Back in the day as I grew into puberty during the 60’s, braiding, weaves, perms and definitely locs were mostly unheard of in my small town world. My mother kept my unruly hair in plaits. My hair was halved and quartered with two plaits in front and two plaits in the back. They stuck out like radio antennas.
However, on special occasions such as Sunday church, I would get a long curly bang and a plait on each side of my head. Hair clips, bows and ribbons usually pink or white were used to accessorize. That was not so bad. I didn’t know anything else and neither did my mother.
Saturday was hair wash day. After my mother washed my hair, she would “grease” it with petroleum jelly. Yes, Vaseline. The greasing was in preparation for the torturous process of straightening my tight little curls. She placed a metal comb on the hot eye of the kitchen stove and warmed it until it was skin searing hot.
The hot comb was allowed to cool just enough to prevent scorching while being pulled through my mangled mass of hair. This process made my hair soft, manageable and straight.
What I dreaded most and shudder still when I think of it, is the pain and apprehension I experienced when my mother got to the nape of my neck. I would have to sit very still with head low on my chest while holding an ear down and out of the path of that hot iron.
When it touched down on my nape, the grease in my hair would melt. I could hear the sizzle and feel the burn of my scalp come alive with the shock of intense pain. I would cringe and cry. My mother would always say, ” I told you not to move!”.
My mother was not a hairdresser and it made no difference if I moved or not. But once the ordeal complete I had a few minutes to escape before the plaits once again adorn my burnt sore head.
I would later stand in front of my mirror and run my fingers unhindered through my gorgeous straight head of hair from the bang to the silky nape of my neck. Now, several decades later, as I sit here writing this piece, I am again running my fingers through my hair. I have grown to appreciate the naturalness of my kinky hair. No more burns to this scalp be it from the hot iron or chemicals. I’m loving the feel of texture, the tightness and spring of my curls, especially the curls at the nape of my neck.