Mark Ballard

Memories of cow-licks and towheads

Mark Ballard as a child
Mark Ballard as a child

I never gave much thought to my hair when I was a small boy. The only documentations of my locks are from perfectly staged Olan Mills studio shots or blurry black and white photos taken by Mother or other family members.

My childhood photos clearly indicate that from my birth until my teens my hair was a very light blond color. I often heard people refer to me as “towheaded,” but certainly didn’t understand its meaning. I remember thinking what does a toe have to do with my head or my hair.

One thing I can see is that I went through a vast array of hair styles — from conservatively coiffed to shaved head. I don’t know what tools Mother had at her disposal, but she could achieve a part on one side of my head that was so precise and severe you could clearly see the pale pink skin of my scalp.

One time I asked Mother why she chose to part my hair on the right side instead of the left. She said she didn’t have a choice because it was already determined. “By who?” I asked. Her answer always left me even more confused. She told me I had a couple of cowlicks. “The cow must have licked you coming and going!” Mother said punctuated with a little giggle.

I grew up thinking I must be strange to be a towhead who was also licked by a cow — twice! As a small boy, Mother apparently opted to solve all of my hair issues simply by shaving it all off. I suppose that was one way to handle it.

“Mark, you get so hot playing during the summer months your head sweats,” Mother would say. “It’s just easier this way!” She called my summer ‘do a crew cut. When I look back at the photos, I wonder if it was really a “don’t!”

I clearly remember my head being constantly rubbed when my hair was sheared off. Like a beloved dog sitting by someone’s side, I was “petted” for hours on end!

“You have the sweetest little head,” my granny would say as she rubbed it. “It just feels so good!” It was one thing when it was a family member, but a little weird when a complete stranger stopped in a store to pet me!

At some point during the 1960s, Mother discovered the magical qualities of Dippity-Do. It was a pale pink or aqua-colored gel that, when applied to hair, froze it into perfect place. It became a ritualistic process for Mother. She sat me in a chair and dared me to move. Then she scooped out a small amount of the gel from the jar, rubbed it frantically between her hands and then gently massaged it into my freshly shampooed hair.

As she combed it in, the gel emitted a distinct fragrance that I can still remember to this day. I knew better than to touch my ‘do before it finished drying into a cemented helmet. As you can imagine, my hair was always parted and then roached up into what resembled a tidal wave. There it stayed until it was washed away.

Apparently Mother thought of herself as a hairdresser of sorts. When she couldn’t re-create the current hair style with her hair, she enlisted the help of a hairpiece that always reminded me of a cat that had seen better days. Since money was tight, she would sometimes go to the local vocational school where, for a small fee, beauticians in training would practice on ladies in search of a coif. Sometimes the results were good — other times not.

Throughout the years, Mother would sit my sister down to trim her bangs. This procedure took a little more than the Dippity-Do. It required scissors and tape that was made especially for holding hair in place. As my sister wiggled and squirmed, Mother combed her wet hair straight down and used the tape to hold it securely in place.

When Mother picked up the scissors, I always ran! Every time Mother tried to even-up the bangs, more hair would fall to the floor. The final result left my sister’s bangs much shorter than intended. It turns out Mother wasn’t as good at cutting straight lines as she was at combing in perfect parts.

If you want to have a good laugh, you don’t need to watch a comedy or listen to a joke. All you have to do is take a trip back in time with old photographs. They tell the truth about hair ‘dos and don’ts. I promise, after you finish laughing at the hair styles, you will recall a memory that will more than likely warm your heart and make you smile.

Take it from this once towheaded and cow-licked man. These days I’m just grateful I still have hair!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.