THE FANTASTIC FIVE (PLUS ONE)

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Back in the summer of 1966, I was growing up with a group of friends in my neighbourhood who had one thing in common with me: Long hair. All of us had never gotten a haircut in our young lives…….until that momentous year. We were all the same age, 13, went to the same school and lived within a few blocks of each other. We did a lot of things together, like our homework, going to the shopping mall, movies, eating hot dogs at the Ski Bar, swimming in the river. In the evening, we got adventurous and actually skinny-dipped while no one was looking! We were quite a group. There was myself, (My name is Karla Liebrandt) Nicole Richard, Julie Barbera, Betty Menz and Rita Ekert. All of my friends had their haircuts before I did. Nicole during the school year. Rita soon after. Julie in May. Betty’s just after the school year. Then me, in early September. As I reminisce about that historic summer of 1966, I can’t help but ask myself one question: What if we all had our hair cut at the same time? Same day, same place, same time, same Bat channel. I have tried to imagine what would have transpired if we were all gathered together for our big day. How would it have turned out? Different, for one thing. Instead of dragging it out for over nine months, it could have been a one-shot deal. As I was contemplating this, I decided to put my thoughts into words. I wrote a story of what might have been, had we all banded together for our appointed date with the scissors. Here is what I think may have transpired, if we had of teamed up together and held the big event in one fell swoop. What if………………….

When growing up in LaSalle Quebec, I had gradually built up a friendship with a group of girls in my neighbourhood. All five of us resided within a few blocks of each other, in the same area. We were all the same age, born in the same year, 1953. We also attended the same primary school, having started together in grade 1. We stayed together from the beginning up until grade 6. We played together, studied together, stayed together and hung out together. And we were all born in the summer. While we were different in quite a few ways, there was one common denominator that we all shared: Every one of us had long, virgin hair. That is, we have never had a haircut in our lives. Our hair was of varying lengths, thickness and texture, but the bottom line was constant: Long. We were dubbed “The Fantastic Five” by my friend Karen Witherspoon. (Who also had long hair) Of the four girls I knew, Betty was my favourite. She lived next door to me and we had two things in common with each other. We both had long hair and big noses! We were five girls together in all types of weather, but we couldn’t look any more different if we tried! Allow me to give a brief description of the members in our little group of friends:

Julie Barbera was a 5 feet 2 inch stocky, heavy set girl weighing in at 200 pounds. She had a pugnacious looking face with piercing blue eyes, firm mouth and a wide nose. Julie’s hair was incredibly thick, bright red and stopped just below her waist. Because of her sturdy appearance, everyone called her “The Bulldog”. Julie was brought in to our world on July 28th.

Rita Eckert was a small, barely 5 foot, slender little girl, who couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds. She had a sallow look about her, with a pale face, small nose and beady blue eyes. Rita’s hair was light brown and waist length. She forever wore it pigtails. In fact, no one in our school ever saw her wearing it differently. Being the Twiggy of our group, we called her “Bony Maronie”. Rita came into the world on September 2nd.

Betty Menz was 5 feet 5, tall for her age. She was a little bit on the chubby side, had a roundish face, full lips, deep set green eyes and a big, slightly bulbous nose that stood out. Betty’s hair was by far the longest among us. And I do mean L-O-N-G! It was medium brown, very straight, not thick and parted on the left. Betty’s hair cascaded below her shoulders, down her back, past her bum and didn’t stop until it was over six inches below her knees! She was called “Godiva Girl”, for obvious reasons. She was also the comedienne of the group. As Betty liked to say, she was “Hatched” on June 26th.

Nicole Richard was a big, plump girl measuring 5 feet 2. We never asked (Nor made fun of) her weight, but an educated guess would be around 230 pounds. She had an angelic face, bright blue eyes, a cute button nose and a terrific smile. Nicole’s hair was medium brown, slightly wavy and flowed to her waist. Sadly, she was constantly having problems with split ends, and had to trim it every few months. On top of that, guys were constantly pulling her hair for fun. Fun for them maybe, but not for her. She was known as “Hippie Chick”, because of her carefree personality. Nicole was born on August 2nd.

