Happy Birthday Nana!
Nana is one of the cooler people I know. Way cooler than me. Way cooler than you. I mean we’re talking about top tier awesome here. For my entire life Nana has always epitomized the idea of unique style and individual expression. Whether it is one of her dozens of multi-colored, multi-patterned, multi-styled reading glasses or a pair of hot pink trousers paired with fabulously coordinated accoutrements, Nana is always rocking that which is hip, fresh, and impeccably groovin. And probably listening to music that falls into those same categories too.
Her hair is also one of her main mediums for externalizing her awesomeness for public viewing. Never afraid of being too out there, she has gone through every hairstyle in the book from relaxers + highlights to an asymmetrical ‘fro to her current set of locks which themselves have been spotted in s’ponies (side ponytails), intricate updo’s, sometimes even bedazzled with garnish fresh from the garden.
The Nan’, as she is sometimes referred to in the fam, has also been responsible for wrangling my hair as a little girl and spent hours upon hours doing so. She has not only been responsible for making me look presentable, but also her 4 children, 12 grandchildren and I’m sure some assorted characters along the way. So I thought I’d sit her down and pick her brain about her hairstories…read on for the transcript!
Me: So, nana, as you know we are here because I’ve started a blog about going natural and I would like to return to the source of, well return to my roots so to speak, and talk to the people who have had a lot of experience in doing my hair throughout my life. What do you think about my decision to go natural, Nana?
Nana: I think its probably a very good decision. Because, technically you have a very beautiful face (I’m a little biased), and I think you can support that look and also it’s a good experience.
Me: Are you saying that people who aren’t so good looking shouldn’t go natural?
Nana: No, I’m not saying that…I’m saying you’ve got a bonus going there.
Me: Now, what was it like for you to do my hair as a kid, when we went from situations likes this to a situation like this.
Nana: Well, quite honestly, Cass, it was a chore. It was a monumental chore because not only did I have to go through the whole time consuming physical part of it, you were very strong willed and did not want me to even touch your hair. So, you can see that would be a….challenge. Putting it mildly.
Me: And so what sort of techniques did you use on my hair and to get me to sit through getting my hair done?
Nana: Well the technique I went through on your hair, number one, was to get the tangle out of it, and to get you to sit: you loved drawing and writing stories and watching movies, it was a combination….bribery…anything that you would go for that I could think of.
Me: And what would you do to get the tangle out?
Nana: My method, you had to start at the end of the hair and I would slowly slowly….TOOLS! Yes, tools are importantly, lets go there. You had to have the right comb with the right tines, or teeth, in the comb, they had to be very far apart. So you would take a section of the hair, hold it around the bottom, around midway through you would hold it and start from the bottom, as you would tolerate it, and you never knew if your [reaction]was going to be extreme or ultimate extreme (there was nothing below that) then you move up the shaft of the billions of trillions of hair strands that you have upon your head.
Me: And after you combed it through, would you hot comb it?
Nana: Yea, the hot comb, I think was the best situation after a certain age, I mean when you’re young (a couple years old) you don’t want to do that for fear of you making a sudden move and me burning you, which I’m sure you think I did anyway….and I probably did…. It was the no-chemical way to deal with your hair when you’re 4 years old.
Me: And when do you think you started hot combing?
Nana: I would say, maybe 4? What do you remember?
Me: That it hurt a lot.
Nana: The hot comb shouldn’t have been painful, because by then I should have gotten all the snarls out because you cant use the hot comb to do that—it would leave the heat in the hair too long.
Me: I remember not wanting to sit for any of this happening.
Nana: I can understand that.
Me: I was disinterested in having my hair done.
Nana: It was probably a week process in which I would start just talking to you about the fact that ‘ok now on Friday [you’re going to have your hair done]’. So a week before I would start getting you ready, so that even if you didn’t want to, you knew it was going to happen.
Me: Now, Nana, in my lifetime, I have seen many different styles on your head and for the past 11 years, you’ve had locks. Now did you decide to go natural? And I cant remember, did you have natural hair before that?
Nana: Yes. You remember my “Bush”. My Angela Davis Bush.
Me: Was that the asymmetrical?
Nana: No that was the one in the picture…Heather has it…
Me: Right, but in between that time you had straightened hair to work at Dayton’s didn’t you?
Nana: It wasn’t necessarily where I worked, I wore it more according to what was the trend.
Me: Exactly why I was asking- what influences your decisions in how to wear your hair?
Nana: For me, when I was going through the transition from going from a natural – or an afro is what we called it- and I started from a very small natural and went to The Bush and after that came various and sundry hair styles. But ultimately, it was the very reason that you’re going natural now. The chemicals would leave my head full of sores and my hair wasn’t necessarily healthy. My hair is the healthiest it has ever been in my life.
Me: So 11 years of natural puts you at the healthiest it has ever been.
Nana. Ever been in my life.
Me: In all of the heads that you’ve done, do you feel as though your personal experiences have influenced how you’ve decided to do their hair? Namely, mine, your kids, your other grandkids?
Nana: Well, I guess it must have in one sense. But it was really a necessity as far as time is concerned. If you hot comb your hair or use any chemicals that will make it less tangled and then you keep with it and maintain it everyday so that when you only have a small window of time in the morning before school to spend on doing your hair, it was just a convenience then yes and it was so much better to be able to get a comb through your hair and make it neat to get you going and out of the house in the morning.
Me: So, doing nothing was never an option?
Nana: Oh no…oh no…it would have become one mass of matte, it wouldn’t have been practical.
