Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Home Permanents and Exploding Beans

When I was young, our family was poor, but I always thought we were rich. If not rich, then certainly my two sisters and I were beautiful. Daddy always said so, until our hair grew a little long and reverted to its natural state of straight-as-a-board. However, I do need to edit that last statement. My little sister had naturally curly hair, so she never suffered through a home permanent.

“Honeybunch,” Daddy would say to Mother, “you need to cut and curl these girls’ hair, so they’ll be real pretty.”

Mother was in her glory when she permed someone’s hair. Since she only had two of us at home who needed to be “fixed up,” she recruited other girls and young ladies to be her subjects. All the time she spent on the process was absolutely free of charge, and it was a good thing, because few people had extra money to spend at a real beauty shop. All the person had to do was buy the permanent. This was a generous act on my mother’s part, but I did not realize that until I became older.

Mother became very popular in our small town, located on the South Plains, where the wind blew, sandstorms roared through, and tornadoes were a common occurrence. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was the day when some female visited to have her hair curled by the caustic, overwhelmingly odorous liquids. Mother would bring out her arsenal of different sized curling rods, the little squares of paper, cotton balls, towels, metal clips that often caught the scalp with the sectioned-off hair, and a rattail comb.

The ritual of the permanent always took place in the kitchen and on a Saturday. For as long as I can remember, the wonderful aroma of pinto beans and ham bubbling and simmering in a large pot filled the house on that day. Then, like the advent of the home permanent, a new device for cooking appeared in the stores and the Sears catalog. Even though the five of us lived in a three-room stucco house with very little, Mother loved a new pot or pan for cooking, or canning, or roasting. So, when the pressure cooker was invented and the price was brought down so that even we could afford one, my mother became the proud owner of a large, shiny, very frightening pressure cooker. For the beans. On home permanent days.

The pressure cooker scared me to death. There was that gauge sitting on top, which displayed the rising pressure numbers, and the gauge would jiggle back and forth as the pressure built, rattling faster and faster to match the immense boiling and bubbling of the beans. Alongside the gauge was a little rubber stopper, which served as a safety valve, in case too much pressure built and somehow must escape.

Mother would say, “Now, you girls help me watch that gauge. We don’t want that lid to blow off.” Well, I watched, but from a vantage point well across the room and near a door, in case I needed to escape.

One Saturday, my older sister’s friend arrived to have a home permanent. Mother loved this activity, mainly because it broke the boredom of living in a small town with no money for entertainment. Daddy made certain he had business elsewhere, when he knew there would be five females in the tiny house all day.

First, Mother began cooking the beans slowly without the lid on the pressure cooker. She laid out all the necessary implements of the home permanent on the table. The girl had washed her hair in readiness of the rolling process, so, she sat at the table, wrapped the towel around her shoulders, and combed her wet hair straight back. While she was doing this, Mother put the lid on the pressure cooker, but failed to turn it one last fraction to lock it. She adjusted the burner but forgot to remind any of us to help watch the gauge.

Mother rolled the hair in her speedy, practiced way. She poured part of the developer, the one that smelled sort of like rotten eggs, into a small bowl and began dabbing the solution on the girl’s hair. All the while, Mother, the visitor, and my sister chatted, laughed, and completely forgot about the pressure cooker.

I was playing dolls with my little sister in the front room when I heard a mighty hiss, and a scary rumbling, and then a loud boom! Mother screamed and dropped the bowl of developer down the girl’s neck, the girl screeched and jumped up so violently that she knocked the chair over, and my older sister yelled and ran around with her hands in the air.

Terrified, I peeked around the corner to view a scene that could have been part of a Keystone Cops routine. Hot, exploded beans, juice, and bits of ham were all over the kitchen, as well as, everyone in the room. Mixed in with the curling rods and developer on the poor girl’s head was our supper.

No one was hurt, except for a few mild burns. With everyone working, we cleaned away beans, juice, and ham, even though it took the remainder of the day. Later, Daddy had to climb on a ladder to clean the ceiling. Mother could wash the clothes, so no harm, there.

However, the girl’s hair stayed rolled and soaked with the developing solution. Hours later, when someone remembered, Mother applied the neutralizer, but it was too late. She wore a headscarf for weeks to hide her ruined hair, frizzed and burned like yellow steel wool.

Did this adventure deter my mother from her passion for curling hair, or her use of the beloved pressure cooker? No, it did not. It only gave her a story to tell and laugh about every time a visitor or one of us had a Toni or a Lilt Home Permanent.

(Previously published in the Texas Power Co-op magazine under the title "A Permanent Memory"-by Celia Yeary

25 comments:

  1. Oh, I do remember home perms. My mom used to give me them every once in a while. However, the pressure cooker was never part of our routine!

    What a crazy story!

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  2. No pressure cooker at my house but the smell of the home permanent solution woulda killed the beans smell anyways.

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  3. Great post Celia! Definitely brought back memories of my mom bleaching my sister's hair - she'd always wanted a blond daughter, but the nuns at school weren't very impressed!

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  4. Gracious! This woman experienced my recurring nightmare, Celia. That I will be getting my hair processed and a disaster will occur and all my hair will fall out. I still wake up nights in a cold sweat thinking this happened to me. Poor thing.

