What’s not to love about the Fourth of July?
Well the smell of burning hair might be one thing. Typically scorched hair isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a fun family gathering celebrating the summer holiday.
I come from a big family.
And this particular summer the Fourth of July party was going to be in our backyard. I lived in a two story house in Little Havana, which is actually in Miami, Fla., not Cuba. It was a section of Miami where a large group of Cuban immigrants migrated to and made it their own version of home. There was a traditional Cuban bakery on almost every block. In between the bakeries you had your local butcher shops and produce markets, which carried the typical Cuban items like yucca, plantains, Latin spices and of course religious statues and candles.
It was going to be a huge gathering so dad set up massive tables across the back yard, while mom prepared the grand meal. Earlier in the day I went with my mother in the family station wagon to pick up the groceries we needed.
But before grabbing the food items my mom had made an appointment for both of us to get our hair done. She didn’t tell me this ahead of time because she knew I hated getting my hair permed. The stuff they used stunk and sometimes burned my scalp. I have fine hair, much like my dad while my mom has thick, lush hair which is what my brother inherited. The perm would only last a few days on me while my mom’s perm lasted forever.
All styled and coiffed, we headed out and gathered the necessary items and headed back home. My dad and brother got pig duty while I went upstairs to get as my mom would say, “All pretty.”
Then the relatives started to arrive. Cousin Mercy, Mike, George, Betty, Janet, Inesita, Leslie, Jeff, Wilfred and Alex all arrived with their parents, of course, which were all my aunts, uncles and cousins. And this list is just my from my dad’s side of the family tree. Add to that the neighbors we had that were mostly like family and soon the house was packed.
My brother and cousins and the other neighborhood boys would gather together to play fun games and likely be up to no good.
I was the third youngest of the female cousins and about seven or eight years old at the time. My two younger cousins, Janet and Inesita and I would often shy away from the other girls. The three of us were somewhat Tom-boys and longed to be able to run around with my older brother and his group instead of playing dress up and tea with the others.
With every one so fixated on the food and the parental units busy sharing stories while sipping wine, the three of us rushed off to see what kind of trouble my brother and his cohorts were getting into.
I was just happy to peel off the dress my mom had picked out for the day. It was a yellow and blue striped polyester dress with matching bonnet. It was awful and hot. We went up to my room donned on some comfy clothes and went out in search of the boys’ adventures.
It didn’t take long to find the boys. They were on the sidewalk just three houses down from mine. All I could see as were approached were colorful lighted objects, some spinning on the sidewalk, some in their hands.
Somehow they had gotten some fireworks and sparklers. My two adventurous cousins and I ran towards the group. Of course they told us to go back home or they would tell on us.
“Fine we'll just go back and tell them you are playing with sparklers," we said collectively. Knowing they might get into trouble they let us stay.
All was going great and we were having a blast twirling our sparklers around as we danced on the sidewalk. The boys would toss their sparklers into the air just before they burned out.
Running out of matches we stood in a circle and held the tips of all our sparklers together so we could light them up with just one match. Suddenly all of the sparklers flared up. It was a quick burst of flame and they were all lit. I started to twirl mine around and dance. Then I smelled something weird.
The flash had lit my hair on fire due to the perm chemicals. Of course all I did was freak out and start to run which didn’t help the matter. Someone grabbed the hose, turned it on and doused me.
There I stood, the right side of my hair partially sizzled away like an awkward side Mohawk cut, drenched and sobbing. Everyone scattered and I ran to my room. The family was soon alerted by my hollering sobs, the jig was up - we were busted.
Mom had to take me to get my haircut short to remove the damaged hair. I ended up with a boy cut, looking like my brother. Thinking back I was grateful that I had changed out of that polyester dress. I would have been totally lit up like a human torch with that bonnet on my head.
It wouldn’t be the last time the I would get in trouble. Not even close. But it was the last time my mom took me to get my hair permed.