I carefully chose Mr. Pierre’s Beauty Salon on one of my weekend trips to the toy store with my dad. It came with a plastic woman’s head and golden hair sprouting from her scalp. Once you snuck the scissors out of the kitchen drawer, you could cut it off, pull more out of her skull, and cut some more. My first chops left her ragged. So, did the rest. I didn’t care because it was so thrilling. How many seven-year olds were empowered to cut hair? That was one of the few times that hairstyling was fun.
While I had no opinion, my mom was vexed by my bone-straight, thin hair. She kept it short and dug huge velvet bows into my head when we dressed up. They perched like missiles between my side part and ear and obstructed my peripheral vision. I didn’t have enough hair to anchor the bows safely so she used Dippity Do as a concrete base.
In second grade my mom went too far. One night she plopped me on a pillow set atop a velvet foot stool and gave me a Toni Home Perm. Stinky, scalp burning and with waves of pain from my mom pulling my hair like taffy to fix it on the rollers, it was an unforgettable experience. The step that delivered the biggest shock was fastening the plastic roller with its rubber anchor. Despite being told to sit still, I couldn’t help whining with each fastening. “Aow!”, “It hurts!”, “I’m telling dad!”, “Can I have a puppy now?” – fake crying. The result was a huge bonnet of tight brown curls. A pale, freckle-splattered, skinny Irish child could not rock this hairdo. My family name was Annie because we had two Maureens, and my uncle Tommy used to tell me I was adopted so my name became Little Orphan Annie. Hilarious.
We went to my grandparent’s house in Westchester most weekends. On Monday mornings, my grandfather drove my mom and me into Manhattan where I spilled onto the sidewalk in my patent leather Mary Janes and lurched toward the entrance of the Convent of the Sacred Heart for girls. I had trouble walking because I was outfitted with a heavy Mark Cross briefcase, and I was wearing a gangster-style white rabbit’s fur coat. It stretched to my ankles and it had padded shoulders and wide lapels. With my new helmet of curls, you could stamp the words “spoiled freak” in gold leaf on my $200 briefcase and be 100% correct. Only one of my classmates openly teased me. Mother Ranney probably pulled them aside and reminded everyone that they were daughters of Christ and required to be kind and keep their opinions to themselves in matters of appearance.
My daughter Emma endured a few bows in preschool. I cut her hair until she was five, just like mine was at that age, China doll style with straight bangs just above her worried brows and the rest cropped just below her velvety earlobes. Emma was born with lots of hair and now has long, thick, and shiny cocoa-brown locks. Lucky for her. Who knows what I might have done to that head if it needed a correction. While I heeded nearly all the lessons our nuns taught us, they couldn’t erase my mom’s influence in matters of appearance. I still pick lint off the back of Emma’s sweaters, even while she is walking. Ever patient and indulgent, she pretends she doesn’t notice.