I don’t remember many dark moments in my childhood. Mom was a pleasant, smiling, patient woman in a calico dress and apron who smelled like bread baking, and at least once a day she would give me a big hug and call me her sweetie-pie sugar-plum honey-dumplin’ puddin’-head, all in a row like that so she wouldn’t forget any of it, and she sang You Are My Sunshine to me, and let me lick the beaters, and once I’d been lulled into a position of complete trust for seven years, she pinned me down in the kitchen and gave me a Toni. It burned and smelled like curls and cancer and nothing in my life had prepared me for my mother trying to fry off my head. My straight hair was unceremoniously abbreviated every couple months, and Mom evicted it from my forehead every morning by raking an all-day Barrette Of Death across my scalp, but I’d gotten used to that. The problem, as she saw it, was that I wasn’t enough like Shirley Temple. There was never a chance I’d be able to tap-dance, either. Even when I tried to skip, it just looked like my knees had the hiccups.
The Toni was horrible. It didn’t last long, but I was mortified. I wasn’t interested in anything girly. I died a little inside whenever Old Man Balderson next door called me “young lady,” which he always did, thinking himself nice. I briefly owned a single neglected doll, a gift from a distant aunt who didn’t know me well, but that was it; I played with stuffed animals and real frogs and salamanders. That awful Halloween when the girl in the pink princess outfit got a prize for Prettiest, it struck me as an outrage of cosmic proportions. Just the idea that “prettiest” should be a category was wrong. What kind of mixed-up world was this?
Clothing was strictly utilitarian. In fourth grade, I picked out a drab blue school dress that I liked well enough, and my parents did too, so they bought the exact same dress in brown also, and that plus the Bluebird outfit was it for the year. It would still be several years before I recognized that the two dresses, and I, were totally inadequate. Kids today are much more advanced, and pick up on humiliation at a much earlier age. A stroll through any girls’ department these days will reveal aisles of unrelieved pink froth and Spandex, and your only choice is spangles or not so many spangles. And apparently they like it. I would have died.
So I guess my aversions made me a tomboy, except that I couldn’t run, climb, throw, fish, or do anything else in the tomboy canon except fall down, scrape skin off myself, and feel squirmy in my Sunday best. I was a happy little girl, Mommy’s sugar plum, and I was fine just the way I was. Until I got to junior high school, and learned that I was not fine just the way I was. In fact, I wouldn’t do at all. There would have to be some big changes made. When cheese goes through the grater, it all comes out the same way, and if I didn’t want to be a little autistic cheese molding on the back shelf, I would have to press into that metal, even if it hurt.
I hesitated at the door to adulthood, as though it held a gibbet. I was only eleven, but I could see my future clear as a teardrop: to step forward was to step away from my authentic self. It was going to take guile, and trickery, and concealment, and a little more money than I had. One day I blurted out to the prettiest and nicest girl in school that I didn’t want to grow up, and she said she didn’t either. But I didn’t want to have to do it. I just had to do it.
I wasn’t very good at it. Fortunately a few years later the flower-child era was ushered in to match my budget, and I got by on jeans and work shirts and too much eye-makeup, which my parents did not approve of. They thought it made me seem like a whore, but it didn’t. It was the sex that did that. The makeup did look dreadful. I only have eight eyelashes and it takes a herd of mascara to get them to show up. Plus, my eyes are tiny and set too close together, which is not what you really want to draw attention to. There was always the option of painting the outside corners to show where my eyes should be, but the effect is much like what the City gets when it spray-paints around the little potholes it doesn’t have enough money to fill in yet.
I carved out a tiny social niche and had just enough self-assurance by my senior year to recognize the opportunity to quit wearing makeup when I went off to college. Women think they look like hell without makeup, and they do, if you’re used to seeing them in it and they show up without it one day, but if they never wear it they look just fine. So I went to college scrubbed up clean and haven’t used any cosmetics since. I have to date saved $132,000 in spurned makeup, enough to have bought every child in Bolivia a heifer, but I spent it on beer instead.
The best thing is, I can see my authentic self again from here. It’s a little scuffed up, but it’s coming into view.
