Permanent rebellion

December 30, 2023 | My Jottings

One of my young granddaughters has been really getting into doing her own hair, curling it, taking care of it, letting it grow so beautifully. It made me remember how a few years back when she was still pretty little, she got her hands on some scissors and cut her own hair. It was not a happy occasion. Her parents had decided to let her hair (and bangs) grow out back then, and it was getting past that awkward stage when the bangs were too long to be worn on the forehead but too short to do anything with. Her hair had started to grow long and was looking so pretty. Then one day she chopped away at it, and her mama had to try to salvage what she had done, and bangs had to be cut once again.

That brought back to me a hair memory from my youth. When I was growing up my mom had a thing about long, stringy hair. And bangs. She disliked both. If my hair grew to shoulder length and fell down in my face for an instant, she’d say “Get that hair out of your face.” My mom was a very loving person and she didn’t say it unkindly, but I grew up in the sixties, and long hair stood for something back then. And what it stood for wasn’t something my conservative parents wanted their youngest child to be associated with in any way, shape or form.

My mom also had a thing about permanents. She thought they were adorable, especially on little girls. I didn’t really agree with her, but when you’re five years old you’re still forming your own opinions and ways in which to express them, so I never said, “Mom, can we talk? I don’t really want you to give me a Toni Home Permanent Wave. I want to grow my hair long and have pigtails and braids, okay?” I probably should have taken that route. Instead of obedience and/or diplomacy, I whined and pouted, and then took matters into my own hands.

My first permanent was when I was five years old, in preparation for a big event — my kindergarten school picture. My mom’s good friend Mabel, who was also her hairdresser (we didn’t call people stylists back then), put a tight, smelly permanent in my shoulder-length hair, and my mom thought it looked pretty darn cute. I must have thought it looked pretty darn awful. We have no pictures of me with that first perm, because that very night when my mother went to work (she was a professional organist) and my oldest brother Larry was babysitting me, I quietly slunk to my room, took my little turquoise blunt-end scissors and hacked all those curls off.

The next morning when I appeared in the kitchen for my Cheerios and milk, my mother was stupefied by the sight of my mangy look and was understandably quite upset. I remember a lot of muttering on her part, a scolding from my father, a sharply wielded hair brush as Mom tried to make my hair look presentable, and my loud sniveling crying.

1962 – Kindergarten

Here’s the Kodak memorial to the rebellion against my first perm at age five.

I actually think my kindergarten hairstyle pretty much resembles the one I have now, except I don’t wear plastic barrettes anymore and I actually pay someone money to give me the moth-eaten look.

1962 was also the year I had my tonsils and adenoids out and began a years-long trend of what my parents called “talking through my nose.” Because of the complications of the surgery, I also had the added problem of liquids sometimes running out of my nose as I drank them. Yes, I was a child of many unique talents.

Anyway, back to the subject of hair. By the time I was in junior high school I put my inner foot firmly down about short hair and perms. I decided to let my hair grow fairly long and I kept it that way, or at least past my shoulders, until I was in my thirties.

When this kindergarten photo fell out of a memento folder I was going through last week, I sat down and studied it for a few minutes, and so many memories came flooding back.

Warm and golden Southern California days, a little red bicycle with training wheels, my teacher Mrs. Staton playing the piano and singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” playing “store” with neighborhood friends, brothers ten and fifteen years older than I, learning to swim at The Covina Plunge, our epileptic, rock-fetching dog named Dutchess, playing hopscotch almost every day, our behemoth Buick station wagon with California license plates JDT 043, my father coaching high school basketball and watching Perry Mason, my mother playing the Hammond B-3 organ and ironing shirts, my stoic grandparents Bud and Oma and our Sunday visits to their house.

Now I’m a grandparent myself and I have kindergarten photos of my own dear grandchildren in my office, bedroom and wallet. I show them to anyone who’s polite enough to act interested in seeing them. How do I say that time flies without sounding trite and clichΓ©d? I don’t know, but I’ll try anyway. Time zooms, it rockets, and I’ve gone from being a vulnerable, trusting, slightly moth-eaten and headstrong five year-old to being a vulnerable, trusting, slightly moth-eaten and headstrong sixty-six year-old. In what seems like about seventeen days.

I guess I’m steeping myself in nostalgia lately. I sort of like the sound of that phrase – nostalgia steeping. This morning one of my friends asked me what I had planned today and I gave her the list. I should have answered her, “I’ll probably do a little paperwork, some housecleaning, some grocery shopping, and quite a bit of nostalgia steeping.”


