Gray man as a tow-head &

Gray man as a tow-head &

Pioneer Potluck: My hair, your hair, everybody’s hair

  • By Ann ‘Granie Annie’ Berg
  • Tuesday, April 4, 2017 9:38pm
  • LifeFood

What is the first thing you notice when you talk to your friends, your neighbors or a stranger?

I bet it is their hair!

What is the first thing you do when you look in the mirror, especially in the morning? Your hair!

A person that is well dressed, but their hair is not in the best of shape — do you decide they are not that well dressed?

What color is your hair? Mine has been completely white — “tow-headed, straight-as-a-string” when I was young — my Dad called me “Cotton top” until my Mom corrected him and told him my name was Ann. Makes me smile. (I could write on how many names I have had.)

My hair turned a little blonde in grade school and in high school a dishwater blonde. It got darker after my kids were born. I tried to keep it looking great by cans and cans of hair spray. Didn’t we all? I tried it short, I grew it long. I had it shaped in a gypsy-shag cut and several other fad type cuts. I have tolerated some of the most awful hair cuts and have been so grateful for the nice easy cuts. I have always had to curl my hair. I am so grateful for the hot curling iron. The pincurls with bobby pins were so uncomfortable, especially sleeping on them. The fuzzy rollers were impossible to sleep in. I have owned the portable hair driers. I have sat under the old fashioned driers in the “beauty salon.” I have tolerated perms that Mom made us get at the beginning of school every fall. Oh! The smell!

Then there comes the color of my hair. I never had it colored until I came to Alaska at age 29. I never wanted the scoldings from my Mom and the comments about the color of my hair and “Why would you do such a thing?”

So when I came to Alaska, I met my most delightful friend Jo Anne. One of her first comment to me was “Oh for heavens sake, let me do that” after she watched me put mismatched curlers — the fuzzy-sticky kind that you wound your hair around and pushed a pick into to keep it from unwinding while it dried. I did not have the picks, so I used toothpicks.

Jo Anne sealed her friendship by grabbing the curlers out of my hair and rewinding my hair in a most careful pattern all over my head. She was stuck with my friendship because she cut and fixed my hair from then on until I moved to Eagle River. Then when I ended up in Kirkland, Washington, after a back operation, I traveled to where Jo Anne had set up a beauty shop in Enumclaw, to have her cut my hair.

I always completely trusted her while we were living side by side in Alaska, we had many fun times over the hair cut and curl. While planning my second marriage she come up with the idea: let’s just highlight and put some color in your hair. OK I say, fine with me. We planned this transformation the day before the wedding. We decided to do it at the house on the lake. We had all day to do it! We had fun planning. We had all the kids outside playing. We made lunch. We finally got down to the “color of my hair.” I don’t know, I say — you decide! (I am not sure this was a color job or a perm. It’s been a long time, almost 50 years to be exact!) So carefully Jo Anne took her time doing all the things that careful hair dressers do. Trimmed and putting the color or the perm in my hair. We waited 20 minutes and rinsed my hair.

First clue was all the air Jo Anne sucked out of the room. Then next was “You are NOT going to like this!”

I jumped up and ran for a mirror — yup she was right! It had turned red. Not a pretty red — not just a little red, but a rusty, bright, ugly red!

That is when we both learned that you do not use well water from a tap that was “iffy” in the first place. That water was the reason I washed only dark clothes in the washing machine. The water was the reason that it turned the sinks and toilet a bright red. That water was full of iron, rust and was smutty-foul smelling! That water turned my hair red!

It did not like the chemicals on my hair and reacted to it. I was shocked. Jo Anne was beside herself. “Now what do we do?” I said in a low, controlled voice. Jo Anne could fix anything — I was sure of it! Her words were “I don’t know!”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” I shouted.

We were a long way from any store — except the little grocery store in North Kenai (Nikiski now). We both were in utter amazement at the predicament we ( I ) was in! And it was to late to go “clear to Kenai.”

Now as I write this I have no idea what we did — I do know Jo Anne did something to tone down the red-rust color. I was married in a pink dress that I made, with red hair the next day. My hair was in perfect shape — curled and patted and sprayed into perfection. Except it was red.

It grew out — it was cut short and looked nice — Jo Anne took extra care for a long time to get back to my old color again. I laugh and laugh at this “tragedy at the time” and how horrified we were. Not one soul notice at the wedding — no one commented on my hair, no one asked about the red (maybe they thought better of it), not even my new husband!

Through the years, living in Alaska in the summer time my hair turned a dishwater blonde, or a dusty brown and in the winter, for about ten years it was a nice light-dark brown, then whoops, there it is gray — dish water grey and almost grey now. I like it this way!