I was just over 5 feet 4, and weighed 120 pounds. Not skinny, but not big, either. I was on the athletic side. My young figure didn’t have many curves, if any at all. I had a slightly angular face with round cheeks, brown eyes, full lips and a huge, turned up nose. My hair was dark brown, almost black. It was fairly thick, but got thinner as it flowed down. When unbraided, my hair was past my bum, about seven inches above my knees. I had the second longest hair in our little gang. My over-affectionate nature earned me the name “Hot Fräulein”. My birthday was on June 29th.

Most of us had decided that it was time for a change. After the school year was over, I was badgering my mom and dad to cut my hair. I was going into high school, after all. I wanted to “Look” like a high school student. While she liked her hair, Nicole was getting tired of the split ends and the hair pulling. Rita didn’t want to look like a kid anymore and had wanted to get rid of her hair since the beginning of the school year. Julie was a little more reticent, not really sure what she wanted to do. She was sitting on the fence until the almost the last day. Betty was adamantly against letting a pair of scissors near her hair. Her parents, specifically her mother, were equally adamant, forever pushing her to cut her hair. It was heartbreaking because Betty so much loved her sumptuous, super long hair. In the end, she finally caved in and joined us. We looked up various beauty salons and the only one that could accommodate us was the Topaz, because it had six chairs. Since we were five, it was perfect. To fill in the extra chair, we called Diane Bellerose to round out our little bevy. She was a year old than us at 14 and already in high school. Diane was all of 5 feet 1, 170 pounds and pear-shaped. Her face was round with brown eyes, a pleasant smile and a straight nose. She was shy and mostly kept to herself. Diane’s hair was auburn, long and oily and It reached down to her bum. She perpetually wore it in a pony tail. She too, was contemplating a cut. After thinking it over, Diane agreed to sign up. By the way, her birthday was June 4th.

The day after, we all gathered, oddly enough, at Diane’s house. It was actually a duplex in the upper side of town. Over apple juice and Oreo cookies, a program was drawn up of what we wanted to do. This took some time, but after an hour and a half of discussion, it was agreed upon by all of us that: 1)- We would have our haircuts sequentially, not all at one time. 2)- Afterwards, we would have our hair styled simultaneously, there being six chairs, after all. 3)- We would pool our allowances and savings to pay for it ourselves. 4)- With the remaining money, we would go out to the Ski Bar for hot dogs and soda pop. 5)- We would have our pictures taken before and after the big cut. 6)- We would have a neutral party draw out the names to determine the order. The person we chose to do the job was Mrs. Smith, our school Principal. When we approached her with the idea, she was very receptive. This event was scheduled for the last day of school, on June 23rd, so as not to let anyone know of our master plan. On the appointed day at 9.00 AM, the intercom clicked on and blared: “The following people will report to the Principal’s office: Karla Liebrandt, Betty Menz, Diane Bellerose, Rita Ekert, Julie Barbera and Nicole Richard. That is all.” I’m sure people must have been thinking that we were in trouble. But on the last day?! I smiled at the thought. We went downstairs and were led into the inner sanctum. Mrs. Smith greeted us and immediately got down to business. Gladys Smith was a stout, short-haired, no nonsense type, with penetrating grey eyes. She was a former Army officer and WWII veteran. She was as tough as nails, but also very kind-hearted. She was firm, but very fair, loved and respected by all of us.

