November 21, 2008

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Learning through faith, stoicism and kindness

Shirley Vogler MeisterIn an issue of Reminisce magazine, I read a letter from a reader in Walworth, N.Y., who asked if other readers remembered getting their hair “permed” with a particular type of machine.

Patricia Suhr shared a photo of such a machine found in her uncle’s shop in Fairport, N.Y.—one of his first purchases in the late 1940s.

Yes, I remembered so I wrote to Patricia about my experience.

I received a “permanent” from a similar machine. It was just before I started first grade at St. Bernard School in St. Louis.

I remember cringing when I saw the frightening machine. It was scary, with thick, very long electrical cords hanging from above. The console below resembled controls on airplanes that I had seen in movies.

The beautician rolled my hair on curlers with strong, smelly chemicals. She attached the curlers to the electrical cords, which were so heavy that I could not hold my head straight.

I cried so Mom convinced the woman to perm my hair in three procedures rather than one in order to get the job done with less discomfort. This took longer, but made me more comfortable—and Mom was patient.

Truth be known, I stopped crying because Mom promised me a pair of roller skates if I could be brave. The skates taught me yet other lessons about stoicism because at first I fell more than I skated.

Also, happily, my mother learned to give me “Toni” home perms—not at all frightening. She obviously had not enjoyed my machine perm experience either.

Looking again at the photo of the intimidating machine reminded me of how awkwardly other things were done in earlier years, even when seeing a doctor on rare occasions.

The first medical experience I recall was scarier than the perm. Because I had severe ear pain and a fever in the middle of the night, my father took me to a hospital by way of public transportation.

I cried at that visit and all subsequent ones, being more frightened than anything else. On the last visit, I was stoic, but it was the only examination that did not hurt whatsoever.

Neither Mom nor Dad ever purposely hurt me or my siblings. Both had soft hearts that sheltered us from pain.

Still, from them I learned to “roll with the punches” and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

This “Golden Rule” came from Jesus Christ. “Consider others as yourself” came from Buddhism, and before that “the world is built on kindness” was a basic tenet of Judaism.

I am grateful for lessons in life, but realize I still have much to learn through faith and the “school of hard knocks.”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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