Dear Friends: I have tried everything in my power over the decades to force my stubbornly straight locks into curly hair. Unfortunately, I was born with hair so straight it bends backwards.
Please note: After returning from Mexico, we are self-isolating at home, and I have amused myself by poring over my old photo albums. I know this is a frivolous topic during such an anxious time, but I’m hoping you are weary of reading all the bad news and ready for some light relief.
Curly Hair Through the Decades
During my childhood, I wore a bowl cut with bangs – easy to care for, and easy to cut. And until I became a teenager, I didn’t care what my hair looked like.
Here I am in 1955 at the age of four, with my little brother Rob.
When I got a little older, my mother would occasionally put my hair in pincurls, each made with two crossed bobby pins, to give my hair some waves.
Pincurls were not comfortable to sleep on, but they were more bearable than curlers. This is my Grade 7 school photo, when Mum not only put my hair in pincurls overnight, but she allowed me to wear lipstick!
My real challenge began when I reached high school in 1964. The style of the day was full and bouffant, teased into a tower on top, with the ends flipped up below.
The only way to achieve this, outside of visiting a beauty salon, was to wash your hair, cover your head with hard plastic rollers and spend a sleepless night with them digging painfully into your scalp while your hair dried.
Later, the nocturnal suffering was alleviated slightly with foam rollers – but only slightly. These foam rollers actually belonged to my mother, one of those ridiculous things that I kept for sentimental reasons alone, since I plan never to use them again.
With great difficulty and a sore scalp, I managed to achieve the desired flippiness for my high school yearbook photo in 1968.
Curling your hair was serious businesses. One of my high school friends worked Saturdays as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool. She almost let a little kid drown because she had curled her hair the night before in preparation for the school dance! After throwing him several life rings and shouting encouragement, she was finally forced to jump in — but she had to stay home that night, as her hair was simply not fit to be seen by the boys at the dance.
In the 1970s, the home hair dryer came along – it still took about three long hours sitting under the bonnet before my thick hair was finally dry, but it sure beat sleeping on curlers!
Then the portable dryer was invented, which allowed the user to move around, at least within the length of the electric cord. I remember an old Irish bachelor farmer named Sam Hill (true story) who came to visit, and spent the night because he had been drinking too much to drive home.
When he came into the kitchen the next morning, he spotted my mother wearing her portable hair dryer and staggered backwards, clutching his chest. “My God, I have to stop the whiskey!” he said. “For a moment I thought the little men from Mars had come down from the sky!”
To cement your curls into place and increase their longevity, a product came along called “Dippity-Do.” It was a thick green gelatin substance that you slathered on your hair before it was curled. It turned your head into a frozen helmet.
What a fantastic relief it was when the flower children decided to stop curling their hair! For several years those of us with stick-straight hair revelled in the freedom of parting our hair in the centre and letting it hang down on both sides. For the first time since I was a child, it was strictly wash-and-wear hair.
In fact, girls with naturally curly hair had to iron their long hair on the ironing board to achieve the desired straightness. Revenge was sweet!
This photo was taken when my girlfriend and I spent six months hitch-hiking through Europe in 1972 (yes, hitch-hiking, if you can believe it!)
Sadly, that era came to an end all too soon and we started rolling up our hair in curlers once again.
It only got worse in the 1980s when BIG hair – the bigger, the better, dominated the scene.
Everyone wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett Majors.
My version of Big Hair was achieved only through the drastic solution of having a permanent wave, or a “perm.”
I spent many hours sitting at the kitchen table while my mother wound my hair up in little metal clips and doused my head with a chemical solution strong enough to make your eyes water if you happened to be within twenty feet. We called it “getting a Toni.”
The frizzy curls were permanent, but it wasn’t long until my hair grew out straight at the roots, producing a very weird effect. Since my hair grows quickly, I had to get a Toni every few months.
On one never-to-be-forgotten occasion, I was home for the weekend so that my mother could perm my hair. When she took the metal rods out, the hair came with them! The chemical solution was so strong that it had burned straight through the hair.
I had to call in sick to my workplace the next day, go to the hairdresser, and have my hair cut to about three inches long! You can see by my expression that I wasn’t happy.