Before she commenced the draw, Mrs. Smith opined that she wouldn’t mind seeing her 13 year-old daughter join our merry band. She was always after her to please get rid of her hair. Colleen Smith was an athletic, wiry tomboy who was always getting into trouble for punching out the other girls in Gym class. She had long, stringy, butt-length brown hair and always kept it free flowing. Colleen was forever a positive, sparkling-eyed, bubbling ball of exuberant energy. We all wanted to kill her! Thank God there were only six chairs available at the beauty salon. Mrs. Smith took out a huge bowl and six index cards. She printed down our names on each one, showing them to us after she did. She then folded them in two and stapled them closed. She put them in the bowl and mixed them up for a few seconds. Mrs. Smith pulled out the first card, removed the staple and opened it. The order was: Nicole Richard, Julie Barbera, Rita Ekert, Diane Bellerose, Karla Liebrandt and finally, Betty Menz. I couldn’t help but notice the look of anxiety on Betty’s face as the names were being drawn. We all knew she didn’t want to do it. With this having been established, we all returned to our regularly scheduled classes, already in progress. Afterwards, we proceeded to make an appointment for our date with destiny. We didn’t want to schedule it until after Dominion Day, July 1st. Neither did we want to stretch it out, as most people were getting ready to go on vacation. At Betty’s birthday party on June 26th, we had an impromptu meeting and discussed the possible dates. Everyone was there, even Diane, who usually didn’t attend social events. The date eventually agreed upon was July 4th, a Monday. The day after, we went to the Topaz Salon and told the owner, Mrs. Carpenter (AKA widow Carpenter) what we had in mind and she readily agreed to have us show up on that day at 3.00 PM. A week to go before the collective cut! We called up all of our friends and told them. The neighbourhood was buzzing with the news and soon, everyone was talking about it.

We enlisted the services of Mr. Antonakakis, our geography teacher, to take the photos. He resided about a half a mile away and was moonlighting as a photographer. Everyone called him Mr. A. He had a small studio in his basement and a 35MM camera, along with the other tools of his trade. He even had what was called a video cassette recorder, or “Betamax”. It was from Japan and was an enormous object which cost over $1500.00! Using this novel item for our big event would involve a lot of work and be too expensive. Pictures it was. Funny thing, Diane didn’t show up for the shoot. We let it pass. We had photographs (Colour, of course) taken of us collectively and individually. Every one of us either unbraided, took down or loosed our manes of varying length. We stopped for a moment and all gaped at Rita, because it was the very first time we ever saw her hair free flowing. It was quite long, wavy and down to her slender hips. We all brushed our hair in order to get ready for the camera, while our teacher/photographer was setting up his equipment. Mr. A. was astounded at what he saw and complimented us on having such beautiful hair. We all smiled and said “Thank you.” When he inquired as to why we wanted to cut our lovely hair, all of us, except Betty, commented it was time for a change. We stood close together for a frontal shot then turned around, showing off our long, gorgeous hair. Mr. A. took a few shots of each position. Now the individual shots were being taken. Left and right side, front and back, as Mr. A. was clicking away. With one exception, we were all smiling as the pictures were being taken. I’m sure you know who that was. Some of us got a little funny, doing one crazy stunt or another. Julie was pretending to snarl at the camera in one shot. Rita held out her hair to each side in another, like a propeller. Nicole pulled her hair frontward to each side in a Morticia Addams look. On one of the side takes, I looked at the camera, raised my head with a bugged-eyed look on my face and then puckered up, showing off not only my long hair, but also my big nose in the process. Mr. A. found this very amusing. After it was over, we each returned our long locks to their previous format. We all thanked him and reminded him to be at the Topaz Salon on July 4th, at 3.00 PM. He circled the date on his calendar.

With yet another part of our agenda being completed, we made reservations for six at the Ski Bar. The owner was a middle-aged British expatriate named Frederick Mountford. He was known all over town as “Papa Fred”, a name he despised. We explained what we were up to and told him we would most likely be finished by around 5.00 PM. He answered “No problem mates, I’ll ‘ave yer table ready when yas get ‘ere.” in his pronounced Lancashire accent. We gave him a notice that we wanted hot dogs, french fries and soda pop for our meal. Not to worry, old Papa Fred replied. We thanked him, got on our bicycles and went our different ways, anticipating the coming day with mixed emotions.

