The mono toned robotic voice of my Speak & Spell learning toy repeated. “Angel,” I said in the backseat of my Aunt Kay’s and Uncle Len’s mini van as we rolled down the highway heading south. It was August, 1992. I was ten. Our two families were driving all the way to Alabama from Wisconsin for my cousin’s wedding in Gulf Shores. A soft polka music with the familiar accordion sound played in the background, a signature favorite of my uncle’s. We’re part Polish on that side of the family.
“Spell Angel…A-N-G-E-L…Angel,” it asked me as I held on to it in my lap across my seatbelt. “Angel…A-N-G-L-E. Angel,” I said as I typed it in. “That’s incorrect…Say it…Say it…”
“Annie!” my auntie Kay yelled back at me over the polka music as I tried again. Realizing I got the “E” and “L” backwards I re-entered my answer. “That’s correct! Say it… Say it…” and I was on to the next word.
My Aunt still reminds me to this day how she will never forget me using this toy during that road trip and the annoying “Say it…Say it…” repeating from the seat behind her.
While looking for a picture to match a hair story coming up, I came across this picture below of me holding my Speak & Spell, which prompted the story above. I’m probably six or seven, so a few years before our Alabama road trip. I’m also wearing my Little Orphan Annie pajamas. I’ll have to save a story connected with that related to my birth name for anther time.
I must have been really determined to learn how to spell better. It was my turn to ride with my aunt and uncle for a few hours. My oldest sister Jen and cousin Melissa, Mel for short, were in my parents’ station wagon behind us. They were watching Top Gun for probably the third or fourth time, which mom said I was too young to watch. This had to have been one of the first mobile TVs and VHS player hook ups around. We were so cutting edge! I wish I had a picture of that. I chose to practice spelling instead of doing a Mad Libs with my sister Sarah, or playing something like I spy out the window like we’d often do to pass the time in the car.
I have another hair story about my particular hairstyle in the picture above. It will be the next in my hair story series I’m writing. But since I’m holding my Speak & Spell so proudly, I just have to take another short detour.
In the first grade I learned how to “spell” using what they explained to both me and my parents, probably at a parent teacher conference, as a “pilot method” they were trying out. I must have heard the word “pilot” and perked my ears up since I wanted to be a pilot growing up like my uncle Len. That’s how I’m guessing I remembered the word. If I had to let someone know if it worked, I’d say…NOPE! It was all based on sounding out words with one main sound, not super helpful for the English language since not everything is spelled like it sounds, and many letters have more than one sound.
“h..h..happy horse….” said my first grade teacher Mrs. Mueller as she held up a card of the letter “H” that looked like a horse.
Next she held up a card and said “i..i.. idy indian.” A picture of the letter “I” shaped like a person standing was on the card in front of me. It was a sad example of how Native Americans were being used like an object. Seriously? So politically incorrect and hurtful that I now look back on it and realize that seemed acceptable in those days. Clearly it’s not, but that’s what I remember. Terrible, and it sure didn’t work for me.
I never got out of any of my classroom spelling bees either, and I distinctly remember having to sit down on the word: “fingernails” in fourth grade. All I can say is thank goodness for spellcheck nowadays. Spelling is just not a strength of mine.
Okay, the pit stop is over. I’m back on course. Now the next few hair stories in my hair stories series are inspired by my favorite yellow 1980s pick. I’ve had it since I was at least twelve, probably sooner since it was made in 1989. Remember when people used to wear them in their hair to school?
Unlike my other nostalgic inspirations that tend to sit behind a glass curio cabinet door, my yellow hair pick lives in my bathroom drawer. I still use it everyday. But when I look at it and ask myself why I’ve kept it all these years I can honestly say it’s really pretty simple. It’s my favorite color, yellow, and it still works great for my curly hair. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as they say. Why get rid of it?
I mentioned in my last post, I generally have loved my hair over the years, but that doesn’t mean everything has always been peachy keen all the time in this area.
My hair pick, like a reliable friend, has seen me through some bad hair days too. I’d like to share three. So, here we go:
Dad takes me to get a haircut
I remember only bits and pieces of the day my dad took me to get a haircut. I was about six or seven I’d say, about 1988 or 1989. The first thing I remember is the lady asking my dad what he wanted done. The second, him scratching his mustache, mumbling something like, “Oh, I don’t know, what do you think?” Lastly, the lady saying the words “feathered a bit on the sides?” The rest is a blur, until I remember exactly where I was when I saw the looks on my two older sisters’ faces when they saw my new feathered haircut.
It was a mullet!
We were standing in our basement’s back room, the unfinished portion my dad used as a workshop. I was standing under the long string that was attached to an exposed light bulb above me. I could just reach it. I didn’t really know what to think of my new haircut until I saw the look of pity and sympathy on my sisters’ faces. I smiled cautiously back at them and told my sisters “Dad took me to get a haircut today.” I might have just as well reached up and pulled that string down to turn out the lights. I gathered from their reactions, “feathered a bit on the sides” was not what we wanted.
