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Summer Flowers In This Section

Which Twin Has the Toni?

By Susan Mattson

Created as a part of the Aging Resource Center memoir-writing class.

What smells, scents, aromas do I associate with places I have lived? It’s not something I think about much. In my childhood home, where I spent my first 21 years, I recall many smells and scents, most of them pleasing. Then there are the ones that are not pleasant at all, and which often create what I remember as disastrous results.

As a young child, my hair was, as it is to this day, absolutely stick straight, thin and usually kept quite short. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, Mom decides that my hair needs something. That something is the Toni home permanent. This is a multi-step process: first there are the little plastic, pink curlers that cover my head. Then the noxious smelling perm lotion is applied. It feels very cold as it penetrates through the curlers onto my scalp— the kind of feeling that causes an involuntary shiver. How to describe that smell? I can remember my reaction. I can even imagine it in my head as I write this. It is that rotten egg kind of smell that makes you wrinkle up your nose and try to hold your breath, so you won’t be inhaling it. It’s a sort of sweet, but medicinal smell and the smell stays in your hair for at least a few days after the ordeal is over. After the prescribed amount of time for the perm lotion, then it has to be “neutralized,” as you would a lethal threat. Finally, those curlers can be removed. By this time, they are really uncomfortable and there is a feeling of relief that maybe we’re close to the end. Once the curlers are out, all of these potions must be thoroughly rinsed out of the hair. But that odor remains. The last home perm I have is when I am in the seventh grade and it is right before school pictures are being taken. Unfortunately, the frizzed-out look is not yet in fashion. Mom, always trying to be positive, tries to convince me that it isn’t so bad. But that first day, going to school, I just want to put a bag over my head, or hide in a corner. And, I still have my seventh grade picture to remind me of those days. Mom does not ever suggest another home perm after that as she eventually acknowledges that the results were not what either of us hoped for. So, once the frizz is grown out, and throughout the rest of junior high and high school, my hair is straight and long.

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