Monday, April 27, 2009

Encounters of another kind in the check-out lane

The woman ahead of me at the checkout has her hair set in vintage yellow perm curlers.

She has them in a row smack dab on top of her head with equal amounts of hair carefully wrapped around each one.

The row begins at the peak of her forehead and travels straight back stopping abruptly where the top of her head becomes the back of her head.

The remainder of her hair hangs in stringy strands down around her ears, reaching to the nape of her neck.

There is honesty about this woman that I like. Her shapeless gray hair. Her milky straight face. Her flowered smock top, wrinkle-free blue jeans, spotless white sneakers and those yellow perm curlers.

"You’re missing your dish cloth," the clerk gently teases the woman while scanning her purchases.

"What?" the woman squints at the clerk, looking confused as she reaches into her cart to place more items on the counter.

The clerk repeats herself, only this time speaking robotically, annunciating every word and syllable to make her point.


Realizing that her comment still was not registering, the store clerk waits only but a moment before explaining herself.

"My grandmother used to do up her hair like that," the clerk says, gesturing toward the woman’s hair rollers. "Same type of curlers and all," she continues, her eyes fixated on the woman’s yellow perm curlers while her hands busily scan more items. "My grandma would take a dish cloth, wrap it around her curlers and then tie it off in the back of her head like a scarf."

"Oh, I see," the woman murmurs, nodding courteously with a half smile, yet no less emboldened about wearing hair rollers in public.

Traveling along the checkout counter, the woman follows her items as they move down the conveyor, her curlers flowing as a pragmatic crown.

Such a public display is a throwback to decades ago when women thought nothing of venturing out with their hair done up like this.

What necessity drove her to go shopping today with rollers in her hair? A wedding? A party? A dance? A baptism? A funeral?

Nothing about her is pretentious. Everything about her is in stark contrast to our nip-tuck made-up culture.

I sense a sort of peacefulness about the woman as she goes about her business with her hair set like that.

Yes, I like her instantly. Her shapeless gray hair. Her milky straight face. Her flowered smock top. Her wrinkle-free blue jeans. Her spotless white sneakers. And, yes, those yellow perm curlers.

2009 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a popular columnist and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place in National Federation of Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. Recently, her work took second place in the South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests. To contact Paula Damon, email or join her blog at

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