She was everything I wanted to be in 1957 in the second grade. The only girl and the youngest child in a small-town Illinois family, Susie O’Dell had it all. The dresses with the matching stiff slips that kept her in a perpetual ballerina state, the lace-edged anklets, the little purses. But mostly, it was the hair. Waist-length and elaborately sausage-curled, she was unforgettable on Sunday mornings at church. Oh, I had hair. And lots of it. But my mother kept mine in two straight braids, as precise as rulers. Susie’s was a weekly celebration of all things adorable.
I finally asked my mother if she could do my hair like Susie’s. She said, “Honey, her mother did hair and nails and has a full set-up in the basement. Chairs, dryer, everything. She was a professional.”
The next week at Joyful Jesus Juniors, I asked Susie O’Dell about what my mother had told me. “My mom says your mom did hair and nails.”
Susie smoothed her (new) skirt with the poodle applique and the rhinestone studded embroidered leash that embellished the hem. “She still does mine. We spend Saturday afternoon getting ready for Sunday. She has everything set up in the basement just for me. It’s all painted pink, and I have my own special seat.”
“You spend all Saturday afternoon?”
I thought that one over for awhile. As much as I would have liked to wear my own hair to my waist in ringlets, I also enjoyed going to the Saturday matinee with my little sister. My mother would drop us off while she went shopping and pick us up after the cartoon festival was over a couple of hours later. I would hate to miss that because I was sitting under a dryer with my hair in curlers.
And sometimes in the summer on Saturday afternoons if we weren’t at the pool at the park or riding our bikes, we got to walk around the corner to the Dairy Belle and get an ice cream cone. I sure didn’t want to give that up, either.
But the thought of a pink kingdom dedicated to me in the basement also kept my imagination going for a few days. I knew my dad wouldn’t let me wear even the pale pink polish that Susie did, except perhaps on my toes — but I didn’t really care about that. I just wanted to experience the bouncing of waist-length ringlets.
Later that summer, I told my grandmother about Susie O’Dell and her pink chair in her mother’s basement. So my grandmother took some rags, and rolled my hair onto them after I washed it. By the time it all dried almost 24 hours later, I was wild with boredom and frustration. However, my grandmother made ringlets, and I bounced around the house for a few hours until I could stand it no longer.
I came to her and said, “It itches.”
So, she braided my hair most of the way, except for about eight inches or so, which she left in curls. “There,” she said. “That’s the way Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz wears hers for most of the movie.”
I went off to find my little sister, to see if she wanted to pretend to be a flying monkey while I ran and screamed.