Noe Valley Voice April 2003

Florence's Family Album: The Blonde Wig

by Florence Holub

In this essay reprinted from the April 1991 Voice, Florence Holub pondered the question: Does she or doesn't she? Or rather, should she or shouldn't she?

Do blondes have more fun? In our house, the answer to that question has always been yes, although not for the reasons one might think. My story begins on a spring day in the 1950s when I went downtown to buy Easter goodies for our three young sons. Loaded with packages, I ended up at the Emporium Department Store, where I joined a crowd of ladies clustered around a salesgirl who was giving a stimulating pitch for a new item on the market: the wig. (At that time, wigs had not yet been marketed for the general public, and were rarely worn by anyone outside the theatrical profession.)

The sales clerk was holding up a curly platinum blonde wig as she scanned the group of attentive women, searching for a likely person to model it. Since I was bareheaded and standing in front, she had only to lean over the counter to slip the creation onto my head. Usually I possess a healthy sales resistance, but in this case I also harbored the regret of having lost the blonde of my youth to the brown of maturity. The other ladies were egging me on, laughing and saying things like, "It's you," "Just like a movie star," and "You should buy it."

I bought it all right, paying the lady $5 (the equivalent of $50 in 1991). To save time, and because I was already loaded with packages, I wore it home.

In the J-Church streetcar, some of the passengers gave me funny side glances, and I overheard the young man seated in front of me say to the young lady beside him (as his right shoulder jerked in my direction), "Did you know that my sister bleached her hair?" She looked at him in puzzlement, so he repeated his words several times, then said, "Oh, forget it!" It was only as I left the streetcar that I saw him resuming the conversation as they both stared at my unnaturally blonde tresses.

Walking up the 21st Street hill, I had to pass one of my neighbors, a very proper lady, who was watering her flowers. She stopped, stared at my hair for a minute, and then declared, "What will your husband say?!"

That question had entered my mind, for although my husband is a patient man, our budget at the time had been stretched to the limit with monthly dental bills for two of our sons who needed corrective bands on their teeth.

I got my answer as soon as Leo greeted me at the front door: his eyes and mouth flew open in astonishment, and then he doubled over in laughter, while I attempted to explain my frivolous expenditure. When he stopped laughing long enough to respond, he told me it was well worth the price, just for the laughs! After a good look in the mirror, it was clear to me that the only movie star I resembled was Harpo Marx. I put the silly thing up on the closet shelf and never wore it again. But someone else did.

It was just a few months later that my father came to our house one evening because his sister Maria (who kept house for him since he had been widowed) was having a "hen party," as he called it. This was a gathering of women, mainly widows and "spinsters," who got together at each other's houses for coffee, Scandinavian pastries, and conversation in their native Swedish language. My father had been banished for the evening. So, feeling a little left out, he decided it would be great fun to "crash" the party, disguised as one of their gender.

Soon we had him dressed up and easily passing for a lady. Decked out in a Tupperware-bowl bosom, some of my clothes and shoes, a matching purse, and the crowning blonde wig, he looked just like my Aunt Maria. The next day, in fact, our neighbor Janet Pera on 21st Street said, "I saw your aunt drive off in the truck yesterday, and I must say that she handled that vehicle just like a man!"

Back at my father's house, the party had been proceeding pleasantly when Aunt Maria had to answer the doorbell to admit a strange yet disturbingly familiar person who announced in a squeaking falsetto, "I am a relative of Maria Kronholm from the old country," and then circled the room repeating his message. As he hugged each lady, they burst out with laughter, recognizing the man they knew so well. A stunned Aunt Maria was the last to penetrate his disguise. And she later told me, "I knew she was some kind of funny lady, but I didn't know what kind of a funny lady." Then she happily confessed that this party was the liveliest affair the ladies had ever been treated to.

The wig again sat in the closet for a few years until Bonnie, a married school chum of mine, came to San Francisco on family business, spending evenings with us in our Noe Valley home. During the days, she was so occupied with chores that she failed to have her hair done properly for her return home. So down from the closet came an offering: the blonde wig. We laughed as she tried on the silly substitute and imagined her family's reaction. But best of all, her ticket reservation was for the first of April.

When she got off the plane in Seattle, her waiting husband and children were struck speechless to find their dear little mother so changed after her trip to San Francisco. My friend returned the wig in a week, saying that her family had been greatly relieved to find that it came off.

The blonde wig hasn't seen active duty for several years now. But it still has a place on my closet shelf, for who knows when I might need it again? h