Mack Williams column: Hair (not the musical)
Several examples of hair impressed me when I was growing up, as well as the people to whom that hair belonged. The first was my mother’s beautiful white hair, no steely gray, but pure white (also indicative of my then neighbor, Mr. W.A. Cline, and his mother “granny” Cline).
In second and third place are my Aunt Ruth and Grandmother Leila Parker Williams respectively. Aunt Ruth’s hair had such undiluted natural waves, the likes of which I have never seen before nor since, making it appear to originate from the purest, most archetypal gene bearing the name: “waviness of hair.”
I always saw my grandmother Williams’ hair in a woven “bun.” That wasn’t what impressed me; but instead, stories to the effect that when unpinned, her tresses were so long that she could have sat upon them.
My first girlfriend was a redhead, taking after her mother and grandmother. When I recently saw a news report that the gene for that particular shade of hair is on the way out, I said to myself, “Forget about using genetics to resurrect the wolly mammoth (whose hair also had a reddish tinge), but employ it instead, to keep the redheads!” ( I guess I’m a little prejudiced).
In my mind, and probably in the minds of others who knew her, a beautiful shade of blond hair was possessed by my late friend Esther Rufty-Hodgin. Her hair, smile and personality were as bright as the sun on the clearest of days, and so to paraphrase a term of fashion: “outer beauty, with matching soul.”
As a child, I had very wavy hair, seen in an accompanying photograph taken at one year of age. My hair wasn’t cut until about age four, I think. There is another picture somewhere of me around four years of age and sitting under a tree at my Aunt Loudis (“Lotus”) and Uncle Fred Abshire’s house in McGrady, N.C. In that old black-and-white photograph, a bushy-haired little “girl” appears to be “smoking” an unlit cigarrette (a scene crafted by my brother Joe, I think, with possible assistance, either from my cousin Troy Lee Abshire, or his brother Harold).
The long hair succumbed to the crew cuts of the early grades and didn’t re-appear until after the Beatles’ crossing of the Atlantic in 1964. Yearning to be “in style,” both Gary Carter and I wore beatle Wigs to Granite Quarry School one day. Our fellow classmates thought we were “cool” (at least that’s how I like to remember it) but just now, I can’t recall the reactions of our teachers, or that of Principal, C.L. Barnhardt.
Later on, at East Rowan, my hair became somewhat longer and wavy again (and in my Senior year, if any picture had been made of me smoking a cigarrette, the cigarrette would have been lit). The longest hair of any of my high school classmates belonged to Johhny Speaks, who, in signing my 1969 annual, added next to his signature, the word “Hippie.”
Though my once longer hair had returned, its accompanying waves weren’t looked on as fashionable . Such curly hair didn’t have the look of “coolness” of the mop-headed rock stars with their straight strands appearing on “Ed Sullivan.” In those days, Brylcream advertised : “A little dab’l do ya,” but we shunned it for fear of resembling “greasers” of the previous decade.
I found the use of “Dippity-Do” straightening gel to be especially helpful to me in achieving every guy’s favorite high-school hairstyle back then (just take a look in the old annuals from the mid-late 1960s). Like “Silly Putty,” Dippity-Do sort of had the look of some accident of industry. Its static bubbles always reminded me of frozen effervescence. My wavy locks of forehead hair, stylistically gel-straightened by applying the Dippity-Do and sleeping on them, could then be combed down on one side of my forehead the next morning, ending in a swirl above my eyebrow, just like the other boys (below the eyebrow would have looked too much like Veronica Lake).
Back then, I’m afraid that I used too much hairspray before going out on a date. I wanted to keep every hair in place; and besides, it was the heyday of Glenn Campbell! For those of you too young (or non-existent) to remember, just Google pictures of him from his record album covers of the 1960s and you will see every hair on his head held perfectly in place by an over-sufficiently applied, ozone layer-perforating, canned mist.
One time, in my quest for perfectly straight hair in high school, I went to a beauty parlor and had a “hot oil” treatment. Every hair on my head was “annointed” with warm oil and the hair-bearing part of my skull was wrapped in tin foil, resembling an alien from some low-budget, 1950s Ed Wood sci-fi movie. The resulting “straightness” lasted for about two weeks.
Towards the end of my days at Appalachian, another gene besides the ‘’wavy” one kicked in, the one responsible for “premature gray.” This wasn’t surprising, since it had started kicking in earlier with my brother Joe, and with our mother long before us.
Some years ago, I decided to rejuvenate my “graying” appearance one night with a pack of hair coloring purchased at the grocery store (big mistake). What was promised to be medium brown on the label became, in actuality, jet black. Since I was still combing my hair straight down on one side of my forehead, and since by then I had a moustache (although of normal proportions, not “Chaplinesque”), on my way into the Yanceyville Food Lion the next morning, an aquaintance remarked that I bore a resemblance to someone who ran things in Germany from the early 1930s till May of 1945.
Since then, I have made no further attempts at dying my hair
Nowadays, I use a shampoo which is supposed to brighten my hair, but it is still not as brilliantly white as I remember the hair of my mother, W.A. Cline, or granny Cline.
I recently used too much of that brightening shampoo, and instead of becoming the “blue-haired old lady,” became something much worse: “the blue-haired old man”, but at least there is still something there which can catch a color, and is somewhat worthy of being “Glen Cambelled.”