September; the beginning of a new school year. It brings back memories. There were eighteen of us living in Gordon House that long-ago first year of Queen’s. Most of us were ‘freshettes’, the female equivalent of freshmen.
I was enrolled in four introductory courses and ‘Poets of the English Renaissance.’ This last was a fourth-year course where three of us freshettes had been tossed to fatten up the size of a class being offered by a “Recognized Canadian Poet”, the treasure of the English Department. He didn’t deign to acknowledge or learn the names of any of our little coven, sitting boldly together in the third row (though he did occasionally speak to the two first-year males).
The Feminine Mystique would not be published for two more years, so we three had no firm support for our puzzled indignation at being ignored. Fortunately the class material was fascinating, though the atmosphere was neither collegial nor welcoming. Eventually we squeaked through that course like most of our first-year courses; at the “B” level.
In any case, our heads were occupied with three other more obsessive “B’s” — Beehives, Bouffants and Backcombing. The latter being one of the mechanics by which the former two were accomplished. For someone like myself with fine straight hair, born seven or eight years too soon to be easily fashionable, this called for an array of backup paraphernalia and the ability to sleep on a head full of brush rollers.
Marilyn who lived on the third floor of Gordon House owned a rare portable hairdryer with a long hose which attached to a huge (to accommodate the rollers) crackly plastic hood. That hairdryer was heavily booked, usually for days ahead. And it was slow: Marilyn sometimes skipped first class, needing more time to dry her hair. I soon figured out that carbon-copied notes of those classes made good barter material for the hair dryer.
Like a troop of grooming simians, we Gordonites became skilled at backcombing each others hair; increasing its volume by tangling the under layers, then smoothing the top hair over the underlying scramble.
But the final step, the sine qua non of this carefully washed, curled, dried, bulked-up headpiece, was hairspray. It took a thick mosquito-clearing cloud of lacquer to cement such a confection in place. One would sit gasping for breath until the alcohol and other solvents had evaporated, indicating that the helmet was firmly set. A successful hairdo could last for several days, maybe a week, only slightly flattened here and there by sleeping.
I had grown up on a farm, almost an only child, and had spent thirteen years in Sydenham schools. It was Gordon House that marked the beginning of my initiation into the intricacies of the larger world.