Thursday, May 30, 2013


"I doan wanna get my hair cut!!  I doan wanna get my hair cut!!"  the toddler wails, squirming in his chair.
"Just another few minutes now; we’re a-a-a-l-l-l-most done." 
I’m tugged from the magazine showcasing Kate Middleton’s elegant maternity wardrobe to admire the hairdresser's calm and poise as she manages deft snips, her own concentration, and a child’s trauma.
"Hang in there, buddy."  In the station to the left,  my own coiffeuse adds words of encouragement, pulling the strands of her client’s hair through the straightening iron. 
"No!! I doan wanna."
No big deal. They are professionals.   Think of the mother.  They handle the situation with characteristic aplomb, and I am, once again, so impressed.  Hairdressers rock.

Today, like every time I trust my self-image to my coiffeuse, I am overcome with admiration.    She has been making me look presentable for thirty-seven years.  When I first moved here as a twenty-two year-old, I wondered whom I could trust with the delicate task of cutting my hair.  I would use a phone book to find a doctor or a dentist, but never a hairdresser.  So, I sought the advice of the most exacting authorities I could think of—my Grade 12 students.  Who did their hair?  It was unanimous.    I found her, finally, in the salon in which she was beginning her career, at the top of the steep staircase to the second floor, above the law office.  She smiled, met my glance with pleasant, sensitive eyes.  "I’ll be with you in a few minutes."  Since that moment, I’ve admired her competence and her desire to serve.

Peace restored now in the salon, and ensconsed, about twenty minutes later,  in the black vinyl chair next to the magazines, swaddled in a plastic cape, hair painted in coloring cream under a plastic bag,  I set aside Hello! Canada, which I never buy but give myself permission to read here every six weeks or so, and pull out my journal.  It’s time.  People have to know just how grateful I am to this woman.

She is staying late today, to accommodate a change in my schedule, a funeral, sadly.   She is there to serve, she always says, and with that mantra, overrides my guilt at accepting her generosity.  I watch her in front of her station, awed.  Chatting all the while with her client, remembering to ask about her children and the big dance recital weekend, she trims the new perm, and shapes it.  She sends her client away happy, of course, looking fantastic, and, even more important, knowing it, ready for the crowds at the recital.  In the few minutes she has before my timer buzzes, she sweeps the floor, offers me some coffee, straightens up her station. 

She’s ready to rinse me out.  As I head to the sink, I think of my mother, whose hair she styled every week, on Friday, the day the regulars came.   Like many of the Friday clients, my mother was in her nineties, and challenged, both physically and mentally.  She needed oxygen, 24/7, and sometimes forgot that my father was just in the other room, waiting for her, so she wouldn’t feel she had been abandoned at the salon.  My coiffeuse positioned my mother at the sink, working around the parked oxygen cart,  so Maman could still breathe while she washed and rinsed her hair.  She massaged her scalp gently, listening to her stories, and soothing her soul.  She knew that, although the hair appointments might be routine for her, they were an event for clients that often didn’t get out much.  She would make the day memorable.  It didn’t matter that some forgot to come, or that others came at the wrong time that day, or even  unannounced, having mixed up the days; she made the blocks of time fit like dropping Tetris shapes.  She went beyond accommodation.  She made everyone feel valued and special.

Quite an accomplishment  in itself.  My coiffeuse had another life, as well, though, which showcased her management skills and interpersonal abilities in totally different contexts.  For years, she organized figure skating carnivals, and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.  She has also served her parish as council chair, and presides at liturgies when the pastor is absent.  A philosopher in her own right, she is always open to an honest discussion about spirituality.

She continues to make people feel good about themselves, enhancing their appearance, and brightening their day.  She puts smiles on people’s faces.  She has been an inspiration to me, someone I look up to as a really good person,  the salt of the earth, one who lives for others.

It’s about time I said thank you.

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