You are some kind of writer. You took me back to my childhood as well. We are probably close in age. Your descriptions floor me. Are you a professional writer?
Ah, Murr, your writing and your insights make me happy.
Huh. We apparently had the same childhood, complete with Toni perm, Camp Fire clothing, and mother smelling of baked goods. Back in the dawn of time when I was in elementary school, girls weren't allowed to wear slacks to school, much less jeans, no matter how cold the weather. One very cold winter my mother sent my sister and me to school in our usual school dresses, over the top of flannel-lined jeans. We were toasty! Mom was not going to have her little girls freezing their little bare naked legs off, nosireebob.
You described my childhood exactly. Except I had the ugly green girl scout outfit. You didn't mention shoes. I got the one pair of serviceable saddle shoes for back to school and a pair of Keds for spring. Barefoot summers were heaven. I've saved $86,352 not buying closets full of shoes and wearing my trusty Birkenstocks or going naked footed ever since leaving childhood.
Ah, those were the days and I remember them well. I got perms in a shop every four months and I still didn't look like Shirley Temple. I think that girly stuff is in the genes. My granddaughter wants to be a shopping fashionista and I wanted to do that as a child also. It was discouraged in a family with two older brothers and they didn't know what to do with me. I just wanted to be "pretty" because the top majorette in high school told me I wasn't "pretty." Isn't it terrible that the messages we send girls is that they aren't good enough as they are born. I was born with straight, stringy brown hair and a high forehead so I didn't luck out in the looks gene pool. So we girls try harder and harder to measure up so we add makeup and torture our hair. Childhood angst.
That picture of you being "thrilled" bears a strong resemblance to expressions I've seen on you in the present day. Yep, your authentic self went right ahead and showed up. Glad it did, I sure do enjoy it. 🙂
Murr, I think you were me or I were you, or something. Only I was never a Camp Fire girl or girl scout or any of that–it would have been superfluous considering my upbringing. I started my school life in a one-room country school with a cast iron wood stove in the center for heat, and I was always allowed to wear pants to school. Consolidated school in town and girlie girls came as an awful shock to me, and I have never been comfortable in any kind of skirt.
I wonder why it has to be so hard to just be yourself? But it is.
Poor Shirley Temple had a lot to answer for. How many hundreds of thousands of us fell short of her image and lived to be a disappointment to our mothers? And there was that cute little Annette Funicello , the Mousketeer – perky and talented and good as gold. I couldn't be her, either. Of course, Mom was no Jayne Wyman, so I guess we deserved each other. And I like who I turned out to be, so I got no complaints.
I have a confession… It was vanity that brought me over from Boozy Tooth to see who Murr Brewster is. I was shocked to see a comment on my humble and secret little blog post this morning. And such a clever spot-on comment. And so soon! And from someone I don't even know. Yes, the Internet is infinite, but it still really surprises me when anyone stops by, let alone reads, and offers a comment.
Thank you Murr.
And as if that bit of generosity wasn't enough, I am rewarded further by finding this refreshing, witty, thoroughly enjoyable blog on the other end. This post is pure magic and I think I love you. Thanks for making my day.
A lot of your tale echoes my childhood, only my mother wasn't nearly as skilled at giving home perms as yours obviously was. And she always tortured me by scorching my head the night before the first day of school. Nothing like going to school that first day with a dried-out Orphan Annie headful of frizz, and the lingering scent of ammonia.
What a sweet post of your childhood and coming of age. Unlike you, I was never a tomboy, but I was a bookworm! Which is worse? haha! I think you looked cute with that perm, though. So here you are! I don't wear makeup anymore, either. Wish I could say I look good without it.
Hilarious!! Absolutely priceless post—you go, girl, I'm right behind you!!! LOL
Well, I never thought I would meet another woman who doesn't wear makeup. I hate the stuff and can't stand how it feels. 7th grade was also the worse for me and I thank god for those hippie days. Finally, I was able to be myself. Working at being authentic is not so easy at times, especially when your society wants you to conform.
