Perms, Cowlicks, and School Pictures

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Carleen always gave us a Toni the day before school pictures; she was making us beautiful. She shampooed us, yanked our snarls, swore at us to quit sniveling, then sat us in a row at the yellow Formica kitchen table. With old bath towels draped over our shoulders, Betty, Claudia, and I perched on the matching vinyl chairs, waiting our turn. Carleen scotch-taped our wet bangs to our foreheads, then with Mom’s good sewing scissors, snipped them straight across. Starting at the crowns of our heads, she carefully wrapped each combed lock with a little white square of tissue paper, then tightly rolled it in pink plastic rods, ordering us to, “sit still and quit whining.” Finally, she poured the processing solution over our heads, tilting her head sideways so she wouldn’t pass out from the reek of ammonia. We held the cotton strips tight to our forehead so we wouldn’t go blind.

By morning, our bangs had shrunk three inches above our eyebrows, four inches where the cowlicks were. Flat on top, the rest of our hair was so tight and curly it stuck out in triangles on each side like Bozo the Clown, but one side was always higher than the other, so it looked like our hair was on crooked. We also stank to high heaven for a week.

32. Betty Clemens 1951

Betty Clemens 1951

Claudia Clemens 1951, Sonora

Claudia Clemens 1951

Cathy Clemens 5th grade

Cathy Clemens 1958








35. Cathy Clemens 1954, 2nd grade

Cathy Clemens 1954

One year, the year I was six and Carleen wasn’t around, Mom put Betty and Claudia in charge of my hair. Leaving the barbershop in tears, my sisters made me trail ten feet behind, saying I looked like a boy and so ugly they couldn’t be seen with me, laughing and taunting, “we don’t even know you” and calling me a “poor little orphan girl.”

However, I think my hair did look better in my school picture that year.

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  1. I loved your writing as always. I begged my mother for a perm (my big sister had one!)

    and didn’t get one till my junior year in high school… a poodle, pretty silly.

    It’s a wonder we survived those chemicals! xox Barbara

  2. 1954 ~ Boy oh Boy, does your Grandson look like you

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