She wasn’t literally as bald as an egg, but her light hair was baby fine and nearly invisible when she arrived home for the first time. And her ears stood out at right angles to her head. I tried to give her a little shine, spreading Mum deodorant all over her head. It also didn’t work on the walls or furniture. I think Mum’s base ingredient was zinc oxide: it had to be scrubbed off with a Brillo pad. The little Park boys, Bobby and Tommy, used to come across the street to ask at the door, “Can Mick, he come out to play?” And she was “Mickahe” forever after with the Park family.
It wasn’t until Micki started kindergarten that her hair “came in” and it did so with a vengeance. Before the end of grade school, my sister had worked her way into having twice the number of follicles usually evident on a human head.
Toni home permanents were new on the market about then, and it must have seemed to our mom that it would save time braiding and brushing the hair of two not-very-enthusiastic little girls if they had “pre-arranged” curls. Happily, the experiment took place in late summer when windows could still be open to bring in the brief afternoon breeze. The home permanent was concocted with a basic ingredient of ammonia, and had a cloying over-whisper of mixed flowers and garden weeds. In a closed room, it was enough to bring tears to your eyes. But after all was said and done, my sister and I had curls. Every time our hair was shampooed, we experienced a second coming of the patented Toni smell and ringlets so tight we had to share the dog’s wire brush.
School pictures were taken early in the year and mom was prepared. With hairpins and hair lacquer at the ready, she brushed, teased and sculpted our hair into a style approximating the Betty Grable upsweep. For those of the younger set, “hair lacquer” was the precursor of hair spray, without the spray. It could be applied with a comb or brush, or poured directly over the head for that “hard as concrete” look. And Betty Grable was the “blonde bombshell” of the 1940’s, pinup darling of every soldier and sailor in WW II (and beyond).
This was not a “trial run.” Traveling photographers back then did not offer “re-takes” and you got only one pose in front of a white wall. It wasn’t even a first venture because Micki was in first grade and I was an experienced model with additional years of posing in my portfolio. But fate stepped in and sent Micki’s class to recess just before picture time. Some of the curls, pinned firmly to her scalp, remained at the top of her head. Most fell, limp and scattered, around her earlobes. Of all the years thereafter, the first grade black-and-white is still my favorite portrait of my sister. It’s the one I paid a small fortune to have reproduced in a much larger format in a June edition of the Las Vegas, NM newspaper to advertise Micki’s 50th birthday party. She forgave me. Sometime after Christmas that year. It reminds me that even small acorns can grow into mighty oaks, and there’s always hope, however slim, that your hair will look stunning on that first date, for a job interview, or when the school photographer says, “Next,” and you are at the front of the line. Before recess.
I am and have been for years indelibly near-sighted. When the glasses come off, I can see a few inches past the end of my nose. For years, I thought when I got older and things had to be held at a distance for viewing, my eyesight would even out at 20/20. It doesn’t happen that way. What’s infinitely worse is that, when the beautician hands me a mirror so I can see, in reverse, how the back of my head looks after the haircut, I just nod. I haven’t seen my rear view in so long that I could be bald back there and wouldn’t know it. On the other hand, I don’t really care how my hair looks, front or back. It’s one of the advantages of age that I’m not getting school pictures taken ever again!