A bowl haircut, and what you can see in the background

Me (age 6, maybe?) getting the standard haircut by my Didi – my grandmother Reta Keay – in the kitchen of the Manse. And not looking to be enjoying the experience all that much. Note the turquoise-and-white (okay, the photo’s in black and white so you can’t see the turquoise, but perhaps you get the picture) linoleum tile floor that I’ve cited many times before, and that I long for today. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

When I was a little kid growing up at the Manse, I wanted to have long hair so desperately. Princesses and hippies and Laurie Partridge and Joan Baez all had long hair; why couldn’t I? Even Nancy Drew and her friends (save for “tomboy” George, who I believe wore it in a short bob) had hair of a certain length. Titian hair, in Nancy’s case. Whatever that is. (As my own cousin Nancy recently noted.)

Anyway, it was decided early on that my sister, Melanie, and I would have short hair, doubtless because it’s much more practical. And when we were little it was my grandmother, my Didi, who cut it. While I’ve called them bowl haircuts, they really weren’t. But they also weren’t the most flattering cuts a fashion-savvy Queensborough girl could have.

As with any old photo taken at the Manse, I scoured the one at the top of this post for telltale vestiges of what once was. There’s the turquoise-and-white linoleum flooring in the kitchen, and the rather fancier pattern of the linoleum in the adjoining dining room that you can just barely make out.

The vintage arborite kitchen table that Raymond and I have today in Montreal. Why do you suppose I wanted that kind of table?

There’s our old arborite kitchen table with the grey top (you know the kind I mean); ever since my childhood at the Manse I have harboured a love for those tables. The matching grey plastic-covered chairs that came with that one clearly had, by the time the photo was taken, bitten the dust; they were cheap and very unresilient faced with a bunch of little kids who could do all sorts of ripping-type damage. But I’d forgotten all about the wooden chairs that we used in their stead. I wonder where those chairs are now.

You can also see the late lamented white wainscotting along the kitchen wall, covered over six or seven years after this photo was taken with then-trendy wood panelling, but not before the chair rail had been ripped off and tossed out. (It pains me to recount this, as you can imagine.)

And finally you can just get a glimpse through the doorway into the dining room of the edge of a piece of furniture that came with the Manse and that we called the buffet – a dark and (as I recall) ugly old thing in which the good china was stored. But just seeing that little corner of it brings back to mind the not-unpleasant old woody smell that would emanate from it when you opened one of its doors to bring out the good china when company was coming for dinner. (Company – in the form of parishioners from my dad’s churches – came for dinner pretty much every Sunday at the Manse.) Also, our used-every-year advent calendar sat perched atop the “buffet” every December, and every year we had the same fun opening the little windows and seeing what was behind them. No candies, you understand: just pictures related to the Christian Christmas story, which we kids found delightful. I have still not got over the befuddlement I experienced the first time I heard that some advent calendars have candies or chocolates in them. That is over the top, if you ask me.

Anyway: you can see a lot in an old photo taken at the Manse! If you’re me and grew up there, that is.

My sister, Melanie, looking on. Hard to tell whether she’s next in line for the haircut or has already undergone the ordeal herself. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

As a very small child I gave my grandmother the name Didi, probably my attempt to pronounce her given name, Reta. My grandfather J.A.S. Keay was known as Buh, I expect the best I could do when it came to Grandpa. Buh and Didi – who lived in Leaside, the very pleasant Toronto suburb where my mother, Lorna, grew up – visited us a lot when we lived at the Manse; Buh took lots of photos, and it is thanks to him that I have all these great old images of my childhood and the house I grew up in. Didi was an eminently capable woman in very many ways: cooking, sewing (she made most of the clothes that my sister, Melanie, and I wore in those days), knitting and, apparently, haircutting. What I realize now but probably couldn’t have known at the time was that she did this to help out financially, since a minister’s salary was then – as it is now – pitiful.

Anyway, we loved to see Buh and Didi; they were kind and good people, and we four kids – their only grandchildren; my mother was their only child – were very special to them. They were awfully good to us.

Although truth be told I could have done without the hair-cutting.

12 thoughts on “A bowl haircut, and what you can see in the background

  1. Katherine, apparently short haircuts were a trend back then for little girls. My cousin Paula’s Mom, my Aunt Lucille, had a beauty shop. She would come to the house and cut my hair about as short as Melanie’s in the photo. I looked like a little boy. I’m loving the memories this story brings back. You both look adorable.

    • Clearly your experience on the early hair front is very similar to mine, Eloise. So my question is, why did they want to make us look like boys? Oh yeah, I forgot: short hair = easy maintenance. Come to think of it, if I were my parents I would have done exactly the same thing!

  2. Yeah, no kidding on the easy maintenance. There was a reason I never had long hair, and it might just have had something to do with the screaming that emanated from my mouth every time Mom approached with a hairbrush. Kinda like what I hear nowadays whenever I announce that it’s bath night.

    And now I understand why you had such long hair for all the formative years of my life. But really, you and Nancy are far more learned than I am. Quit pulling my leg…how can you guys not know what Titian-haired means? Surely there were some references in the Anne of Green Gables books?

  3. I’ve been meaning to say how much I liked this post, especially the photos of you and Mrs. Keay. (By the way, I always thought it was exotic that you had nicknames for your grandparents. Ours were Grandma Sedgwick and Grandma Lane.) As for Nancy Drew’s hair, I believe Titian is more red-blonde than red, Smarty-Pants Valerie. You probably don’t want to mess with me on Nancy Drew details, folks.

  4. Yes, I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed seeing the pictures of Mrs. Keay, Katherine, and I always enjoy seeing the photo credits to Mr. Keay. I never knew where the “Buh” thing came from, so that’s yet another thing you’ve cleared up for me.

  5. My titian-colored hair (strawberry blonde as it used to be called) was long and in braids (called pigtails back then) all the time. I would be out in the yard digging worms or catching grasshoppers (I was quite the tomboy) when my Mom used to call me in to “do my hair”. I hated it! I guess she got sick and tired of hearing me complain and cry as she was trying to brush all the snarls from my hair because one day Aunt Lucille just took the scissors and snip, snip, the braids were gone and I had a boy’s haircut like my sister! They put my braids in a plastic bag, and for years my father kept them in the top drawer of his bureau. My mother always told me that daddy had loved my braided hair. After he passed away, she gave me them to me – I still take them out occasionally, amazed at the soft silky hair, still braided so perfectly after 50+ years. Ahhh…the memories…

  6. I am currently growing my hair out. It is nearly to my elbows, and my boyfriend trims the ends for me to keep from losing my length. When I was a little girl my mother took me to the salon and I got that same ugly haircut that made me look like a little boy. Talking to a woman at the grocery store yesterday that had her hair in a ponytail that reached past her hips, she shared that it took her twelve years to get it that long. She does her own self trimming and she said that when she was a child, her grandmother would actually put a bowl on her head and cut around it. So it looks like there were a number of us that received that same bad haircut. I think that is why there is a good number of women that despite the so called popular hair trends, choose to keep our hair long. And I love how my hair looks in a french braid.

    • Poor you, Cheryl – scarred for life on the haircut front by that bowl style! I too wore my hair very long for many years in reaction to it, but I confess that in later life I’ve come around to the simplicity of shorter hair. There are no bowls in my hairstylist’s arsenal, though!

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