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Friday mornings at the salon


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001

Every Friday morning at 9:15 I walk into a small hair salon to have my hair washed and set. It is a ritual, having become a habit like brushing my teeth every morning and night and putting out the garbage every Tuesday evening.

As I enter the shop, where there are only three operators, I am cordially greeted by my first name. Even the clients greet me with a smile, and some with a wave of their hand, whether they are seated in their operator's chair or under a dryer sipping on their coffee.

I look forward to the once-a-week encounter with women who have had regular Friday appointments for years. There seems to be a bond among us, and someone always has a good story to tell.

There is the little woman who worked 30 years at Barden's, once the largest department store in Kenosha, Wis. I worked after school there in the office, and everyone liked her. The store is gone, but she is still the same sweet, smiling and accommodating woman -- despite the accident she had last winter when her concrete bird bath toppled over on her.

When I first heard that she had been injured by her bird bath, I envisioned a Hitchcock scenario where she was attacked by a flock of disgruntled birds looking for more water in their bath. She explained that she was just trying to adjust the concrete bowl. She didn't realize that it was loose, and it slid off its base and fell on her. She has been walking with a cane ever since.

Another customer arrives and leaves in a cab. Now a widow, she was a second cousin of my late husband and always greets me warmly as kinfolk. When her husband was a young man, he taught me to play tennis.

Then there is the tall blond woman. (Well, she used to be blond.) We were both born in October, just days apart. Our mothers were also good friends, and we belonged to the same church. I once asked her whether she could recall the Saturday morning when our pastor, who was from the nearby town of Waukegan, walked into our weekly confirmation class and cheerfully announced: "I hear it's snowing in Waukegan!"

The class clown, Hilmer, quickly piped up: "Gee, you must have good ears." She didn't remember the joke, but she remembered Hilmer.

My salon operator is also a widow and very attractive. Both of our husbands were in the insurance business and had offices in the same building. We often reminisce about attending all those insurance conventions with them.

Younger than we, but still retirement age, she calls her customers "my ladies." I think she continues to work because she would miss us. She has no children, her parents are gone, and she is an only child. We are her family, and I feel that we fill a void in her life. When she is finished with my hair, she always gives me a big hug.

Sometimes as I leave the salon after the usual farewells, I wonder whether this trip to the salon is still necessary. I don't exactly have a whirlwind social life any more. But I quickly remember: When I boost my self-image, I feel better about myself. I see the world as being brighter.

Then with a light heart, I slide into the driver's seat of my car and confidently snap my seat belt into place. I look approvingly into the rear-view mirror and back out of my parking space with spirit.

"It's going to be a good weekend," I tell myself, even though I may not have a clue as to what I will be doing. But I feel good, and that is the first step.

"It will all fall into place," I tell myself, "like newly coifed hair."

- LaVerne Hammond, who divides her time between Wisconsin and Florida, is an octogenarian at work on her memoirs. Write her in care of the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg FL 33731.

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