Before we knew it, the day of reckoning was at hand. July 4th, 1966. Betty, being our resident funny girl, called it “The day of The Big Snip.” It was an unusually cool day for summer, but not too cold. The night before, we each washed and dried our hair, so as not to take up too much time at the salon. Three of us (If you count Diane) decided to style our lengthy tresses in various ways that morning, Julie and Nicole being the exceptions. Rita kept her omnipresent pigtails, the reason being her mother wanted to keep them. Betty made her magnificent hair into a ponytail, then into a bun. Diane made her auburn hair into a ponytail, as she so often did. I let my mother brush and braid my hair, as she so often did. Then I went and did something unexpected. I asked my mom for a hair clip, twirled my braid on top of my head and inserted the clip, to keep it up. When she asked me what ever for, I told her I wanted to antagonize my cousin Robbie. She looked at me as if to say: “You’re not being nice.” Nicole and Julie both decided to keep their hair unconfined for the occasion. All six of us arrived at the Topaz salon at the appointed time, being driven there by our respective parents. They knew where we were going after. Julie and Nicole’s parents told them to call when they were finished. Each one of us was dressed in either slacks or jeans and a tee shirt. Betty told us hers was a “Coffee shirt” and showed us the stains to prove it. Rita’s mother, as well as mine, stayed for the big event. All of a sudden, I noticed it. A big, brown 1966 Pontiac Strato Chief 2 door was parked outside. Betty’s folks were actually here to watch her get her hair cut. I was thinking: “The NERVE of these people!” It’s not bad enough that they were forever harassing her, but did they really have to BE here?! Guess they wanted to make sure it was done.

We were greeted at the door by the owner, Mrs. Carpenter. She showed us in and introduced us to the person who was going to do the dirty deed. Her name was Liz, and she looked like a refugee from a trailer park. She was about 50 or more, her tousled, greying hair standing out in different directions. She was overweight, had a rough complexion and was missing a few teeth. She was dressed in a dull, dark grey, ankle-length dress that had seen better days. I wondered if her name was short for “Lizard”. At least she was a pleasant woman, warmly saying hello to all of us and declaring that everything was ready. She motioned to the chair nearest the window and demanded “Who goes first?” We all glanced at each other and giggled, the sequence being established beforehand. A good number of our friends were gathered to watch this important event. Even people outside the salon were stopping to see through the window! I scanned the place and my eyes stopped on two people, looking smug in all their snobbery. I knew who they were, Betty’s parents and I wanted to murderize them! I can always plead insanity, right? Mr. A. was there, ready to take pictures of each of us while our hair was being cut off. Unbeknownst to us, Betty had pleaded with him not to take pictures of her “Big Snip” as she called it. Mr. A. kindly agreed to her request.

Nicole went first. She looked at each of us and said “Ici nous allons les filles, nous allons nous faire couper les cheveux!” (Here we go girls, we’re going to get our haircut!) Nicole was looking forward to this for quite a while. She liked her long hair, but kept on having split ends. Not to mention the guys at school constantly pulling it. In her own words, she said “Je suis écoeuré!” (I am fed up!) Despite this, Nicole still showed a little trepidation as she slowly ambled over and sat in the chair. The stylist put on the cape and pulled back her hair. Before she could prep her, Nicole swept her long brown hair to one side and gently pulled it over and over for about a half a minute. When she was finished, the stylist replaced it on her back and briefly brushed it, then made it into a ponytail. On went the elastic. She took out her scissors and asked if she was ready. Nicole replied “Oui.” (Yes) Ever so slowly, the stylist clipped off her waist length mane as Nicole was smiling, and before long (Or should I say after?) it was all over. She gave the ponytail to her. Nicole stood up and flashed a big cheshire cat grin as she held her ponytail up high, and shouted “C’est fini!”. (It’s over!) The hippie chick was now a happy chick. She gave it back to the stylist, feeling no need to keep it as a souvenir.

