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