Heh, I managed to remain pretty much myself through school because no matter how hard I tried to blend in I loused it up! Not being cut out for preppy, I was content in black stretch pants, Converse, and my dad's old sweaters and over-sized flannel shirts.
But one day, magically, some other misfits from our little town made it big in the music scene. Grunge was in, baby! For exactly 18 months I was cool (well, no, I was cool-looking).
Grunge is no longer cool, I'm not cool, but I'm still comfy. Although I do wear jeans now. They hold the floppy sections in a little bit better. I still love my flannel and sweaters, and my Converse. And makeup? Never!!!!!
LOL! I have similar childhood memories of my mother, and I'd completely forgotten the Toni until now. Fortunately, she used it on herself, not on me.
I felt the same as you about dolls. Someone gave me a baby doll once. I made a cradle for it out of an apple basket, tucked it in nicely with a pink frilly blanket, and stuffed it into the bottom of my closet, never to be seen again.
And do you remember Wettums dolls? You squeezed a bottle in their mouth, and it all ran out a hole in their bottom. As a kid, I never understood why you'd want to do that. Besides, you never saw the Lone Ranger messing around with babies. The Lone Ranger was cool.
Yeah, I was a tomboy, too. 🙂
Beautifully written – I still sing 'You Are My Sunshine' to my daughter.
I agree with you on the makeup. I haven't worn it in years and definitely don't miss it.
California Girl, thank you. Uh, no one's paying me, but if I ever get some books out, there will be that opportunity and I will be SURE to let you know.
pcflamingo, Julie In The Barn, R.J., Linda, are we all the same age? We could always wear pants to walk to school, but we had to take them off. I never had saddle shoes. Or penny loafers. Probably Buster Browns. I do remember my first shoe-shopping. The man asked me "strap or tie?" and I had no idea what he was asking and wondered why he and my Mom didn't just take care of all this. See how well I would have done with the modern "give them choices" ethic?
Jeez, Djan, you're right! Ew.
Roxie, I like who you turned out to be, too.
Welcome, Boozy Tooth! I don't remember how I hopped onto your blog, but it was just great. Albeit a little chilling…
Susan, my mom probably wished she'd overdone the perm. That sucker fell out inside of a week. Talk about one's authentic self emerging.
Gigi, I never said I looked GOOD without it. I just look worse IN it. And Rubye, most of my friends don't wear makeup and they vote Democratic. Am I in a bubble?
Kat, my hippie era and your grunge era both did the same things for us: legitimized the way we had to be anyway. Plus, I think you're cool.
Diane. Wettums? The one doll I had was a Betsy Wetsy, or maybe it was Wetsy Betsy. Just think of the things they could put in a doll now to make the experience more real. Should help with population control.
I can still feel that cursed barret jabbing into my scalp, and my mother just thought me tender-headed. What was it about foreheads and the need to have any stray hair pinned down? Every girl wore a barret or a head band back in the day. Permanents, and we called them, were consigned to when you were older. Somehow my mother realized the damage they could cause. So why did she have one herself?
I was the tomboy, and like you was never too fond of dolls, much to my mother's chagrin, who forever longed to buy me a proper babydoll. GAHHH! I was partial to my sister's stuffed panda named Panda Poo, and I made him a companion stuffed frog whose accidently puckered mouth made him look like he'd eaten a bitter bug. I looked upon the idea of needing a bra as a prison sentence since it meant no more shirtless summers. And once the periods started I was sure I'd received a death sentence, counting the number of weeks in my lifetime I'd have to endure wearing such an uncomfortable contraption as a pad and belt.
Most days I wear no makeup and I cherish that child who got me to who I am today.
We would've gotten along just fine as kids. I was the same kind of tomboy. And just yesterday it occurred to me that I have saved a TON of money since I haven't set foot in a hairdresser's salon since the 1990s. To have reached my 50s and never dyed my hair, even once? Who does that? (No comment on perms in the '80s, though! My hair still hasn't recovered.)
This post makes me glad I am a guy.
"Which is the girl with the natural curl?
And which is the girl with the Toni?
