Nellie Bell loved to dance, laugh, smoke, and drink.
Nellie Bell was my Nana, my mothers mother, who told everyone she was five feet nothing, but that was just a bold-faced lie. At five foot two, I towered over her, even in her heals which she wore every day without fail.
Nellie Bell only ever gave me two pieces of advice.
The first was, “always put lipstick on before your husband comes home from work.”
I think I was 12.
The second, when I was 19 and living with her for the summer.
Spontaneously one afternoon with her highball, Pall Mall and while listening to Dean Martin on the stereo, she turned to me and said,
“Mens bodies are awfully ugly, …you know, I never saw your Papa naked.”
Not knowing what the appropriate response is to your grandmother voicing her sexual dysfunction, I remained silent.
Mistaking my silence for acquiescence, she continued after pausing and taking a long drag on her fag and letting the smoke simply rise from her mouth.
“He took his jammies into the bathroom every night and dressed in there.”
Only for a moment did it cross my mind to tell her that I already had formed an opposing opinion.
Nana was a brunette before I was born, a red-head after, and a platinum blond from 1970 on. Sifting through the family photos, you realize sorting the decades by her hair color is a pretty safe bet.
Nellie would send me to the drug store, armed with a twenty, a bribe of candy, and a piece of cardboard.
Never a logical being, the cardboard which had been torn from the top of the hair color box, never bore the brand, shade name or color number. Nellie saved the photo of the model instead.
Many a long hour did I spend walking the hair color aisle in Rexall Drugs, moving from picture to picture, box to box until I made the correct match.
One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same…
It wasn’t as easy when they changed the models on the box.
The dying of the hair is something of a hereditary trait.
The sisters and I have our own …colorful past, which shall remain a secret, at least for now.
It happened in the spring of 1966.
I remember because it was right after I won the bathtub fight. The one where my sister and I fought over the right to sit closest to the bath tub spout.
Only because it was my 4th birthday, my father said.
It happened after that.
It started with the cackling, and ended with The Wonder Bread.
Well, not the bread, but the bag.
The gleaming white bag with the blue, yellow and red circles.
My mother, my Aunt, and my Nana were having a cup of tea.
To a 4-year-old, cackling meant tea, tea meant cookies.
The cackling drew me in, but I stayed for the shortbread.
They sat around the table, tea and shortbread at the ready, my aunt was dying Nellies hair.
This being 1966 it was red.
It wasn’t until much later I realized the early do-it-yourself hair colors didn’t really come with all the supplies you needed.
I just thought everyone wore a Wonderbread bag on top of their hair when they were waiting for it to “take”.
It wasn’t long after the final cup, the time finally came to take off the plastic, and give it a rinse.
The stove timer buzzed, the moment was at hand.
I watched the magic happen from my seat under the table, under the laced tent, where the sun came through in pieces.
The Wonder Bread bag was removed, and silence followed.
It had come off, you see.
They had waited too long. Cackled too much.
There across my Nana’s gleaming red hair, and all the way around, were the words Wonder Bread, and the bright colored circles of the wonder bread bag.
The cackling only got louder.