Julie was next. She got in the chair and was caped. There was a certain look of trepidation on her face, a clear case of butterflies. The stylist was amazed at the thickness of Julie’s hair, which is why she took quite a while brushing her plentiful red mane. In fact, she had to use a bigger elastic for it. She finally managed to twirl it into a ponytail and put on the elastic band. Then she asked her if if she was ready. Julie nodded yes and out came the scissors. Before the stylist could begin cutting, the rubber band broke! Julie’s hair burst free in a bloom of brilliant red. It was like watching a flower grow in time lapse. She had to find an even bigger rubber band. Once again, she brushed her bushy red mane. And again, the stylist made Julie’s blazing red locks into a ponytail. Before she could ask her again, Julie told the stylist “It’s ok go ahead, I’m ready.” The stylist was taking considerable time cutting off Julie’s bright red hair because of it’s thickness. She started from the right side, then had to cut from the top. She reverted to the bottom, then over to the left side. Over and over, she switched directions while slowly snipping away. It took almost five minutes to cut off Julie’s abundant hair. Finally she was finished. The stylist offered Julie her freshly cut ponytail, but she politely refused. She put it on the counter instead. (I wonder where it went after)

Rita came up and sat down. The cape went on. She told the stylist that her mother wanted to save her pigtails, so could she cut her hair the way it was? She agreed, but explained that she had to undo her braids and put an elastic on top, in order to keep them intact. Rita ok’d it and the next thing you know, her light brown hair came flowing down to it’s full length. This was the only second time we saw Rita’s hair loose. It was wavy and hip length. The first elastics went on, then the stylist braided one side, next the other. The elastics were in place and it was the moment of truth. Scissors in hand, The stylist asked the question: Are you ready? Yes, said Rita. She took one pigtail in her hand and slowly clipped off one half of her hair. It looked weird, seeing one side of Rita’s head with just a clump hair and on the other side, a long braid. Once again, pigtail in hand, the stylist repeated the process. She slowly clipped off the remaining pigtail, as Rita sighed in relief. After the stylist gave them to her, Rita walked over and handed them to her mother.

Up next was Diane. She let out an “Ooooh” as her name was called. She walked over and sat down. The cape fastened, the stylist undid her ubiquitous ponytail. Since Diane’s hair was always pulled back, we had no idea where she parted her hair. Until today. Before brushing, the stylist asked her about this and Diane answered. She took her comb and parted her hair on the right. The mystery was solved after all these years! The stylist began to brush Diane’s long, oily hair. She went on for a while and then made her hair into a ponytail once more. Again, the proverbial question: Are you ready? Diane replied “I think so.” The stylist insisted she be certain about it. After all, there was no turning back after it was over with. Diane emitted an “Mmmmm” before declaring her definite answer. It was a yes. Out came the scissors. The stylist took her ponytail in one hand and slowly clipped it off as Diane released a lengthy “Aaaah” sound of relief. After it was over, she did a most unusual thing. Diane insisted her hair be styled right now, instead of all together, as we had agreed upon. The stylist made it into a chin bob. When finished, she got out of the chair, paid the stylist and immediately left the salon. Diane didn’t even say goodbye to us! She just took off. Her ponytail ended up with Julie’s and Nicole’s on the counter.

It was my turn. I kissed my mother, then my cousin Robbie. I invited him because I wanted to see him get a “Stiffy”, like he did before when my mom was prepping me for school. I slowly walked over and sat down. The hair stylist caped me and removed the huge clip holding up my hair. She undid the braid and briefly brushed my hair. As she was brushing it, she said: “You have very long hair. Is this your first time?” I replied “It’s the first time for all of us.” The stylist took my lengthy hair and made it into a ponytail, then installed the big elastic band. Again, the question: Are you ready? I looked over at Robbie, smiled and said yes, I’m willing. Before she could start cutting, my mom wanted to braid my hair for one last time. I agreed and she took off the elastic. She lovingly brushed and braided my hair, as she so often did and now I was ready. The stylist took my pigtail in her hand, and as she did, I tilted my head back, my eyes looking heavenward, my huge nose up in the air. My heart was pounding as she held my braided hair slightly outward and proceeded to shear off my extra long pigtail in a very slow and deliberate manner. I lowered my eyes to look over, (My head was still tilted up) and sure enough, Robbie was getting another “Stiffy”. My mother, however, was crying. After it was over, I gave the pigtail to my mom.