The Toni is the best and so natural too
That I can't tell — can you?"
I envy you your Mom. What a blessing. Wish she was my Mom.
Murr Murr Murr…where to begin? We are so alike…
By my time, the curling iron had been invented, and my mother was not trying to burn my scalp off, just the ears…
That doll, well, she ended up on the chopping block.
No make up. None. Ever. I need to calculate my savings, maybe then my mother will appreciate my life choices…
But probably not.
Well written, my fellow-blue jeans-tshirt-naked-faced-friend. 🙂
XLNT! Oh, that Shirley Temple curse. Damn.
My Mom also used the heated-on-the-stove curling iron. I think I failed to show sufficient gratitude She eventually gave up on me.
Oh yes. Giving up makeup was a wonderful, wonderful day and I have never had any withdrawal pangs. My hair curls all on its own. Since the chemotherapy (where I only lost my grey hairs) last year it REALLY curls. And is wash and wear. Which is just the way I like it (and the only way I could cope). Product? No. Blow Dry? Equally no.
Martha says that those are actually pictures of *her* and *her Mom*, and that you are actually her, and it's all very uncanny. I'm beginning to suspect, reading all these comments, that all this uncanny likeness is more a function of you being a brilliant writer than a matter of coincidence, though.
Murr: I have to confess, I actually liked your look when you were in your "too much eye makeup" phase. (But that was probably because I wanted to adopt a similar look myself…) My real reason for commenting on this blog post? Your Mom. Looking at these pictures, I am reminded that your Mom was probably the sweetest and nicest and best Mom that any of us kids had ever seen! You really lucked out when you got her as your Mom, and I am happy that at the end of her life, she was lucky enough to have you with her. R.I.P., "Mrs. Brewster".
Wonderful post that took me back in time. I hated the smell of the Toni's most of all. It hung on for days afterward and would be especially potent after a shampoo. No wonder we went for straight hair in the Sixties, after all those horrible home perms.
I never did care for over-made-up-girls. Of course, they didn't care much for me either, but that's neither here nor there, the point being, when I was in the military in Germany back in the 60s none of the girls over there wore much makeup and most didn't shave themselves either. They still looked just fine to me. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to make much difference either when it came to being attracted to me. Ummm. Maybe I should have tried makeup and shaving my legs. As Rodney Dangerfield said, being bi-sexual doubles your chances on Saturday night!
Mamawolf awarded me the "Your Blog is Great" award, part of which is to then turn around and award it to other bloggers. I've chosen you! Go to http://funnytheworld.com/2011/Dec/Sassy.htm and read all about it!
Argh…the dreaded Toni!!! I only had to suffer through one, thank goodness. Here's to all us tomboys who made it through adolescence and here's to all of our husbands who love us just the way we are.
Thanks Murr…..especially the comment about make-up. I had an ex-workmate who always wore make-up and said it came in handy when coming to work after taking a sick day (hookie day). She would NOT wear make-up the day of her return to look a bit more "sick", as in pale, ashen, etc.
This was a good one Murr…..(they all are) Lora
Oh Murr, you are singing to the choir here. The Toni. Gack. I had a lot of potential curl in my hair so a Toni made me look like a pot scrubber. I hated dolls too. All I ever wanted were books and a piano. Got my one and only doll when I was four – surgically removed her wig with fish forks and did other feats of vivisection on her cotton & stuffing anatomy. She had a glue covered rubber head to the end of her days.
I did do the black eyeliner, white lipstick Carnaby Street makeup thing though. Dad said "I don't know why someone in the prime of her life would want to make herself look like a cadaver" but it didn't deter me. Thank heavens those days are long behind me and, like you, the authentic self has emerged. And it doesn't wear pink or spangles.
Ha! Yeah, my father said makeup was something old women wore to look young. Sure. Of course it was also something young women wore to look old, Dad. That white lipstick is due for a comeback.
Bev, thank you! That's sweet. I don't hang awards on my sidebar–maybe it looks like makeup. But I much appreciate the vote of confidence.
