Written by Michelle Ann Vanselous
My grandmother Rummel and mother, Beverly, named me Michelle Ann Vanselous. I love
my name and have never changed it, though married twice. My first memories are at the age of
two, being the first grandchild born on the Rummel side and the third on the Vanselous side. I
was Daddy’s little girl and had the awe of both sides of Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles.
When I was around 4 years old, my grandmother Rummel would walk over to my parent’s small
in the Rummel farmhouse next to her house and she and my Mother would make me their beauty
project for the afternoon. I vividly remember being very excited about this and I would willingly
jump up on the round, thick- leafed maple kitchen table awaiting the pulling and tugging by both
of them to get those perm rods and end papers in my hair. The perm rod set was impeccable and
well thought out by my mother and grandmother each time they did this. Both are extremely
artistic and talented in their own right and I was their work of art! They used the Tony Tonette
Perm, which was specifically for little girls, until the Lilt Foam Perm came out. The Lilt Foam
Perm was an even bigger deal! I had to hold a bath towel over my face and up against the perm
rods as they applied the runny perm solution. The smell of ammonia permeating around my
head is still a vivid memory for me. The dripping continued during the processing time, running
down my forehead, my cheeks, everywhere and it was hard to keep up with catching it with the
towel. That evening everyone from both sides of the family would gather for dinner at my
parents to see the creation and I was all dressed up. The big event came after dinner when they
would place a pin on my dress that read Shirley Temple and I would sing and dance for everyone,
proudly showing off my new coif! Beauty secrets, ritual, kinship and love at its zenith among
the women in my family was passed down generation after generation. Hair is spiritual and
powerful and my mother and grandmother knew this well.
My career began at the age of six. My best childhood friend, Chick Kinney, who was
four, and I often played in my parents very neat and organized two-car garage with a cement
floor. The door from the garage led to a cement patio which then led to the kitchen door.
A galvanized bucket with a handle filled with clothes pins sat on the cement floor of the
garage. These clothes pins were the medium by which my
talent was discovered! One hot summer morning with the sky clear and blue, Chick and I were
playing in the garage. To this day Chick swears I kept saying to her, “You’re ugly, let me cut
your hair.” I honestly don’t remember that part; I don’t quite remember how I got her to do this
but she insists this was how! What I remember most was that I was super intent to cut her hair.
I guess she finally gave in to my demands because I remember going straight through the back door
to the kitchen and into my Mother’s junk drawer to find her scissors. Renetering the garage
seconds later, I was ready to go as if it couldn’t happen fast enough. I remember the feeling of snipping her hair,
snip by snip, with the deepest of concentration, as if something was overtaking me. With sheer childhood excitement
and fear that we might be found out, we hid the hair in my Mother’s clothes pin basket and off we ran to the
front yard where my parents had a wonderful, large clump of birch trees. We laid down on our backs,
gazing up at the wonderful sky through the rustling birch leaves, talking and dreaming as we always did together. Suddenly
we heard my Mother’s scream from the back yard and then she demanded, “Michelle, Chickie,
come here!” When she saw Chick she belted out a scream that made the two of us stand stellar!
We were in trouble and no one else thought Chick looked very good.
What could anyone have demanded of my first haircut? As an artist whose medium is hair, who were they
to make judgment of my artistic interpretation of Chick at the age of six? The day continued as you might have guessed: after a barrage of yelling, Chick’s Father made her go to the barber shop and have the barber cut the rest of it off.
However, this wouldn't stop me. My mother soon recognized my talent and became my biggest fan, promoting me to all in our neighborhood. At first she let me trim her bangs or the hair at the
back of her neck and would show me how to lift the hair with my fingers or the comb to make
it look softer. I progressed by beginning to cut my two brothers' and baby sister’s hair and
then my Father. Both grandmothers jumped on the bandwagon as well. Grandmother
Vanselous especially loved the pincurl set I gave her, proud as ever. Neighbors began
taking my mother’s advice to have me shampoo, set and cut their hair. By fifth grade my first
business emerged. This same year, I taught myself how to perm hair as shampoo and sets required
the perm to hold the style. Every Saturday morning I would set my mother’s hair with black,
brush rollers and pink sticks and of course lots of DippityDoo! She had a hard, hooded, portable hair
dryer that sat on the kitchen table (the same table my mother and grandmother fondly performed their perm on me just a few years prior), her chair positioned backwards under the table. The ritual continued and off I went to set two to four other women in the neighborhood. Soon I was returning home to tease, comb out and style my mother's hair. Back and forth I scrambled until everyone's hair was done!
The styles I created back then mimicked movie stars and news
women anchors of the time, developing my keen 10-year old eye for
trend and progressive design. As the months went by, more and more mother's clammered for a perm, sometimes popping their children in at the last moment. I just couldn’t get enough hair through my hands!
Hair to me is what clay is to the potter. It has a life, speaking volumes to me. I live, eat, breathe, and
sleep hair. Hair is primal, it’s ritual, it’s powerful; it’s our soul. It’s intimate, innate and
hugely impactful. I could share a list of my worldly accomplishments but that is not what makes me happy.
I am personally enlightened by my each of my clients, (placing their backs to me as my mother first did) and trusting me to cut their hair, finding their soul and “feeling” the cut. I literally
channel the cut from my higher source to create, my mind in a meditative, almost trance-like state.
Whether it be the chair in my kitchen or at the salon, my clients have long allowed me to “touch” them as they have “touched”
me. In this I feel timelessness. My blessings are many and the love is tenfold. My skills and talent have blossomed since that
first haircut but the feeling and intensity has never evaded me.