When I was growing up, my mom went to the “beauty shop” every week to get her “hair done.”
That meant she went to Beth’s, the neighborhood salon, and Beth shampooed, conditioned and towel-dried her hair. Then, she wrapped her wet hair around rollers, and sat her in a chair under a hooded hair dryer.
Think Truvy in Steel Magnolias.
After sitting under the hair dryer, probably reading a romance novel, Beth styled mom’s hair and sprayed enough hair spray on it to last for the next week.
Then, Mom slept on a pillow with a satin pillow case to keep it from getting messed up.
Last week I had the pleasure of going with my mom to “get her hair done” at Helen’s, a salon she’s probably been going to since Beth died many years ago.
I had so much fun walking around that salon that my mom worried I’d offended Helen.
I couldn’t help myself.
It was a step back in time.
It made me think of Dolly Parton as Truvy saying, “I don’t trust anyone that does their own hair. I don’t think it’s normal.” Or, “The bigger the hair, the closer to God.”
I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just fascinated and impressed.
The thing about Helen’s and other salons like this is that they are not just places to get your hair done, they’re places of friendship and conversation that span decades, even generations.
Not only has Helen done my mom’s hair, she did my Grandma’s and two of my aunts’ hair. She knows a lot about my family.
She asked my mom about my aunt, who is now in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility.
“I miss her,” she said. “I remember when she started to get dementia. I was out of town and she called me and said, ‘Helen, where are you? I went to get my hair done and you weren’t there.'”
Helen said, “I’m on vacation. Remember, I told you I’d be out of town?”
My aunt didn’t remember.
“That was the beginning,” Helen said. “Then it just got worse. It was hard watching her go downhill.”
Helen even styled my Grandma’s and another aunt’s hair when they died so that they would look beautiful for their viewings and funerals.
While touring the salon, I heard my mom telling Helen about something, and then she said, “Helen, what would mama have done?”
Who has that kind of relationship with their hair stylist?
Not many of us can ask our hair stylist about how our mothers would have handled a situation or a problem.
It struck me as unique and beautiful that my family has “roots” (pun intended) with Helen’s hair salon.
My visits to the hair salon are never as personal or friendly as my mom’s visits to Helen’s.
The guy who does my hair is just that… a guy who does my hair.
I like him. I know he’s from Turkey and that he’s married and has a young daughter. But that’s the extent of our relationship. He doesn’t know my mom, my sister, my family, or what my mom would do in any given situation. He just knows about my hair.
Helen’s may not be a high-end, fancy salon, and it might not make the historical register, but for many women, like my mom, Grandma and aunts, it has been a personally significant place where a woman named Helen dedicated her life not just to cutting and styling their hair, but to witnessing their lives, keeping their confidences, and being their friend.
From the clock with hands made of scissors to the “rain hats” for sale on a peg board, it was a charming salon, full of stories.
Someday I’m going back with a notebook and pen or a tape recorder and I’m going to say, “Helen, tell me everything you know about my family.”
So, watch for another blog on this topic because I sense that after years of doing my mom, grandma’s and aunts’ hair, Helen knows a lot more than how to style hair…