And Ed? Thanks for making me cry. Mom loved you too. She always wanted to know why I didn't go out on a date with "that nice boy Eddie." It wouldn't have worked out, Mom.
For me, a tomboy like most of you, curls in the box didn't come until high school, when– finally–maybe it was okay to be a girl and I could play with the nasty chemistry set by myself. Later my about-to-be mother-in-law recommended her fancy-dancy hairdresser, who made her hair look great, yes; but my skinny, fragile stuff complained and broke off above the forehead. Then there was the decades-long scrawny ponytail until I got tired of looking like the sixties warmed over. Now? Tomboyishly short.
I can still smell the ammonia, see that perky pink plastic shower cap. I can still feel my forehead (already high enough due to genetics) being pulled even higher. What is it with Moms and their daughters' hair? A desire for revenge?
As always, Murr, excellence award goes to you.
What a sharp little eleven year old who knew her authentic self. I love the childhood photos so reminiscent of some of my own, and your writing is very pleasing. Thanks for stopping by my blog, today. I'm glad I followed the trail back to yours. Oh and thanks for identifying the flower for me. Much appreciated.
I remember my mother giving me permanents and how stinky they were! I thought I was being gassed and my gagging reflex would kick in. The curls were a result, and I can remember my mother wrapping hair and brushing it around fingers to give me those bouncy Shirley Temple curls. I would walk with an exaggerated bounce in my step just to feel them. I am sure my walk looked peculiar and not very lady-like!
Sorry, Murr. I was ironing my hair to get those tight-fisted things called curls OUT. I stopped eating carrots because some dotty old aunt told me it made my hair curly. I looked like Medusa (without the fangs)
I loved the line: I saw my future in a teardrop.
I think Alice is an excellent role model. If I had a sewer cover to myself, I'd dance on it, too.
Pressed through a Cheese Grater? Either the title of your Collected Poignancies (veiled in humor) or the name of your Nouveau-Grunge Band. Either way: brilliant.
We'd have been best friends at eleven. You'd have been my role model. Instead, I made a slip of pre-teen judgment (imagine) and got saddled with Southern Incipient-Cheerleader role models. I tried my best to assert my true self by wearing as much brown as possible, but I succumbed on the make-up. In the South, women of the Sixties couldn't take out the trash without eye shadow. We were all supposed to grow up to be Betty Draper. The ascent of hippie-chic didn't occur until I was finishing college. I'd been pre-warped, so I had to be a Lipstick Hippie, a class below Eyeliner Hippies in cool.
I worried about having a daughter. Could I control my blusher compulsion for her sake? Fortunately, she imprinted on a friend of mine, the most beautiful girl in the world, who could go full-bore Lancome or squeaky clean without a qualm. She did whatever she pleased for any given occasion until we all began to recognize her in all iterations and came to think of her as a free woman.
My daughter is just like her. There's hope for me yet.
Ha! kiddo, what a nice write!!! Made me think of my daughter, who I am pretty sure has never bought a dress. Last year when she needed one to attend her cousins wedding she went to GoodWill, bought a new men's XXXL , took it apart and made a dress out of it.
We never have had her hair curled…but she sure changes the color often! good on you! 🙂
I couldn't agree more about how if you never wear makeup, people don't notice. Somehow I also get by without pointy-heeled boots, hair dye and "mani-pedis", which seem to be essential in my generation.
You reminded me of the magical properties of beer. I recall in college confirming the theory that the prettiness of the girl with you increases proportionally to the volume of beer consumed.
Ladies! (Can we still use that term? I feel like I just fell into the biggest meeting ever of the gals who remember Toni home permanents, and all the strictures on what was expected of us, especially to be good girly girls.
I had 3 brothers, and I was the tomboy who lead them over the log to the other side of the cliff, and the first to pull myself up on the next high rock and find I had a fistful of fox poop all over me.
Well, those were the good ol' days. My granddaughter can't go to HS without doing her make up, nails, and the proper outfit. It's even harder to be authentic nowadays then it was back then.
But WE are all survivors, and that's to celebrate. Thanks for sharing the memories with all of us truly we-earned-it women of the world.
