Sunday, 3 March 2013

smelling the COLOUR

Here on the Sunshine Coast the first day of autumn doesn't have the effect it might in other climates.  Most people think autumn - 'colour' - leaves changing - cool nights.  Usually summer continues for us until the equinox, around the 21st/22nd and then we notice a difference in temperature and change from singlet to tee shirt, sandals to joggers. Most trees are evergreens so leaves drop all year round. It will be harder to notice a change this year as we've had rain, rain, rain and now new growth.  Autumn colour for us today is bright, wet green.

This year on the 1st March I coloured my hair. I have done it before - about 30 or 40 years ago, but had forgotten how messy it can be. Half way through the phone rang, so my colouring was done one handed while I chatted to my beautiful 18 year old granddaugher.

When I was 18 we all coloured our hair with magic silver white, 3 drops turned grandmother's white hair mauve or 20 drops put purple highlights into my long dark hair. No smell and it started washing out immediately.  Over the yearsI did a few home colours, because it made my hair thicker, but mainly went for those wiggly perms that were so popular in the 70's and 80's. 

Years later I chopped off the long hair to make a new start after divorce and realised that while limp long hair has a cool hippy look, limp short hair needs help. Putting colour in gave it body and as my hair seems to bleach with any treatment, I had dark brown with burgundy fading to light reddish streaks over three months - and that was good value - I thought.

Kids leaving home meant I could afford a hairdresser and discovered foils and re-discovered what fun it is sitting around for 45 mins while the stuff works on the hair.  It's a lucky dip as to who the company will be but it's a great way to get to know people in the community you may not meet otherwise.  We've always had half a dozen hair dressers in town, they seem to open and close and change owners and I've tried them all at times and heard many secrets.  I had one experience that still leaves me in disbelief.

I was in the chair and half way into the half head of foils when a man walked in the door. He rattled keys loudly in the air and strode through the salon to the back room. The owner, who was doing my hair, turned and followed him. There was another hairdresser working on another client and a third customer waiting for foils to 'cook'.  They all seemed to know each other well.  The owner and the man came back through the salon, out the front door and went up the street without saying a word.  I sat in the chair, half wrapped, waiting. 

After about 5mins the other hairdresser said to me, "She's just gone to drive her husband to the airport, she won't be long". 

What?  The airport was 20 minutes away!  Half an hour if I was driving.  She was going to drive him there and come back BEFORE finishing my hair!! I'd have one side done and the other side raw! That was hoping it was the local airport and not Brisbane which would take about 90 mins each way. No one else in the room seemed to think it was strange.

She did come back, 45 mins later, removed my foils and put in others, so I did double time in the chair.  I didn't go back there because I didn't know how to be with those people.

But the smell of salon hair dye is not quite the same as the dye you use at home - the strong whiff of ammonia that makes you gasp when you open the bottle, that wet perm/dye odour under the shower for the first few week, the feel of the hair, thickened by the treatment, like grasping a wet sheep skin - and the smell is ..... chemical, and not pleasant, but for me it stirred some very pleasant memories. Memory episodes they are called. I opened the bottle of dye and suddenly was back in Di's family room eating scones from the pool table.

During those kids-in little-school years I was part of the best ladies church group in the world, with an incredible group of women/girls.  It was a wonderfully mixed group with an age range of early 20s up to 60+, girls having babies to grandmothers.  Over several years, through  changes in venue and leadership the group varied from straight bible study to mostly social, from learning life skills to pure hands on helping each other.  Ladies came into the group and left for various reasons, leaving behind their stories and hearts. At different times we had very new Christians and the well seasoned, people with skills to share, ladies who struggled speaking English, some with very unusual backgrounds - all with one thing in common - we wanted to know more about our chosen faith and we wanted to share it. 

Ann and Diane from that group could even be reading this now. Remember those years we met at Dorothy's house and the meetings went on all day. Drop the kids off at school and go to Dots for a morning of singing and discussion, shared lunch and an afternoon of craft or other activities.  When the plums were falling in the streets we'd make plum jam and chutney in Dot's tiny kitchen.  We crocheted and knitted squares to be sewn into cot blankets for the local children's home or babies of bible college students.  We taught each other first aid and swapped recipes, helped care for Gloria's kids when she went to hospital, made soft toys, bed pillows and scrappy patchwork. 

The following year at Robyn's we had guest speakers and discussions on gardening and tupperware parties, organised shopping trips and hiking excursions.  We made bread and turned to wholemeal and soy.  Meetings at Diane's house, in that huge family room, we took turns with the message - Diane shared Handel's Messiah with us and for my turn I talked about meekness, using Clark Kent as an example.

After lunch we'd chat while little kids played under the table and we'd take turns to perm or dye each other's hair. Olga, was always ready to perm a head. She made the yummiest hungarian walnut and honey scrolls - out of the oven and straight onto a plate for us to have with coffee. Olga grew garlic and helped her husband mix concrete for their stone walls, and showed me how concrete blocks work and my house today is concrete block. All these memories came back today when I opened the bottle of hair dye. That sting of ammonia made me blink but inside it was the smell or Olga's walnut scrolls and her garlic, the sound of Diane's music, the taste of Ann's stew, the plum jam and the almost blind lady who said she hadn't been aware of how important it was to memorise the address of scriptures .....

When you think about it, we don't have actual names for most of the smells we experience, we call them by the things they are 'like' or the memories they bring - wet dog, old socks, the grass after rain. Science tells me my emotions are stirred by the fact that my olfactory bulb, the seat of smell in the brain, is placed next to my hippocampus, the primary brain nucleus for memories, as a sort of accident but I think it's by design, a special little gift for us that is beyond words.

Wherever you are, girls of KCF, you taught me so much about sharing and relationship, and understanding each other.  I've never found what we had again, though I've tried. Here in the sunshine state everyone is too busy to sit and talk regularly and make new friends. Maybe it was that damp and misty Leura weather that drove us to huddle together with mugs of hot tea or soup, in sisterhood.  I'd like the opportunity to give that whole experience to others, if it were possible.  We had family, sisters called together by God and I miss you all. I love the girls you were back then and hope those of you who are still around are still blessed and blessing others in the autumn of your lives. 

Yes, once again I've written too much - if you get this far, thank you for reading.


  1. From Diana: Hi Janine, your article is a wonderful memoir. Thank you so much for sharing it. I'd forgotten about dear Robyn. How sweet to be reminded of Olga. She served us chicken soup full of chicken bones. A bit of a revolting sight but tasty.

    1. I remember her chicken soup too, the bones didn't bother me and I still make it that way. Maybe I learnt from Olga.


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