Although many of my friends got around this problem by having a “pixie cut,” as it was called, I never felt like myself with short hair.
My grandfather always said: “Hair is a woman’s crowning glory!” My grandmother kept her white hair long until she died, winding it around her head and pinning it with combs.
So I grew it out again, and have continued to struggle for decades with its unforgiving straightness.
Here I am in the 1990s, seated at my desk — clearly I’m still perming my hair, and it appears I have given it a henna rinse as well.
(Looking back through my photo albums, I realized how few photos there are of me wearing glasses. Although I am terribly short-sighted and have worn glasses since I was twelve years old, for years I whipped them off whenever a camera came into view! I finally threw in the towel in the 1990s and have been photographed wearing glasses ever since.)
However, I still haven’t given up on my hair. Back when I started this newsletter in 2013, my hair was still pretty long.
Recently my thinning locks have gotten a little shorter, but at the age of 68, I refuse to admit defeat.
These days my secret weapon is a circular brush hair dryer (shown in the top photo) that allows me to create some waves.
If I really need volume, I resort to my old standby, electric curlers.
My hairstyle sometimes looks dreadfully old-fashioned . . . but at least it has curls.
I secretly admire those women who at a certain age, chop their hair off, let it go gray, and embrace the “au naturel” look. They are the true flower children of today.
As for me, I’m still stubbornly trying to show my hair who’s boss.
Sadly, since the hair salons are now closed, we may ALL be trying to show our hair who’s boss over the next few months!
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DANESFIELD EVENT CANCELLED
My long-awaited book signing event in May, a once-in-a-lifetime experience to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, has been cancelled.
As you know, Danesfield House Hotel in England is the setting for my wartime novel Bird’s Eye View, so this event had special significance for me.
I’m terribly disappointed, and I’m also sorry for those of you who were planning to attend.
But I understand why we need to shut down public events and “flatten the curve” of this frightening pandemic.
My husband has been studying the Covid-19 issue since it first emerged in China, so we kept very well-informed about its rapid progress around the planet.
When we arrived home from Mexico on March 12, we went into immediate self-isolation and that’s where we are now.
Happily, we have everything we need. Our daughter delivers groceries to our front steps, and our rural lifestyle means we can wander around outside quite freely.
We are prepared for things to get much worse before they get better.
As I write this, I see a deer right outside my office window, and for once my husband isn’t chasing it away — he says we might need to eat it before this is over. I trust he is joking!
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WARTIME WEDNESDAYS FLASHBACK
We stay in close touch by telephone with my mother-in-law Gerda Drews, who lives in a residence for seniors in Berlin, Germany. Gerda was born in Berlin 91 years ago and has lived there ever since. As a teenager she survived the bombing of Berlin and the occupation by the Russian army, she saw the Berlin Wall being built in 1961 just a few blocks from her home (which was happily located on the western side), and saw the wall torn down again in 1989. She has endured much suffering with grace and humour.
I wrote a two-part column about her wartime experiences, and if you want to put our modern problems into perspective, please read them by clicking: The Bombing of Berlin.
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WHAT I’M READING NOW
Needless to say, I am reading a LOT right now. The unread books on my shelf, including a few Christmas gifts, and the ability to order books online or download them onto my iPad, means that I will never run out of things to read, no matter how long we might have to stay inside.
In these uncertain and depressing times, I would like to recommend a light-hearted book that was recommended by a friend.
This is my kind of book. Charming, humorous, tongue in cheek, and so very British, this novel takes place over a two-day period. Queen Elizabeth herself, feeling a little down in the dumps, decides to play hooky from the rigid confines of her dutiful life and take the train up to Scotland to see her beloved yacht Britannia, now decommissioned and on display as a tourist attraction. If you loved watching The Crown — or if you appreciate British wit — you will be as entranced as I was.
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Friends, I hope you are enjoying this time to read books, write letters, phone your friends, and putter around the house. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that our social isolation will crush the pandemic curve, and that a vaccine will soon be available. Spring is almost here, and then the future will seem much brighter.
Until April . . . affectionately yours, Elinor