Back then, I didn’t know I would have my first and only child at 40 and call her Lily.
She wasn’t named after our elderly neighbor. She was named after the lilies of the valley that grew alongside the modest two storey home my father built with a mortgage from his step-sister and the free labor of relatives in the 1950s.
But I’ve never forgotten the Saturday visits to Lily Lompkin, who would have ready the shampoo and towel, her chair, lots of hard plastic rollers and bobby pins, and that vital 60s ingredient: bright green or pink or blue Dippity Do.
My sister Marti earned a quarter for washing Lily Lompkin’s structural helmet of grey curls each week, slathering a layer of Do onto narrow strips of hair, then rolling them to ‘set’ under Lily’s retro hair dryer.
Out would come the pick comb to flick Lily’s hair into her preferred style, which Marti would finish with half a can of Aqua Net all-weather super hold.
The whole affair took several hours.
Lily was a pleasant elderly woman and I saw her often, but her facial features are as indistinct in my memory as candle wax. No, what I was fascinated by were (a) the quarter (a quarter!), (b) watching Lily’s stiff locks magically melt under the warm water of her kitchen sink tap, and (3), best of all, my older sister’s bold wielding of the pick comb, curlers and goo.
Marti was a student, not a hairdresser, and remembers the weekly visits less fondly.
“Imagine running your fingers through hair that hasn’t been washed for a week and is full of hair spray, grease, and all that Dippity Do. Lily was sweet, but I didn’t look forward to those visits.”
Why, then, did she give up her Saturdays? I mean, a quarter was a lot to me – I was five or six. But it wasn’t a lot to Marti, who was in her late teens, studied full-time every weekday, and dreaded Saturdays.
I'll tell you why she did it. Because she was and is a kindhearted Minnesotan woman, now approaching the age Lily Lompkin was on our Saturday morning walks down the alley to her little white house.
Marti can still wield a pick comb and bobby pin with panache (those have proven to be lifetime skills). But when Lily passed away, Marti was relieved when her side hustle ended, too. As did, eventually, the popularity of Dippity Do – famous everywhere, and in Stearns County.
“This fresh cool gel makes winding faster, neater. Hair feels clean, has body. Sets last longer. AFTER SHAMPOOING – apply a generous teaspoonful to damp hair – comb through – then set.“
I sometimes change the names of real people to protect the innocent; Lily’s last name wasn’t Lompkin.
Photos Casey Hill and Kaipungyai, istock