Me: Is it practical to go natural now do you think?
Nana: Very much so, you will see that. And as far as having healthy hair, you want that. You want healthy every part of your body. It’s a mindset.
Me: Anything else you’d like to add about your hair experiences or experiences with my hair?
Nana: Well I think they were on par with my experiences in getting you to doing anything. There was a period you went through when you did not want to smile when you took a picture. Whatever it was, if you didn’t want to do it, it was always a task to get you to do it. There was certain clothing: “No no no” There were certain undergarments “no no no”. You were very strong willed: “I do not want to! I do not want to!”.
Me: So the hair was a large factor in that.
Nana: Yes and as far as I was concerned, it had to be done. That is how I was raised. I mean, I’m the youngest of 11 girls, from the oldest to the youngest, the oldest ones were in charge of doing the younger one’s hair. For us, it was a matter of neatness.
You know, a lot of people think that, and im certain aspect of this that is true for some women, that black women will straighten or process their hair because they want to look like white women. I don’t believe that. I think initially it always started out for the practical purpose of keeping the hair in a state where you can get a comb through it. I believe that being neat in presentation is important; its not true that people don’t judge you by the way you look.
Me: I agree.
Nana: Its true! If you’re walking around with some very unruly things going on about your face, people would never get to know how intelligent and beautiful and fun you really are. They’ll be afraid to get near you!
Me: So how did you wear your hair when you were younger?
Nana: I wore my hair in braids.
Me: What type of braids?
Nana: It depends on how your hair grows. If your hair grows evenly, then you can wear it in two braids. Part it along the middle and braid it down the sides. And then if you had breakage, then you braided it according to how many braids the hair needed. My sisters had their hair hot combed and rolled it by taking a brown paper bag and ripping the bag into strips and rolling their hair around it and tying the bag around the hair. You’ve seen me…did I ever do it to you? I probably did and you didn’t know it. That was the way so then the could have curly hair and they would do it after it was hot combed. But. For us, in our family, we were not allowed to wear our hair in curls until you were 12 years old, it was too sophisticated a look. If you were a young girl, you were supposed to have pig tails or braids. So that’s how we wore our hair. It was the same with a skirt, you weren’t allowed to wear a straight skirt or a pencil skirt until you went to high school. You know…its family, its tradition, its all about what your family would permit you to do.
Me: When did you let your kids do their own hair? And how does that evolve?
Nana: I think when you get to be about 10-years old, you start to feel like your mom’s making you look like a clown because when you look in the mirror you start to see yourself in a different way. And the child begins to dictate how their hair is done and why.
Me: Were there ever any moments when you ever had to tell your 10-year old or whatever age they were that ‘oh no, you cant leave the house like that’?
Nana: I still do that. With your mom and her sister. And now that Heather, my youngest, she’s wearing locks, she will come to me and ask me to style her hair or pin it up.
Me: I remember that, when we were at the Beautillion!
Nana: Yea, well she does that every time I go out [to California] to her house. Whereas your mom, no. Your mom had her own…… distinct look, I don’t think she ever, after doing her own hair, that she would allow me to do it. I think that there may have been a time when I would do it and she would say ‘Nope!’ and redo it. That’s just they way it is.
Me: Are you doing any of your grandkid’s hair these days at all?
Nana: Yes, I do Alex, who is 4 years old when I’m in Berkeley. I do that initial two little pom-pom thing. There’s a lot to be said about that style. Any of my children or grandchildren’s hair I’ve gotten ahold of, they’re going that direction.
Me: And the pom-poms turn into the antennas eventually.
Nana: You know, it’s a good way to keep you hair because from the roots to where you put the bad on, that stays straight and then the pom-pom usually get ratty and natty and whatever. But you’ve already got the hair contained, so you can kind of brush those. Do you remember the brush?
Me: Oh the blue brush?? Yea! I think we still have it!
Nana: I know! I’ve tried to confiscate it for your sisters hair! You cant find those anymore, and that was always a big part for me of doing the hair, was finding the right brush or comb.
Me: Can you describe [for our readers] The Brush?
Nana: It was a hard plastic, and each row of the The Brush separated when you were pulling the brush through your hair so that it was never fighting the hair and it made it easier to get through.
Me: Briliant design, really.
Nana: Oh, I love that brush. I love that brush to this day. Never let go of that brush. Actually there might be a market for that brush.
Me: To the rescue of millions of little girls everywhere!
Nana: I said a little prayer when I found that brush. I didn’t know if it would work when I found it, but it made things a little easier, for you and for me.
Me: Any sort of products that you would recommend to go along with that brush.
Nana: Well, now they have natural products with natural ingredients…
Me: Weren’t you a fan of cholesterol?
Nana: Yea, I was. Its too oily. But anything that doesn’t have a smell to it. Because we used to have to use a product called Sulfur-8. Do you remember that? Well Sulfur-8 smells like the first part of its name: Sulfur. It was great for your hair, but it smells so bad. And nobody wanted to use that, even though I did on my girls a couple times, but it was never a good situation. But I think it was Queen Helena who made that Cholesterol.
Me: But it wasn’t actually cholesterol?
Nana: I hope not! It probably looks like what cholesterol looks like clogging up your arteries.
Me: Any closing remarks as I embark on this journey?
Nana: Well I would just say that if in one of these years to come, if you ever happen to have a daughter,…just wait til you have to deal with their hair. I’m sure the experience will be unique.
Me: [laughing] well thanks, Nana, for chatting.
Nana: oh, anytime, Cass.