Permanent waves


Momma went to work after I started school. She was a beautician and took pride in making women look pretty. Now, getting a perm in your hair in those days meant getting a PERMANENT wave. It was an electrical process with all sorts of wires and clamps and heat and stinky stuff and waiting for the exact amount of time or else you’d wind up with a scorched head of hair or worse, no hair. Hair was rolled up with bobby pins and combed out with finger waves. Nails were manicured and polished with precision and eyebrows were tweezed and sometimes, Momma would even give a facial to some of the ladies. All the time they were chatting and laughing and some of the ladies were even smoking. I remember going to the beauty shop where Momma worked many days after school trying to do my homework, but it was useless because there was just too much see and hear. Watching and listening in a beauty shop in a small town is like being in the CIA! You could really get the scoop there on everybody and everything.

Momma was a jack of all trades. Sort of. She wasn’t much of a cook, but she could cook up a pot of grits and that was always the start of a meal. The rest of the meal just sort of fell into place. She nearly had a heart attack once because she had to make a chocolate cake for the MYF ice cream social at church, and vowed she’d never do it again as long as she lived.

But Momma could sew, and she’d sit down in the floor with a bunch of newspapers or brown paper sacks and a pencil and draw out a pattern for a dress for me to wear. I remember her skill at making my costume for the school “Operetta” out of crepe paper. I was the best-looking fairy in the whole show! It had a full gathered skirt, ruffled sleeves and I wore a large ruffled hat. Boy that was something! Then, for my very first piano recital in the 3rd grade, Momma made my taffeta aqua evening gown, which was absolutely the prettiest evening gown in the world. She topped it off with a corsage of pink sweetheart roses from the fence that grew out back, and I did a splendid job on my first musical solo piece. Momma was proud.

The next year when she got out the dress to try it on to see if it would work for my recital, it was a wee bit tight. She told me to hold my breath and I sucked up and took a big breath and she yanked up the zipped. Yikes! She zipped up three inches of my skin in my side. Needless to say, there was a whole lot of screaming going on for a few minutes while she unzipped the dress, begging me to forgive her. I was a bit miffed. She did let out the seams before I tried on that dress again, but I did wear it again for that recital.

I did a short stint in the Girl Scouts in the 3rd grade. I decided going to camp would be a great way to spend a week in the summer. Besides, I had never been away from home without my Momma and Daddy, so it was sort or a rite of passage. It meant that I would have to join Girls Scouts I figured I might as well give it a try. Camp Juliette Low was in Savannah, and I spent a week of misery weaving bracelets and swimming in waters infested with crocodiles and dodging spiders and snakes. I was sitting at the gate of the camp on my suitcase waiting for Momma and Daddy on Saturday morning the last day of camp.

Since Momma worked, she had little time for washing and ironing which was all done by hand. Down the road several blocks, in what was known then as the “Quarters” lived a black lady who washed and ironed clothes for us. She had a bunch of little children. I loved to go with Momma to get the clean clothes so I could see the newest baby. Sometimes I could hold it. I loved holding her babies.

I remember how the clothes smelled of steam, bleach and starch. The woman would always be ironing on the front porch when we came. She had an RC Cola bottle with a sprinkler cap which she used to sprinkle the clothes. There would be a whole bunch of them rolled up already sprinkled and ready to iron. She washed and ironed for lots of people. Her baby would be beside her in a crib and the other little ones around the porch playing in the dirt, chasing each other and laughing. They’d always gather around when we’d come to get our clothes. The house had no screens on the windows and looked just like all the others on the street. They called them shotgun houses. One room after another – usually just two rooms. Momma paid her for the clean clothes and left the dirty ones. She was happy and Momma was happy. That was a normal way of life in those days. Comments can be made to LaRose at