My kitchen was my first hair salon. I would stand on a step stool and lean over the kitchen sink as my mother washed my long, thick hair until it was squeaky clean. After coating it with a creamy conditioner, she would finger comb through my hair and then rinse it with cool water. Then I would sit under the deafening heat of our tall, pink domed dryer until my mother thought my hair was dry enough to move to step 2: pressing with hot combs.
Now, my mother is old school when it comes to doing hair. She used “hot combs” heated up on our gas stove to press my hair. She’d part my hair, rub my scalp and strands generously with grease – either Sulfur 8 or Dudley or good old coconut oil – and run the well-warmed, fine toothed pressing comb through my hair. My mother would then Shirley Temple curl or “bump” my hair. The result was a well groomed, very shiney and tamed head of hair.
My mother always took special care when she was pressing my “kitchen,” the term used by some to refer to the notorious part of a black woman’s hair, the hardest part to get and keep straight. It was always the part of my hair that curled first in the seven days between washings and pressings despite the care I took to keep my hair dry while bathing or to not “sweat out” my hair while playing. I always wondered why folks call that part of our hairline “the kitchen.” Perhaps it’s because, despite all that was done to tame it, that is where the life of the hair asserts itself most fervently – curly, thick, frizzy, kinky, busy, productive, resistant, unedited, full, like home.
There was a part of me that ached to get out of the kitchen – both my mother’s kitchen and my hair’s kitchen – especially in the summer when my mother and I both knew the curly heat of the season would, without fail, beat out the straightening heat of the combs. But, as I think about these hair rituals in the kitchen, believe it or not, I remember them with nurturing warmth. These were times when I learned, among other things, about my mother’s creative uses of kitchen ingredients. For instance, if you are looking for a deep conditioning treatment, crack an egg. Add the egg to equal parts olive oil and mayo (save your heart and use it on your hair instead!). Apply to hair and massage into scalp. Wash out with shampoo after 30 minutes.
Here’s to healthy hair and lively kitchens!
Written By Nicole L.B. Furlonge