Growing up, I felt that my tightly coiled, cottony hair was a curse. So, I had a love / hate relationship with the Saturday morning ritual of getting my hair washed, conditioned, combed out, plaited into four big sections, blow-dryed, greased and pressed with a sizzling hot comb. Someone shared with me that with the rising rate of biracial families and children, there is an increasing need for folks to learn how to care for Black hair like mine. So, in this post, I’m going to go step-by-step through the process my mom used to wash and style my hair.
First came the washing. Waaaay back in the day, it was just my Mom, me standing on a kitchen chair with a towel around my neck, the kitchen faucet and me (later, we graduated to a sprayer and that made things much easier). I’d bend over and the warm water would go from the nape of my neck to the front of my head (and face!). My Mom was a great sudser and I have great memories of the thorough scrubbing she’d give my scalp and hair. Wash, rinse, wash, rinse, wash. Towel blot, then condition.
I’d sit with the conditioner on my hair, sometimes with a heat cap (or a plastic cap you can get at the beauty store) on. Then, my Mom would rinse one more time and then, ugh, came the combing. It hurt like a mug. There’s no other way to put it. My once long pressed hair had now shrunk to one to two inches of tightly curled, thick hair. A funny story about how water shrinks my hair. When I was about four or five years old, my family lived in the Philippines (my Dad was in the Navy). We had a housekeeper named Vergie and one day she took the initiative to wash my hair. BIG mistake. When my Mom got home, Vergie was in tears and, through her sobs, she promised my Mom that she’d only washed my hair, she hadn’t done anything to make my hair fall out. My Mom had to let Vergie know that nothing was wrong, in fact, that’s what my hair naturally does. It shrinks when water touches it.
After the combing I’d usually have an attitude, but my Mom wasn’t having that. Back then, children with attitudes were dealt with, not tolerated. Anyway, I digress. I was tender-headed so it really was an arduous process but I wanted my hair to look “nice” so I sat and dealt with it. After combing through my hair, it was parted into four sections and each section was plaited. My Mom did this so that my hair would stay untangled, plus plaiting is a way to prevent additional hair shrinkage.
Next, my Mom would loosen one plait at a time and take small sections to blow dry. She’d start at the root and work her way to the ends. She’d then clip the newly blow-dried hair to one side and repeat the process for the rest of my hair. Then, she’d oil my scalp (note: we used to use petroleum-based products but now I use oils that blend in when applied to my skin and I avoid petroleum products. An Internet search for petroleum products and black hair will provide much insightful information about this topic).
While greasing my scalp, my Mom would have put the straightening comb on the stove to heat. Oh my goodness. The memories, the memories. By the time my scalp was oiled, the hot comb would be smoking hot. So hot, that she’d take a folded paper towel and lightly touch it to the comb. If the paper towel turned brown, the comb was too hot and would burn my hair. She’d blow on the comb until it reached the right temperature. Then, sizzzlllllllllllleeeeee, she’d comb my hair with the hot utensil one or two times, then, back on the stove it went. The process was pretty simple, EXCEPT when she used the hot comb near my ears and on the edges. Oh my gosh!!! I just said that my Mom greased my scalp. Well, what happens when grease gets hot? It catches on FIRE!!! No, my hair didn’t catch on fire but it sure felt like my ears and forehead got burnt up (I had the burn scabs to prove it). Once the straightening was done, my Mom might braid my hair, put it into a ponytail or some other nice style. Whew, done for the week.