Bravo to you, from one of your loyal followers. May I send you on?
Uh. Well, YEAH!
Murr, this is just plain brilliant writing.
So many comments from You-too?!s! I'm another. My mom never gave up on me; I was 19 when she bought me a frothy, frilly pale-blue dress with lace(! Ugh!) in strategic places, and made me wear it while Dad took photos, then "remembered" the time and tried to rush me out the door for a surprise party. Instead, I dashed upstairs for my purse, and to change into my favourite scruffy sweater and skirt. I never saw the blue dress again.
Add to all the money we've saved on makeup the thousands we've saved on trips to the mall, on closet fixings, on dry-cleaning. And shoes! I have four kinds: winter, summer, beach, garden (the worn-out summer and beach shoes.) One pair of each, worn until they fall apart. So easy!
I had Ginnie dolls, but really would rather read or play marbles. I thought I was the only non-girly girl until a few years ago.
I agree with the comment that you are a great writer. You brought back lots of memories. I was a tomboy and was willing to beat up any boy that couldn't see that I was better than him, albeit smaller.
The saddest Christmas I remember was when I had only asked (and begged and pleaded) for a ball glove and got a boy doll. AND I was 11. And it was from my MOTHER who had watched me use my doll clothes to dress the kittens in while the naked dolls languished in a corner.
But I was the only kid who could tie her necktie on our band uniforms so become the tier of all the kids ties.
Yes, yes, yes,! I am so glad I hit teenagedom at the exact moment when the bras had been burnt and the mascara discarded. I didn't wear either through high school, although I eventually agreed to the overshoulderbolderholder when I entered law school. No makeup has crossed my face except an occaisional steal of gloppy brown stuff from my mother, to cover an egregious pimple, not ripe enough to pop!
Ah, Murr….you're freaking KILLING me here….
"It wasn't the makeup that made me look like a whore, it was the sex" Oh, I am laughing and spitting out coffee through my nose….Wonderful post. Being authentic is always the best!
Childhood is hell! 🙂 I spent the 70s wanting to make my wavy hair straight, but instead I had a mother putting it in pin curls. Great post!
My hair was okay until the late 70's. Then it fell out.
Great post! It is refreshing to find women who aren't slaves to the fashion industry!
From the time I was a little girl, I remember sitting on the floor in front of my mother while she put "pincurls" in my hair. I slept in the things and woke up to wiggly hair every day. Since we lived in San Francisco, by the time I walked to school, all of the wiggles had disappeared and I again had straight black hair. I think Mom was trying to model us on Shirley Temple. Unfortunately for her, her four half-Mexican daughters did not have one curl between them. Until I was 13, I was seriously more boy than girl. You could not get me out of my red (none too clean) sweatshirt with a hood and a pair of pink "capri" pants, (also none too clean). I wore that uniform every day and played outside rain or shine. I climbed trees, had dirt clog wars, and if I could help it never bathed. Mom would point out the neighborhood girls who would strut by our house in little tight skirts, wearing Persian Melon lipstick, without a hair out of place. I might have wanted to "date" them, but I sure as hell didn't want to "be" them. When I noticed my first boy, it was all over. I think Mom regretted that I hadn't remained a boy a little longer.
This is an awesome post! With our without curls, you are one beautiful woman!
I'm so glad you found your authentic self…I too found similarities between your childhood and my own. Today, I wear very little makeup (just enough to keep small children from running away), and have more interest in clothes that are comfortable than fashionable! Thanks for sharing this!
Well, Wendy, I'm fine with small children running away. They're so leaky and stuff.
God, Linda Medrano, my straight hair totally worked out for me, if not my Mom, because it was just right when I was 13, when it matters most. There wasn't a kink in it, but even so I ironed the ends sometimes. It was long enough to do that without bending over, too.
I love your authentic self. I just posted something very short and simply on my blog and Wendy told me to get over here.
I'm at http://rasjacobson.com — if you care to take a look.
holy shit, but you're funny. I've spent all the money I've saved from avoiding make-up on…um…what have I spent it on? Shit, I don't remember. Books, I guess.