Rag and Roll

I have a serious case of born-in-the-wrong-generation. While I know that life in 2010 has its perks, there is a part of me that has always longed for things like handwritten letters, dances on weekends, and long drives in cars without seatbelts. This longing is never more evident than during the visits I have with my grandmother. Although I don’t see her as frequently now that I spend most of the year away at school, I try to visit as often as I can. My favourite conversations are the ones about what her life was like when she was my age.

One particular evening, we were talking about hair – specifically, the things we do to curl it.

“We used to stick a six-inch nail right in the fire!” she said, holding her hands up to show me how long the nail was. Later, she told me about how her mother used to make rollers for my grandma and her sisters out of paper: “If you twist and twist and twist,” she said, making the motions with her fingers, “the paper gets stiff, and you can wrap your hair around it.”


“We used to wear rag curls, too. Do you know what those are?”

I smiled. I am very familiar with rag curls. I spent many evenings with my mom standing over me, wrapping my hair around strips of old towel or t-shirt until I had knots of fabric dangling all over my head. I always began with the hope that afterwards, I would look a little more glamorous and grown up – but the process inevitably ended with my looking like a poorly groomed poodle instead.

In photos of my grandma as a young woman, though, she always looks enviably classy and composed – all soft smiles and mysterious eyes and the kind of grace that refuses to suffer the indignity of unkempt hair. After I left her house that evening, I was determined to give rag curls another chance. If she could do it, so could I.

All I needed, really, was a little patience. Rag curls involve wrapping sections of hair around a long piece of fabric, and tying that fabric in a knot to keep the curl in place. The end result is usually very tight ringlets. I’ve found, however, that putting your hair in curls when it’s dry, rather than wet, keeps them from being too crazy. It also helps to give yourself a lot of time for the curls to loosen. Instead of poodle hair (which I’m sure has its moments as well), I’ve started to end up with soft and lasting curls.

Rag rolls appeal not only to the part of me that wishes my hopelessly straight hair would stay curled for longer than five minutes, but also to the part that wishes I could have gone to dances every weekend and waited for letters in a mailbox instead of my inbox. I know that the past has flaws, but my grandmother’s generation is one that I still long to understand. My evening visits help me feel closer to my grandmother, and being able to relate to her stories about curls connects me, in the smallest way, to the girl she was before I knew her.

- Hailey Siracky

4 thoughts on “Rag and Roll

  1. Great article ! When I was a little girl…many moons ago ( I am 58 ) I remember watching my great grandma twist her hair around a metal tongs that she would heat up in a coal oil lamp. I could hear the sizzle with a faint smell of burning hair. She lived to be 103 and always had lovely curls in her hair. She use to tell me…when you marry your husband you take his name, his religion & his beliefs. She was a french RC Canadian that had turned protestant and I think that was actually rather brave to do back then in the Eastern Townships. Yes…it sure was a different time.

  2. Your story is very touching Hailey. It’s amazing how many elderly relatives and friends of mine that I’ve found are really just young girls inside:). I’ve always found common ground with them when it comes to beauty and fashion. They love to tell their beauty secrets and fashion anecdotes and we are instantly transported in time – we become giggling girls smiling at our once desperate attempts to look like our screen or in my case, music idols.
    My mother met my father when she was a volunteer visitor to prison camps during WWII – she tells me that he fell in love with her hair which she describes as a page-boy roll; the popular choice of all the movie stars during the 40s.
    She has gifted me an exquisite silk suit which her mother gave her as a teen in the 40s – I’ll treasure it always:).

  3. During undergrad a few of my girlfriends decided to rag their hair, which I had never heard of until then. It very much reminded me of something the March women, or the Bennet sisters, would do, sitting by their bedroom fires and discussing that handsome cad. It kind of turned out disasterous, with one of my friends crying in mock-anguish, “What have I DONE to myself?”

    So well done on the curls, Hailey. And the post. Well done, is all I’m sayin’.

  4. Oh, Hailey. You have a nice way of bringing out other people’s memories.

    My mom would get all excited telling me stories about stuff she did when she was younger. I could see this mischievous sparkle that made me think I could see her as a 20 year old… And it made me want to try to recreate those stories in some personal way.

    We used rags to do my friend Rachel’s hair for our Hat Noir shoot in one of the past issues. Rags are great because you have a lot of control over the size and feel of the curls that result. In this case, we wanted that really frizzy, tight-curl feel, so we used lots of small rags (when her hair was wet). Her hair was down to her waist when we started and almost up to her shoulders when we took the rags out. Her hair started matting within hours and it took an hour of careful combing with her hair slathered in conditioner to get those curls out again. Totally worth it, though!

    I remember my mom putting my sister’s hair in rags when I was a kid. Again, wet hair, small rags… I remember her howling as she ran to the bathroom to wash out the amazingly afro result. I thought she looked BEE-U-TEE-FUL – but then, I was about five. I thought Ronald McDonald represented legitimate adulthood.

    x.g.

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