Indian Summer Blonde

Recently, while cleaning and organizing my office, I came across a stack of old published clips. I'd forgotten about this piece that was published in Down Memory Lane magazine years ago. But the memory of living the story comes back to me every summer, just as vivid as the day it happened.

It was 1967. The directions said, "Spray on hair and relax in the sun, golden highlights will appear in less than an hour." 

I spread a beach towel out at the far end of the lake, and I turned on my radio and spritzed my brown hair. I closed my eyes and soaked up the summer rays, listening to the Beach Boys sing California Girl. I blissfully imagined my hair with golden highlights.

In less than an hour my vanity got the better of me and I trudged home to check my crowing glory. To my horror, the mirror reflected bright brassy orange hair.  I was 15 years old; a mixed blood American Indian girl with waist length orange hair, the color of a Raggedy Ann and Andy doll.  My brown hair was gone, and my new orange hair looked as though it was doing me a favor sitting on my head.

I made an appointment at a beauty shop. They agreed to correct my hair early the next morning. It would be a long night. Over and over I wished my hair would somehow right itself.

At the beauty salon another product was rinsed into my hair, this time producing a delicate shade of honey-blond. But there was a catch: this flaxen color would fade after a few washings, and I was warned to shampoo sparingly. It meant I couldn’t swim in the lake. It was the 60s and it was unthinkable to go a day without washing my hair. Daily washing gave me the straight-as-a-board look that was so popular. I could do nothing but grin and bear it and go around with sleep creases in my hair.

At the end of the summer I cut my dye damaged hair short, like the model Twiggy. In time my natural brown hair grew back, and I appreciated it a lot more the second time around. I was convinced that having more fun had absolutely nothing to do with being blonde.

The lake was probably the most distinguishing feature in the mountain community where I spent many of my growing up years. To get there you had to veer off a main highway to a narrow road winding through Oak and tall Sugar Pines, immediately the lake was in full view. It was a small lake filled with fishermen in rowboats and kids on red paddle boards.

The town was also small; we had a volunteer fire department, one market, the cafe, a hardware store and post office where my mail came to me addressed General Delivery.

July was suntan weather. I’d spread a towel on the pale rocky soil at the lakes edge. It was best to come early to get a good spot, soon my friends came and we would all lie there for hours, like pieces of crisply fried bacon draining on paper towels. It wasn't long before my cousin Debbie would say, “Let’s walk to Curly’s Cafe and get a coke.” Gravel pitting into our bare feet as we crossed the heat-blasting asphalt.

It was as if Debbie had one long leg in each world that summer, as if she were climbing out of childhood, stepping into womanhood. When we were teenagers, I wanted to look like her. Especially on that 4th of July day in 1967, on the night of my first firefly and my first kiss