Are We Not Ladies?

Lita Kurth

I didn’t go to church today. I didn’t pray. I didn’t share. I dyed my hair. My mother’s daughters dye their hair. All seven of us. With Lady Clairol or Nice n’ Easy, L’Oreal if it’s on sale. At home, in the kitchen sink. Ammonia stinks the nostrils. Children, husbands, even cats wrinkle their noses, but there. My mother and my mother’s daughters dye their hair. Forty-five minutes for stubborn gray or ultra-light. “Hate that gray? Wash it away!” We will be ladies, won’t we?

After walking around under a tower of dye-soaked hair, we rinse the straw-like strands, unnaturally stripped, and apply a smooth and soft conditioner. Set a timer again. Two minutes. Throw away the one-size plastic gloves. Towel-dry with our oldest, raggiest towel. We’re in transit to be ladies, aren’t we?

Even when we had a woodstove, no telephone, no running water, my mother’s fingers swiftly built rows of pin-curls on her head, and in the morning, when she brushed it out—before changing diapers and baking bread—such beautiful Katharine Hepburn waves. So ladylike to wear on the dirt path to the outhouse.

Through the decades, index fingers and thumb managed bobbie pins, sponge curlers, brush curlers, small-sized orange-juice cans, hot rollers, “the all-girl curl from Dippity Do.” In our fists, we brandished curling irons, blow dryers. We can do it! But not all daughters could follow the boldness of my mother, seated in a kitchen chair, aided by sister or neighbor, applying a stench-times-ten home permanent. A delicate affair like canning meat. Results could be disastrous. I never dared. If things went wrong, I’d look like less than a lady.

The sixties came late with long straight hair, bangs, nothing to do for years, but wash and apply a little lemon juice. We are women, not ladies.

And then my mother’s daughters resumed teasing and ironing, blowing and spraying something bad away, walking out with halos of great big hair around our faces. Big important hair. Eyebrows dark, but on our heads a crown of platinum or strawberry. We said we’d quit dying at fifty, but…the shame of gray roots could be erased, so easily, sometimes for only $6.99, safe for the next six weeks. Sufficient time for ladies, women, girls, or desperate consumers to search the shelves of Walgreens for Natural Instincts, Nice n’ Easy, Brilliant, Preference, Excellence to Go. On sale.

Author Portrait

Lita Kurth holds an MFA from the Ranier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, and has published work in three genres. Her creative nonfiction, “Pivot,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her essay, “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” presented at the 2013 Working Class Studies conference, won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award and appeared in Lunch Ticket in 2014. As well, her flash fiction "Gardener's Delight" (Dragonfly Press) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She teaches publicly and privately. In 2013, she co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a reading series in San Jose. She contributes to Tikkun Daily, The Review Review, Class Action, and San Jose’s Metro.