I don’t remember not liking it myself. I always just looked up to my sisters and wanted to be like them, or maybe it was more like have them be proud of me. But I don’t recall my dad ever taking me to get my haircut again either.
Here’s a side view of my “feathered a bit” hairstyle while dancing ballet at Virginia Davis School of Dance in Madison, Wisconsin. I always loved those leg warmers! They reminded me of Rainbow Bright or Pippi Longstocking.
Round hair brushes are not for twirling hair around like a curling iron.
Like I said, I’ve always looked up to both of my sisters. I used to watch my oldest sister Jen get ready to go out. She was five years older, so she had her own room. It had peach carpet, a vanity with mirror and chair to sit at, super girly. My sister Sarah, who’s two years older than me, shared a room with me across the hall. Our room had dark navy blue carpet and a bold red curtain.
We each had a drawer in our bathroom for putting our hair things in. Since I was the youngest, I had the bottom drawer.
My room had a window facing the backyard. The red curtain on it looked like a ship sail. The previous owner had a boy that used the room and we had left it as is. I loved to pull the curtain up and down all by myself while kneeling on my bed. It definitely wasn’t a girly room, but we didn’t mind. We’d pretend the blue carpet was the ocean and throw each others stuffed animals across to one another from our beds like we were on islands. I always slept next to the window whatever arrangement we’d come up with for our twin beds in the room. Sarah loved to rearrange furniture and so we had tried many arrangements over the years.
Since we left our first home when I was four, Mom promised me I could have the window side of the room at the new house. I had loved looking out of my window there because it had a tree with a robin’s nest. I was curious as a little girl. But this house had new things to get excited about. It was two stories up and I could see really far. There was a horse farm on top of a hill I could see. We’d bike up to it, crossing the railroad tracks first, and make sure to bring carrots to feed a horse if they were out. The farmer was named Oscar, like Oscar the Grouch in Sesame Street, but he was kind.
I’m recalling our room in this story because I remember jumping face down on my bed and bawling into my pillow after I got my oldest sister’s round brush stuck in my hair. I had used it like you would a curling iron, wrapping my hair around it completely, and twisting it up until there was no where else to go.
I must have snuck it out of her top bathroom drawer when she was out. The brush was all the way to my scalp and not budging. I thought it would leave me with a bouncing spiral-like curl similar to one of our old fashion, collectible dolls I suppose. It didn’t go so well. I couldn’t un-wind it. Once I came to terms with my situation, I enlisted help. Mom had to cut it out, leaving me a chuck of hair probably an inch short. We had to get a bit creative hiding the remains I’m sure. I can hear Sarah saying, “It’s not that bad Annie,” but I knew better. Never tried that again.
School bus bully and the Principle’s office
I mentioned last post how I occasionally was bullied growing up. I knew I’d get back to it.
I rode a typical big yellow school bus to school ever since I started Kindergarten. I remember the first day of school my Dad driving behind the bus to make sure I got on and off okay. My older sisters both rode too, but I do remember him doing that. I remember only two bus drivers in my six years of going to that school k-5, and that the bus was called the “Orange Tiger.” It was labeled on the side window so we’d know which bus to take.
Lois drove for most of the years. She looked a bit like the old lady in the movie The Goonies. She wasn’t all that nice either and used to call other drivers in cars “morons” and “dipsticks” when they’d cut in front of the bus or not yield, at least I’m guessing that’s what they did. But I do remember learning those words from her. My mom always said “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” She’d also say, “think before you speak Annie.” I remember thinking it was odd for our bus driver to be using those words in front of a bus full of kids.
I was in either fourth of fifth grade and a boy named Zach, last name I remember but I’m not going to share, grabbed a chunk of my hair from the seat behind me and wouldn’t let go. I was stuck. I don’t know who was around me, or what we said to each other. All I remember is trying to get free and yanking my head forward with a bit of a quick snap. All of a sudden, in his hands was the entire chunk of my hair, the size of a small handful. It drooped down in front of my eyes like freshly cooked spaghetti. I reached out to reclaim my blonde locks with horror as I pressed my other hand against my stinging scalp. It had even taken some of my skin with it! It surprised both me and him I think, and it burned. I couldn’t believe what had happened and I don’t even know what I did with the hair next. Maybe I took it home to show my mom or brought it in to show the teacher. I remember feeling mad, but also embarrassed too.
The next memory I have is being called to the principle’s office to explain what had happened. I don’t even remember who reported it, or the details. But I realized what bullying was then, that what he did was more than not okay, and that at least in this experience the teachers and school were not going to tolerate it.
My family, and our 1980s hairstyles
I’ll end with a picture of my family around the time my dad took me to get my haircut. This was the year before I started getting the space between my front teeth fixed.
How about you? What kind of bad hair days do you remember growing up?
I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below.