  1. Ginny C says:

    I think that the self inflicted haircut was your salvation for the school picture, Jewel! Rarely have I seen the dreaded “Toni” look good back in Donna Reed Days, especially freshly done for school pictures. Now I suppose there will be a flood of ’50ers, submitting their Tonified doos in defense. πŸ™‚ I just remember having to sleep on whatever the current rage curler was. Rags, oooh I am old, spools, bristle rollers with picks that always got tangled and hindered sound sleep, and then the slick smooth rollers that put your head to a right angle on the pillow! What was I thinking!
    I do cut my own hair once in awhile now… didn’t cut it when I was young… it usually is Sunday morning, getting ready for church, and I have finally HAD IT with my bangs! I grab and try to imitate what I have seen the “stylist” do. So it never has the same results, but there, it is a bit better!
    But the best laugh I’ve had in a long time! I can hardly type I am laughing so hard…liquid came out of your nose!!!!!!!!!!!!! I needed that!!!!

  2. Layla says:

    my grandmother did the same thing to my mother. perms. and willfully ignored her protests. my poor baby mother, all of 4 years old. whenever she saw the “hairdresser” pulling up she would break out in hives. she has exceedingly sensitive skin, so in addition to feeling as tho she looked horrid, she also experienced the horrifying sensation of her head being on fire. as soon as she was able she, like you, grew out her hair, and it remained so, gleaming, stick straight and long, until her mid thirties. my grandmother has now turned her attentions to my hair, which in her opinion looks “horrid and depressing” with “no style & a mousy color.” i like to think she is saying this out of love πŸ™‚

  3. Just Julie says:

    I almost forgot about the burning of the perms but your comment reminded me.

    I think your hair looks thick and healthy, Layla. And I am saying this out of love. πŸ™‚

  4. Savannah says:

    This blog post made me laugh ridiculously hard!
    And I don’t think I ever cut my own hair…. ??

  5. Jessica says:


    A few things:

    1) My head used to BURN from those perms too. Ouch.
    2) I also still trim own hair in moments of desperation and it never looks good. Actually, it never looks that good anyway so I guess I don’t have much to lose.
    3) I thought your photo actually looked pretty good considering what had happened!
    4) Not to miss the point, but I must know more about the liquid coming out of your nose. Did it just go in your mouth and out your nose? Please explain. =)

  6. Just Julie says:

    Jessica, the liquid didn’t come out of my nose if I drank from a glass slowly and normally. It always happened in two ways:

    1. When drinking from a drinking fountain – when slightly bent over, the water went in the mouth, out the nose.
    2. When drinking any liquid from a glass and giggling or goofing off, as children can do. The slightest little breath out while drinking would send it out of my nose.

    We were told that my tonsils and adenoids were so huge, the void left somehow facilitated this. It can happen for a few weeks after that kind of surgery, but that particular gift went on for years in me. Thankfully it had stopped by the time I was a teenager. πŸ™‚

  7. Layla says:

    i should have explained to you how unspeakably glamorous my grandmother was BEFORE posting my previous comment. i am certain that the fact that i do not spend an hour coiffing myself and matching my eyeshadow to my sweater just completely mystifies her πŸ™‚

  8. Christy says:

    Growing up in the 50’s, I won’t even address the perm issue other than to say I got one in Oct. I guess we go through the same stages of life over and over….perm…straight…..perm….straight. Anyway, I totally understand the drink coming out of the nose and clearly remember the first time it happened to me. First grade….in my bedroom sitting on a sheet spread out on the floor. Alana Adams and I playing library with all of my books spread about the edges of the sheet as we happily made library cards for each book. It was all about the process. When we were done sorting books and making cards, the game was over. For some reason that day, my mother allowed us to have chocolate milk in my bedroom. This never happened because food NEVER left the dining room table. As we played library and enjoyed our treat, Alana made me laugh and I blew chocolate milk out my nose. What I remember most was how painful it was! I also remember it as making a colossol mess. I bet when you posted this blog you didn’t think you would have this many comments about drinks coming forth from the snout.

  9. Deb says:

    There were six girls in my family and the smell of permanent wave solution was as common in our house as the smell of pot roast. No long hair balls clogging up the sewers in our house! My Dad and the “snake” were two things you never wanted to see together! I think I was 12 when I achieved/demanded “hair independence”! Mom just had her 7th child and I think she was too tired to care anymore…….so we all had short STRAIGHT hair.
    Julie, you must be a whiz with a Neti pot!

  10. laurie says:

    we had the opposite problem. we were all busily trying to straighten our hair.

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