The Awe-Inspiring Ritual (and Lost Art) of Sunday Hair

In That '70s Girl by Angie Vicarsleave a COMMENT

My mother believes in God and in getting her hair ready for church on Sunday. These days, she arranges her hair into a low lift capable of mild movement. But when I was a child, my mother’s Sunday hair was as tall as my brother’s sleeping bag roll, as shiny as my patent leather shoes, and more strongly coated in Aqua Net than the winds of a hurricane could hope to conquer.

Like other Protestant rituals, Sunday hair included baptism. And many times that meant Mom used her special hair-washing contraption. Although I watched Doug Henning recreate Harry Houdini’s water-torture escape on television, seeing the contraption in action was even more riveting. I could stand right beside it as the water went from the kitchen faucet through the contraption’s clear plastic hose and out the shower-sized rubber sprayer with the ease of a gentle rain. A good hair washing on a Saturday night put my 7-year-old self in heaven.

“You know, I could wash my hair in the shower,” Mom said one night to my great dismay. My face fell so far it was nearly sucked down the drain. “But then I wouldn’t have an audience,” she added quickly, whipping her towel around her head like a turban. “Come on, and you can watch me roll it.”

What a satisfying spectacle. Plastic rollers in robin’s egg blue, mint green, and God-take-notice fuchsia filled a bag as big as my father’s 5-gallon tool bucket. Plus, hair rolling required as many tools as home repair.

Using the long, narrow handle of her rat-tail comb, Mom deftly separated her hair into sections. But I liked to imagine the comb became a real rat as she held up her hand mirror to check her work. “Oh my word!” she would scream, hurling the rat like a javelin in the hands of Bruce Jenner.

Whether she rolled a row of ringlets, magnified the mid-section, or crowned the top, Mom reached into a glittery bottle of goo and slathered each curl with the fabulous setting gel called Dippity-do. It gave limp locks the strength and gloss of Carrera marble, which only seemed fitting for the house of the Lord.

But rollers wouldn’t stay put with setting gel alone so Mom clamped a pointed silver clip across each one’s glossy grandeur. I was mesmerized by her head’s resemblance to a space probe when she finished. She even trumped the moon buggy I found in a jar of Tang.

I once tried rolling my own hair, but the clips turned out to be tiny torture devices. Each one poked a drop of blood from my scalp. I pouted but Mom was engrossed in her own handiwork so I decided to suffer for my art instead. I circled my head with a crown of clips and rubbed Mom’s rouge along my hairline.

“Angie Lynn!” Mom exclaimed. “What on Earth do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m making a crown of thorns,” I informed her, “like Dad made for your church display.”

“Oh my Lord!” she said, snatching her clips and some of my hair. “What am I going to do with you? Jesus wasn’t playing in his mother’s beauty shop!”

Thankfully, Mom turned her attention to her hair dryer. It resembled a hard plastic purse that held a deflated bonnet she carefully tugged over her rollers. But when she took it to the den and plugged it in an outlet, behold, a miracle occurred. The bonnet rose up like the Lord himself.

“Witness the power of the almighty!” I exclaimed like an evangelist on Easter, but I didn’t get a rise out of my family. They couldn’t hear me, even though Dad turned up the television. Whether the harmonies came from Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk, the performers looked like lip synchers upstaged by a blast furnace.

After Mom’s hair was baked onto her head, she returned to the bathroom, removed her rollers, took up her teasing comb, and shredded her hair for several minutes. “Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked one night, in awe of the electrified frizz that rose from her scalp.

“Of course it does,” she assured me, using her brush and comb to turn her hair back into a single tower. “So why pay good money to a hair dresser? Now, hand me that hair spray.”

Aqua Net’s aerosol output blasted from the can faster than the legs on the Bionic Woman, more powerful than a 1976 Ford Mustang, and able to leap the Stairway to Heaven in a single burst. It kept my mother’s hair standing glory-to-God high even though she slept on it the night before church.

When I visited my mother recently, I stepped into the bathroom to find the counter littered with rollers and her finger poised on a can of some other hairspray.

“Wait a minute!” I blurted, hoping to avoid my eyelids getting plastered in place, like one of the insects in my third-grade science collection. “Where’s your Dippity-do and your teasing comb?”

“Oh honey, I don’t bother with all that stuff anymore,” she said. “It’s too much work and it’s bad for your hair. I like getting done in half the time. That way I can watch TV.”

As we sat in the sanctuary the following morning, I could see right over my mother’s Sunday hair. How is God ever going to see her coming?

Angie Vicars writes humorous essays and seriously good Web content for UT. In a former incarnation, she authored "My Barbie Was an Amputee," Yikes columns for Metro Pulse, and produced the WATE website.

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