On a trip from Alaska to see my Mom and Dad in the late 1970s, to Colorado to see them and visit with my brother John and wife Kathy and new daughter Sarah, I noticed that when Mom spoke to me she looked straight at my hair as if she were talking to it. Finally after all the visits were over and I was packing to go back to Alaska, Mom said to me, “I like the color of you hair — what color do you use?”

I was so shocked I must have looked like I was lying. “I haven’t colored my hair,”I said in a low quite tone.

“Oh yes you have!” shouted my mother.

Trying to not look guilty — a look I had never mastered around my mother — she repeated “I like the color, what Color is it?”

I told her again, it just turned that color, maybe from being indoors all winter, I do not know. She sniffed her little tone of “you are lying to me” and dismissed me by going off down the hall to the bathroom. She never mentioned my hair after that — and I was careful not to bring up the subject. It gradually turned a light brown in the forever 24 hours of sunshine in Alaska.

A few years ago a bunch of Alaska neighbors and friends in this part of the woods got togather just to see what they have been doing during in the sunny 24 hours summers and what was planned for the cold winters. They worst cold month is October for me. Halloween rolls around and we planned Halloween parties to help.

Sometimes there is snow on the ground, sometimes there is none. And always it is colder that the dickens. The coldest was at Dick Turnbull’s in his garage with the barrel stove glowing at 22 below. Verna would not move from the two inches away from the stove. And she still was cold! Another year we had a big party at Dick Lott’s house in the garage. It was nice and warm and lots of various costumes were on full display. I decided I was going to be a red headed nurse as Bob was going as a wounded powder-monkey that just blew himself up. He went to a lot of work making himself unrecognizable. I planned on mostly wearing white but my hair was a problem. I spied the raspberry Jell-O package. In a hurry, I wet down my hair in warm water, poured on the dry raspberry Jell-O and planned to “just rinse it off.” Nope, it hit my wet, not so warm, head started to stick — and not dissolve. My hair turned a bright bright red, gooey, sticky and yuk!

By doing this at the last minute and not much to time leave for the party, I did the best I could by rinsing it again. Drying it as much as possible, as it was still in a state of gooey. I put on my white clothes and took another look in the mirror. The Jell-O had set up and my hair was one big goo-ball ! Gail, my daughter, looking at me and said, “Geez, Mom what were you thinking of?”

She had several suggestions how to tame down the mess. None worked except we made a nurse cap our of a white doily and plopped it on my head and I went to the Halloween party looking like a frumpy red headed nurse. We both had lots of compliments.

The consequences of the red Jell-o did not end there. When we got home I boiled some water – as this was the days of no running water in the house, and I proceeded to wash the Jell-O out of my hair. Finally the goo came out — after four shampoo and rinses — but the red dye did not. I was a red head ( I had to go to work the next morning a red head) until Bernie so nicely cut it off and gave me a nice short doo.

Through the years I had tried to mastered the art of pouring some pretty color on my hair that you buy in the store. I wanted the “champagne-color” look. Not ever did it turn “Champaign” but come to think of it, what color is Champaign? I like my hair short now. It grows fast and I have had, the once again total luck, to have a wonderful person by the name of Bernie, cut my hair. She does it so expertly that I never complain about my hair any more!

My sister Ginger had beautiful auburn, thick, curly hair when she was little. I loved to brush it. My sister Elaine, had curly-ringlet, dark brown hair that just stayed curled no matter what. Now her little granddaughter, Ivy Elaine looks just like her! Curly hair and all! I loved both my sisters hair. My little brother Jim had straight brown hair. My brother John had black hair like my Mom and Dad had auburn wavy hair. I was totally convinced, as I have written before, that I was adopted because I was the only one in my family that was a tow-head — or as grandson Grey, who was a tow-head also, once exclaimed after I told him at five years old, he was my little tow-head, shot back at me “I am not a toad-head!”

Can you just picture what kind of picture he had in his head?

At twelve years of age I was looking at pictures with Dad one evening, I shouted I look like Grandma (Cogswell) who in the picture, looked blonde, “I look like my Grandma!” I looked at my Dad and said “So I am not adopted after all?” He was so shocked he said, “Who ever told you that?”

I never explained to him that it was him that told me I was found under the wood pile. I worried for years about where I came from until I saw Grandma’s picture.

My three children have blondish-brown hair — not curly. My grandkids have the same. Have you ever wondered why it is the color it is?

Most of us, whom I am talking about in this story, are gray or white headed now. That includes me.

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self -taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at



A frumpy red-headed nurse and the powder monkey.

A frumpy red-headed nurse and the powder monkey.

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