Finally, Betty’s turn came up. She looked at the chair and asked “It’s not plugged in is it?” The stylist shook her head no and Betty sat down. She placed the cape on her. Then she pulled out all of the bobby pins holding up Betty’s bun and her hair dropped down to it’s full length in the form of a ponytail, eliciting a look of astonishment from the stylist. Because Betty’s hair was so spectacularly long, the stylist made her stand up in front of the mirror. Then she removed the elastic. This was funny because when she did, her hair fell in front of her face. Betty parted her hair on the left side, so she looked like Cousin Itt! The stylist held up Betty’s incredibly long hair as she brushed the bottom half. Then she brushed the top half. As the stylist was pulling her ultra long straight hair into a pony tail and putting on the elastic, she couldn’t help but state the obvious: “Oh my goodness, your hair is so LONG!” Betty smirked and replied “Yeah, and the sky is blue.” As she was holding Betty’s super long ponytail in her hand, the stylist took out her scissors and asked once more “Are you ready?” I’m sure Betty wanted to say no, but she let out a weak “Yes” instead. Tears were welling up in her eyes. Next thing we knew, the stylist was snipping off Betty’s luxurious, uber long mane of below knee-length tresses! Poor Betty was crying her heart out during the whole ordeal. We felt so sorry for her, because she really didn’t want to do this. This was all her parents doing, not hers. When offered her ponytail, Betty refused with a curt “NO!.” On the counter it went, with all the others.

After our fabulous flock was sheared, it was time for the styling. We each sat down in our assigned chairs and the work began. I ended up with Trailer Trash. We all possessed a pretty fair idea of what we desired, post long hair and so we told the stylists what we wanted. After the styling was completed, we were a totally different bunch. Betty’s hair was curled slightly, making her formerly straight hair wavy and she had bangs for the first time. Julie opted for a very short, pulled back style, exposing her ears. Rita had her hair done into a page boy, covering her ears. As for Nicole, she had her hair made into a light perm, just a little on the curly side. I had my hair cut into a Mary Quant style, partially covering my ears and also having bangs for the first time. We each paid our respective stylists, leaving a them small gratuity and thanked them. We called a cab and headed for our next destination, the Ski Bar! Meanwhile, Betty’s parents, along with Rita’s mom and mine, dined at the Malibu restaurant, just down the road. They returned to pick us up after.

We arrived at the Ski Bar and Papa Fred was waiting for us. Having heard of our little escapade, he announced that our meals were on the house. Terrific! We each ate three hot dogs, along with a sizeable portion of fries and a large soft drink. My favourite was Dr. Pepper, Nicole was a Pepsi fan, (What else!) while Julie loved grape soda. Rita was a root beer fanatic, while Betty drank cream soda. When we finished our meals, every one of us was stuffed! It was time to go home. Nicole and Julie called their parents on the pay phone and shortly after, they arrived. While waiting, we hugged and kissed each other affectionately and had a good laugh. Well, most of us anyway. Betty had a sad smile on her face and we tried to console her. I was the last one to leave, thinking of what had transpired on this very special day. Of course, Mr. A. would have to take the “After” shots, but that was later. Alone in my tranquility, I smiled and thought that this day will forever live in my memory. I got in our family car and left.

That’s how I imagined it happening, and in a way, it’s too bad it didn’t turn out this way. It sure would have been one helluva lot better than what actually went down, and a lot more fun to boot! We would have certainly talked about it for years to come. We had a high school reunion in 2021 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our 1971 graduation. Everyone of us was there, but not Diane. She died in 2014. We had all gained some weight and Nicole was using a cane to get around. All of us still had short hair except for Nicole. She had let her hair grow long again and looked every bit like the hippie chick of old, even the colour. Rita’s was grey and above her shoulders. Julie, Betty and I still had a case of the shortys. Throughout our multiple conversations, little mention was made of our historic haircuts way back when. There were a few references, but no dwelling on it. Had we all gotten together and did it differently, it would have been a great conversation piece. Oh well, I can always dream.

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