The Week of Uneven Pigtails
Recently, my friend Suzanne and I were reminiscing on Facebook about what Suzanne refers to as “The Week of Uneven Pigtails”. It was the week in 1970 that our dads piled us, along with everything that Mattel had to offer in the way of Barbies and Barbie paraphernalia, into our wood-paneled Family Truckster and drove us across Texas in search of spiritual bonding and meaningful memories.
The idea of a father-daughter road trip came, predictably, from our mothers. Concerned that our busy dads, best friends since childhood, needed to spend some quality time with Suzanne and me, our moms decided that a week in Houston, visiting Astroworld and the zoo, would be an excellent bonding experience for us all. My dad and I would drive to Dallas, pick up Suzanne and her dad, and we’d all drive to Houston for fun and adventure. I could hardly wait.
In the weeks before we set out on our road trip, it occurred to my mom that my dad probably needed to learn how to deal with my long, blond, Marcia Brady hair. I was only six, after all, and wasn’t quite able to keep it tangle-free and out of my eyes without adult assistance. My grandmother, the beautician, and my mom took it upon themselves to educate my dad in the fine art of ponytails and pigtails. This is where the fun ended.
The brushing and the combing weren’t so bad, but when it came to styling my hair in my preferred low pigtails (we called them dog ears), Daddy hit a wall. His law degree apparently had not provided the skill set necessary to part my hair neatly from forehead to nape, then brush both sides of my head smooth and fasten my pigtails symmetrically. Bless him, he tried—but his early attempts ended in tears for me (and possibly for him, too.)
It wasn’t entirely his fault. In an effort to protect my baby-fine hair, my grandmother had outlawed regular rubber bands, and even the coated elastic bands that would tear and break my hair when they were pulled out. The only options left happened to be the most stylish and popular choice at the time—the elastic wraps adorned with colorful plastic balls that could be coordinated with your wardrobe choices, thus eliminating the necessity (yes, the necessity) of hair ribbons.
The problem was that these wraps required an advanced degree of hairstyling dexterity that my dad did not possess. Try as he might, he just couldn’t get the hang of wrapping and twisting those plastic balls securely—and his attempts always resulted in one of those elastics snapping that hard plastic ball against his knuckles, my head, or even more painfully, my ear. My head hurts just thinking about it.
Finally, my mom issued an ultimatum—figure out the hair deal, or I’d have to wear a ponytail for the entire trip. Since ponytails were for babies, I resolved to sit patiently while my dad gave me cauliflower ears—after all, beauty is pain, right? To force the issue, my mom left the house early the Saturday before we were to embark on our trip, with instructions for my dad to bring me downtown later and meet her at the drugstore. Daddy had no choice but to do my hair before taking me out in public.
I’m pretty sure we turned up late to the drugstore, and when my mother saw me, she couldn’t restrain her laughter. There was my dad, no doubt looking somewhat the worse for wear, and there I was, with tear-stained face, bright red ears, and two pigtails—one of which sprouted from above and behind one ear, and the other hanging below and in front of the other. Symmetry was just too much to ask.
In subsequent attempts, Daddy got the pigtails a little closer to even, but by departure time, I still looked pretty lopsided. I crawled into the station wagon, preparing myself for the inevitable giggles I would get when Suzanne (who was a whole year older than I—practically grown-up!) saw my goofy hair. The closer we got to Dallas, the more I steeled myself for the ridicule I felt certain was coming my way.
Finally we pulled up to Suzanne’s grandmother’s house, where she and her dad were waiting for us. I peered out of the car window, caught a glimpse of Suzanne’s sulky face—and had to smile. Her pigtails were just as crooked as mine! In fact, they may have been worse, since her dad hadn’t had the benefit of a hair stylist mother-in-law to help him out. Instantly, Suzanne and I became partners in humiliation and renewed our long-distance friendship with lightning speed.
Oddly enough, neither Suzanne nor I remember much about the week itself—she recalls all the Barbie stuff we brought, and I remember how hot Astroworld was, and how hot the zoo was, and how nice it was to splash in the hotel pool, because it was SO HOT. My most vivid memory, in fact, is of the endless afternoons that Suzanne and I spent in our own hotel room, adjacent to our dads’, with all of their pocket change on our dresser, unlimited access to the vending machines down the hall, and all the “I Love Lucy” reruns we could watch, while they collapsed in their room from exhaustion after lunch every day. Probably not the memories our moms were hoping for, but hey, hair styling is hard work, y’all.