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  5. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Patricia

    http://lioneltrains.info

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  6. Celia--What a hilarious story. I suffered through the perm to UNcurl my frizzy hair, not to curl it.

    BTW the pressure cooker and I are best friends. My mother had one when we were growing up. I learned to cook with a pressure cooker before I got married and always had two of them, a small one and a big one. Except for rice, I can't cook anything without my pressure cooker. I never had the patience to spend more than half an hour in the kitchen and the pressure cooker helps me to cook in record time.

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  7. Celia--What a hilarious story. I suffered through the perm to UNcurl my frizzy hair, not to curl it.

    BTW the pressure cooker and I are best friends. My mother had one when we were growing up. I learned to cook with a pressure cooker before I got married and always had two of them, a small one and a big one. Except for rice, I can't cook anything without my pressure cooker. I never had the patience to spend more than half an hour in the kitchen and the pressure cooker helps me to cook in record time.

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  8. CELIA!!!

    OK, I'm trying to figure out how we had the SAME mother! LOLLOL My mom was a permanent fanatic, and she had three girls and many sisters to "work her voodoo" on throughout the years. I remember being little and sitting through those home permanents, the smell, holding a towel up around my forehead so the dreaded neutralizer wouldn't get in my face, etc. And it seemed to take FOREVER. Plus, the fact, that I just didn't LIKE my hair curly. She had to give up on me when I was about 10 or so. By then, it was 1967, and STRAIGHT, long, hair was "IN"! LOL She hated that. She tried and tried to get me to let her perm my hair. NO WAY! My dad finally stepped in and said, "NO." LOLLOL AN ALLY!!!! She had a pressure cooker, too, and would ask me to help her watch the guage. I was scared to death of that thing. I remember thinking, "I WILL NEVER COOK IN ONE OF THESE THINGS." I have one, but never use the lid/guage/rubber ring. I only cook in it with the lid OFF. Mom used to cook meatloaf in it sometimes, too, and it had a little rack that lay in the bottom of it. WHAT A GREAT POST!!! Boy, I remember those days so well. Hers never "blew up" but there was always the fear of it, and I never forgot it. I have to do beans the long way, and be sure it's on a day when I'm going to be home...(NOT doing home perms, though!)
    Cheryl

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  9. What a hoot, Celia! I never had a home perm, but my mother dyed her own hair at least once a month and smell was unforgettable, to be kind. You captured this adventure so eloquently! I enjoyed it very much.

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  10. This is great, Celia! I had a couple of home perms but they managed to do nothing but fry my hair into tight kinks. Ugh. No more perms for me!

    Hubby bought a pressure cooker a while back. I've yet to use it and don't plan to. He's the adventurous one.

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  11. EMMA--I bet you've never had a home perm--your hair is already so pretty. And it was more of a 50's thing. Celia

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  12. DEBRA--I don't know what it was about our moms that they felt a dire need for a daughter with curly hair. Celia

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  13. MARY--GOOD THOUGHT--I never thoughts anything aobut the merging of the two odors--I haven't had a perm in at least 40 years, but I still recall that smell.Celia

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  14. CATE--I can just see the wrath of the nuns when they saw your sister's hair!! Celia

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  15. MAGGIE--dreaming of your hair falling out is truly a nightmare. Did you know at least one study claims permanents were a cause for the advancement of Alzheimer's? If that true, I don't have long!!!Celia

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  16. PATRICIA--I'm thrilled you like my little essays. And please do comment anytime. Celia

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  17. MONA--I didn't know many cooks used pressure cookers anymore. But I remember a few years ago, there was an upsurge of the pans--and when you think about it, they really are wonderful inventions.I used one often in my early marriage, but gave it up when I discovered the slow crockpots--now, I wore one of those out--couldn't live without it.Celia

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  18. CHERYL--you always make me laugh!And I do truly believe we have the same mother! But, sweetie, I should tell you. The pressure cooker doesn't work without the lid! Celia

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  19. PAT--my little sister never had one, either. She had naturally curly hair. We had the same haircuts, but mine looked like a Buster Brown with the bangs, and hers curled up a pretty as can be. Celia

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  20. LORAINE--LUCKY YOU. and yes, let him use it.Celia

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  21. Celia,

    NOW you tell me! LOL I just use it for a big ol' pan...no pressure to it.
    Cheryl

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  22. You certainly know how to bring back the memories, Celia.

    My sister and I hated those permanents. Mom was big on pressure cookers, too.

    Lovely post, Celia.

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  23. Oh boy, Celia. I got a couple of home permanents, too, but it made my daddy furious. My hair was naturally curly and he swore the permanent would make it straight. It did stink, didn't it. I did go to the beauty school for one once and afterward they rolled my hair in pin curls. The beautician had long fingernails and she'd puncture my head with one and roll the hair around it. That was one of my worst memories.

    Thank you for sharing with us. I had a pressure cooker too and always worried it'd blow!

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  24. My goodness that's scary and hilarious all at once. That poor girl with the scorched hair though. Awww!!

    I was always terrifed of my mom's pressure cooker too. *laughs* I count us as very fortunate that nothing ever came of my terror.

    Fun post, Celia!

    --Chiron O'Keefe
    The Write Soul: www.chironokeefe.blogspot.com

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