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Memoir: Braids

February 26, 2014


Braids and Other Weaving of Family History of Hair


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



            When I was very young (first-grade and earlier), I had a mass of long, unruly hair.  Apparently, in the early 1950s, we did not use conditioner; and my curly and wavy hair was in great need of conditioner.  I do remember, and my relatives have periodically reminded me, that my dad was the only person whom I would allow to attempt to brush my hard-to-manage hair during my early years of stressful tresses. 


            Five months younger than I, my cousin Carole had lighter brown hair that was much more manageable than mine.  Her grandmother braided her hair and accented each braid with a beautiful wide bow to match each outfit that Carole wore.  Her hairdo was quite similar to Judy (“Dorothy”) Garland’s in The Wizard of Oz.  Throughout the years, this cousin has had more hairdos than I could ever begin to count; however, during our college years, she once again, at times, wore long braids as she did when she was a young child.  Now past the Big 6-0, both Carole and my sister continue to wear stylish hairdos which are always perfectly coiffed.


            Despite all the hair products now available, I now like to say that instead of having “a bad hair day,” I am having “a bad hair decade.”  For almost all of my life, I have had medium-length or long hair.  When straight hair was in style, my hair was curly and frizzy.  When curlier dos became the style, my hair became naturally much straighter.  At age 16, when I was not quite pleased with a haircut, I discovered that I could trim my own hair.  Thus, despite diminishing vision, I continued to cut my own hair, as needed.  Because of my visual impairment, I have surprised many people with the fact that I routinely cut my own hair—a very simple cut.  Although both my dad and my mother had black hair which was, in later years, streaked with gray—my hair is dark brown (with a few strands of gray).  I believe my hair is probably more like my maternal grandmother’s.


            While my paternal grandmother (during my younger years) had mostly white hair that was in a shorter style of the 50s and 60s, my maternal grandmother kept her long, straight hair throughout her life.  She wrapped it into a bun at the nape of her neck and held her bun in place with large tortoise shell pins.  As one common alternative, her black hair with touches of gray was in one single braid which she fashioned into a bun.  Like my “Grandma Store” (As you may remember, we called her by this name because she owned and operated a grocery store.), I, at times, braided my hair into one single braid and then formed the braid into a bun during my later years of teaching.  Whenever I wore my hair this way, I always thought of my grandmother.  I recall seeing my Grandma Store in the evening:  before she went to bed, her single braid went down the back of her old cobalt blue robe—almost to her waist.


            When I was at Indiana State University for my undergraduate work (1968-1972), I was astonished that one of my math (Yes, I did take two math classes.) professors had extremely long hair which, on a rare occasion, she wore in a perky, but very long ponytail.  At other times, she wore her hair in a bun, like a ballerina.  Despite my reaction at that time, I, at age 63, still have longish hair.  Why did I then think that all older women had or should have shorter hair styles?


            Another remembrance of those astonishing 60s and 70s was accidentally running into a former high school friend by Holmstedt Hall on the ISU campus.  The high school friend—who had played football and basketball, was about 6’6”, and had sported a very short haircut at all previous times—stood before me on that autumn day with hair much thicker than mine and longer than mine, too.  What made his hair even more striking was the strawberry blond color.  Despite my mild shock at witnessing his tresses that flowed over his broad shoulders, I think I was successful at acting as if all were normal with the world.  The campus was large, and I do not remember running into this friend again.  How did he grow his hair so long, so quickly?  It was amazingly thick.


            From old photographs, I know that my handsome father had thick hair when he was a young man.  On numerous occasions, he told us that he used to break ten-cent store combs when he combed them through his very thick hair.  After serving for four and a half years (1941-1945) in a tank destroyers unit during World War II, my dad’s black hair began to thin; eventually he developed a bald spot.  Nevertheless, Dad kept his Army posture and always looked debonair with the variety of hats which he liked to wear.


My mother grew up in a generation of women who were devoted to the weekly visit to the beauty salon.  Even when my mother’s black hair had touches of gray, she never colored her hair.  When she was in her 60s and 70s, going to the beauty shop each Thursday evening became “ladies’ night out” with her postmaster friend Retha.  In the later years of these Thursday night expeditions, another friend Jerry (a postal clerk at Retha’s St. Bernice Post Office) joined my mother and Retha.  After the visit to the beauty salon, my mother and her friends went out to eat.  We often joked that no matter what the weather was, mother and her friends absolutely had to get their hair done!  I recall some snowy Thursday nights when the ladies drove on the slippery roads for seven miles to Clinton, Indiana, to maintain this important ritual. 


            Although I rarely remember my mother doing her own hair, she frequently washed and curled her older sister’s hair and my paternal grandmother’s hair.  On a rare occasion, she did my Aunt Lydia’s hair, which was certainly the most beautiful of the three sisters.  To my knowledge, no one else in the family inherited hair like the middle sister of the three.


            While so many women of our small town of Blanford had similar hairstyles, Mrs. Josephine Perona’s hair always caught my attention because it was beautifully braided from one ear, over the top of her head (near her forehead), to her other ear.  I never mastered the art of this type of braid nor the French braid.


            From the older generation, my mind wanders to the babies of the family.  Cousin B. J. had the most beautiful auburn hair.  In the early 60s, Aunt Kathy used to style Lisa’s dark brown hair into pretty banana curls while Aunt Kathy’s youngest baby, Gina,  had straight platinum blond hair which later became very curly.  Skipping quickly to the youngest addition to our family, I can end this hair tale by sharing that Lanie was born on June 14, 2013, with an amazing amount of longish dark brown hair.  At age eight months, Lanie has thicker and longer than usual hair which is bouffant and pretty.  Like my dad brushed my unruly hair, Lanie’s daddy brushes her beautiful hair.



Hats off to all who continue to read my blog!



February 26, 2014, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Gimmie a head with hair. Long beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen. All I can think of is the old Cowsils song, “Hair”. I was imagining back through the years, back through the curls, the perms, the tails and braids and oh my, what a picture it is. I always ask my wife the color of someone’s hair when we meet them for the first time. Their voices help me create their hair color in the meantime, no matter what anyone tells me. Great post, and I hope you are in the midst of a wonderful hair decade. dp

    • Deon, I remember that song. Actually, I prefer my hair short. It’s easier to take care of that way. This was a good post, Alice. It brought back memories.

  2. What fun to reminisce about all the hair styles and hair experiences, Alice! I have a photo in our guest room of the two of us–you with your long curly locks and me with a very short, straight cropped cut. I think we were probably ages three and six at the time that professional photo was taken.
    Love from your sister

    • Mary–Yes, I not only remember the photograph; I remember the photo session. So, perhaps, our ages were four and seven. Thanks for commenting on this post. A & Z

  3. Carole permalink

    Alice, you have the best memory; and thankfully, your reminiscing and talent in writing bring back those forgotten details. Thanks for the joy!

  4. Paula Lumb permalink

    Lovely memories arose while reading your memories. Similar, yet different, as all of ours will be as your words open the doors and windows to times past. Thanks for another great trip, Alice. Keep writing.

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