The Beauty Shop

I’m sitting in a chair with a cape fastened around my neck. Sherry is snipping away at my head. She lifts a small section of hair with her comb, tugs at it between her index and middle fingers, snips and move to the next cut.

“You been cutting hair long?”

I like to converse with the lady cutting my hair for two reasons. For one thing, it slows her down a little bit, so I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. Then, sometimes she has a good story to tell.

“Honey, I’ve been cutting hair since I got outta high school.” I’m guessing she is maybe 45ish.

Sherry is humming as she snips. I can see in the mirror an older lady behind me sitting under a hair dryer across the room.

I noticed her when I came in. She’s about five foot nothing and she has the grandma look down pat. When I came in and sat down to wait my turn, Sherry was working her magic on this woman in the back of the salon. Twirling and pinning. A little foam here. A little spray there.

Sherry helped her out of the chair and held her arm as they both walked over to the row of seats with the big bonnet dryers cocked back against the wall. I could tell by the way they moved and talked that they seemed like old friends. Like maybe Sherry could have been her daughter, but she wasn’t.

The lady got comfortable in her chair. Sherry handed her a magazine and then pulled the bonnet down over her head. It made me think of a fighter pilot in the cockpit pulling the canopy closed over him. Sherry leaned over and said something to her over the whir of the dryer. The lady smiled and patted Sherry on the hand. She was settled in for a spell.

That’s when Sherry called me to my chair.

I pried for information. “Looks like the lady under the dryer is a regular?”

I’m not a regular anywhere when it comes to getting my hair cut. Whichever shop is closest when I’m in town. Whatever person has an open chair. I don’t think I’ve ever made an appointment to get my hair cut. I don’t know my hairstylist by name.

Unless she wears a name tag.

“Who, Miss Bonnie? Lord, I’ve been doing Miss Bonnie’s hair for, I guess, twenty years now. She’s like clockwork.”

“That’s a long time.”

“Don’t you know it.” Sherry is animated. “Every Saturday morning, she shows up at 10 o’clock sharp. She gets her hair washed. I trim a little bit whether she needs it or not. We touch up the color. She likes the Chestnut Brown. We pin up the curls and under the dryer she goes.”

I was intrigued by Miss Bonnie because she seemed to me like a relic from the days when every adult woman I knew went to the beauty shop on Saturday mornings. A woman of my mama’s generation would sooner have canceled bladder surgery than cancel a hair appointment.

The beauty shop was usually an add-on to a house out on some county road just outside of town. Two chairs if you were lucky and four dryers. A little gravel area for cars to park, and the place was usually full most of the day.

Women came and went like changing shifts down at the mill. My mama had a standing appointment for as long as I can remember. She saw the same stylist every week and caught up on what was going on around town.

“Did you know that Miss Bessie fell and broke her wrist?” she’d say at the supper table.

“And Mr. Whit has a doctor’s appointment next week. He’s not been feeling well.”

“And Margie’s boy, Ronnie. He’s all settled in over at the university. He’s got a part-time job at the hardware store. He’s gonna be just fine but poor Margie is still worried about him keeping up with his studies.”

The beauty shop was like a lifeline. My people didn’t socialize at the country club. They didn’t play bridge. They didn’t host dinner parties. They got their hair done.

And God help them if they had a hair emergency.

Mama would spend countless hours each night trying to protect her hair from getting damaged by the pillow. Pins and clips everywhere. She would wrap her head in toilet paper, I kid you not. Then she’d place a net over her head to hold everything in place. She looked like an alien from Mars.

But sometimes things would not go so well. In the morning, she could tell that all her efforts had failed.

“This is just awful. I’m calling Janet to see if she can work me in today.” The earth was spinning out of control. “I’m supposed to go see Nell this afternoon to measure her for a dress, and I can’t go looking like this.”

The rhythm of the tug and snip is almost putting me to sleep. Of course, these days sitting still puts me to sleep.

“I’ll be right back,” Sherry says. “I need to check on Miss Bonnie.”

I’m watching in the mirror. Sherry lifts the bonnet and checks the curls in a few places. Miss Bonnie pats Sherry on the hand again, and the bonnet goes back down.

“I bet you and Miss Bonnie know each other pretty well.” I’m fishing for the story.

“After twenty years you must be like family.”

“Oh, honey. Let me tell ya. There ain’t nothing about that woman that I don’t know.”

The flood gates open.

“Her daughter died quite a few years back. It was before I started doing her hair. The husband was no count, and she took those children in and raised them right by herself.”

“Her son lives out in Seattle somewhere. He’s got himself a big job and can’t ever seem to find the time to visit his mama. He calls her once in a while. She’s got herself a computer so she can talk to her grandkids on one of them video things. But it’s not the same as holding them.”

Sherry is getting all worked up and I’m starting to worry about her scissors. She’s morphed from hairdresser to mother hen.

“If I ever get a chance to meet him, I’m liable to slap him. A man ought to visit his mama. It’s just ain’t right.”

The snips are getting quicker, and the tugs are getting harder. A little trim work and Sherry unpins the cape and blows all the loose hair off my face.

“How’s that?” she asked.

I was afraid to say anything other than to compliment her on a fine job.

As I paid at the counter, I could see Sherry had moved Miss Bonnie back to her chair in front of the mirror. She fluffed the curls and held the mirror to the back. Miss Bonnie smiled and though I couldn’t read her lips, I’m sure she said, “That’s just beautiful, dear,” her hand resting on Sherry’s forearm.

God bless Sherry for being there.

Thank God I still have some hair left.

2 thoughts on “The Beauty Shop

  1. I’m considering going totally bald as many men have done. Shave off what I have left, no more barbershops. Perhaps you might consider also. It cuts down on the gossip.


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