When the blue-haired ladies of Liberty went to Grace’s for a shampoo and set, they entered the East Texas beauty parlor through the door located on Hawthorne Street. When I went to my MaMaw’s beauty shop, it was always after hours and I let myself in through a swinging door hinged along the top, which separated the shop from MaMaw’s home. We were never allowed to go between the house and the shop during business hours. We would have to go out the back door, through the carport, down the sidewalk and back up to the door on Hawthorne Street. Health department rules or some such nonsense.
When we’d go for a visit, MaMaw and my mama would sit at the kitchen table drinking coffee and sharing recipes MaMaw had collected from her Eastern Star sisters. The shop was much more interesting than their recipe-trading, and MaMaw never minded my playing in there as long as I put things back where they belonged. I remember pushing that strange swinging door with all my six year old might, making just enough space to slip in, letting go quick enough so I didn’t pinch my small fingers when the door swung shut with a loud smack.
Once I’d navigated the dangerous door with all my extremities intact, I found myself in a shop that was a treasure trove of grown-up beauty for a little girl just recently allowed to use Tinkerbell “cosmetics.” The mingling fragrances of shampoo, setting lotions and hairspray were intoxicating, and to this day when I smell the laquer-y scent of Lamaur Vita/E hairspray — still sold in the same brownish-gold can — I’m immediately transported back to MaMaw’s.
Two black vinyl chairs beneath two slick black porcelain shampoo bowls were situated to the left of the swinging door, opposite MaMaw’s chair where she took care of her clients. A tiered stand stood nearby; its bins held pink, blue, purple, yellow and gray Toni perm rods of varying sizes. The nubby plastic rods were thinner in the middle than on the ends. Little stretchy bands attached to one end and connected to a stopper that plugged into the other end once hair and perm papers were wrapped around the rods. I enjoyed putting all the plugs in the ends of the rods. Now I realize it might have made MaMaw’s work a little harder the next day. At least I made sure to keep the colors separated!
My short legs didn’t need the foot rest on any of the chairs, but a telephone book worked fine the time MaMaw gave me a shampoo and a pixie haircut. (My daddy didn’t speak to her or Mama for three days.) I sat in MaMaw’s chair when she took care of me, trimming my hair with the precise snip snip snip of her shiny hair shears. Sometimes she’d use a little Dippity Do and curl my hair with brush rollers and long white plastic picks that held the rollers in place. Those picks were a little uncomfortable, but I felt so grown up, I didn’t mind. MaMaw would perch me on the trusty phonebook and I’d stretch as tall as I could when she lowered the hard plastic helmet of the hair dryer and the warm air flowed over my head.
There were two additional chairs near the dryers — I can only assume other beauticians worked there at times, although I don’t remember them clearly since I was usually there after hours. A small rolling table used for manicures stood in the corner. I’d get the nail buffer out of the table’s little drawer and rub the soft chamois across my bitten nails. MaMaw would sometimes give me a quarter for the slider Coca Cola machine across the room. Standing on my tip toes, I could just barely slide the Coke along the rail to the opening on the left which allowed removal of the bottle after depositing my coin. MaMaw would help me clamber back through the swinging door opening where I’d sit at the kitchen table and drink my Coke, feeling every bit as special as those blue-haired ladies of Liberty.