It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Since I last posted a story here in late Winter, both of my parents have died, both my husband and I lost our jobs (more on that later), a tree fell on our house, and most recently, thanks to my being a klutz, I fell and broke my leg in two places, broke my foot, sprained both wrists, and tore something in my ankle. This was all before October 1st, too!
Wow, what a bleak start to a story! Well, it’s not all been bad, at least I tell myself. I was given a nice severance package from my prior employer, and so was my husband. My husband was also fortunate enough to find a new job, but the catch is that it’s out of state, actually across the country almost, for the first 12 months, after which it is completely remote. We’ve also had the great support of friends, family, and neighbors through it all, so it has been a wonderful blessing to see. Now, what the heck does this have to do with hair? Well, let me tell you! Please note this story takes place in mid to late October, but it has taken me this long to write this all out!
I took my fall, or The Great Spill, about two and a half months ago. I was outside working on gardening, decided to try and reach something while standing on the stepstool, and whoops! Down I came! My husband was on the first flight back home, but I had to be taken to the hospital. Thankfully, my daughter was home for the weekend from college, so she was able to call an ambulance and get me to the hospital and sit with me in the ER. Blah blah blah, cast, blah blah X-Rays, blah blah brace, blah blah. You get the idea! My husband stayed at home for two and a half weeks, but then had to get back to his job, which I not only understand, but also encouraged! Our kids are in school, but not near home, and all of my and his family, now, have either passed away or live out of state. I’m not totally reliant on another person in my current state, but help is needed. I’m not expecting everyone to be religious, but I truly believe I was gifted a Miracle in the form of my neighbor, Mallory.
Mallory is 74 years old, but is as spry, quick-witted, sharp, and feisty as someone half her age, at least. Per her, she’s full of great quantities of ‘piss and vinegar’! She’s very thoughtful, kind, and sweet, but until two months ago, my family and I only knew her as the old retired nurse who lived across the street and kept to herself, mostly. As it turns out, I wish I had gotten to know her years ago! Well, about a week after I got back from the hospital, my husband got a knock on the door, and much to our surprise, it was Mallory. She asked if she could come in, bringing in the obligatory casserole, tray of cookies, and container of store-made salad. I’m blessed to say that thanks to the outpouring of support after my parents died, and from friends and other neighbors, I had perfected recounting my misadventure, my way to say thanks, and answering if there was anything they could do for us in my current state. However, this conversation took a bit of a different turn, when, after she gave some medical insight, owing to her time as a nurse, which was appreciated (my husband even took a few notes!), she said “Oh, and dearie, just let me know if you need your hair trimmed, dyed, or what have you.” I looked at her, smiling, but visibly confused, and she chuckled, “Oh, don’t worry! I was a hairstylist for 20 years after I left nursing, so I know what I’m doing. Toodle-oo!”
This naturally piqued my interest! My stepmother, Angela, was really the only one I could talk to at a deeper level about hair, but that was about to change. The day after my husband had left back for his job, I was in the back yard, getting some fresh air. Even confined to a wheelchair, being outside instead of inside provides a huge difference. I heard my name being called, and much to my delight, Mallory was standing on the other side of the fence. “Hello, Janet! I grabbed your mail for you. Can I bring it over to you?” I smiled, rolling over to her, and said “Yes, thank you, Mallory. The gate’s unlocked.” She opened the door, and besides the mail, had also brought over a bottle of wine and two glasses. “As you can see, dear, I came over with less-than-pure intentions! Can I pour you a glass?” I grinned, “Yes, please!” Mallory corked the bottle after we had each had a glass and a half, showing she was being mindful, but kept the conversation going until it became a bit too chilly to continue outside. I invited her in, and she helpfully pushed me inside. Mallory even offered, and I gladly accepted, to cook dinner, reheating some leftovers and preparing fresh veggies.
She moved with admirable speed, and was able to keep talking without interrupting herself, or me! “Yes, I perfected the art of conversation while I cut hair, honey. You don’t really get to engage in a lot of meaningful conversations when you’re a nurse, just mostly small-talk.” I said, “Oh, can I ask you more about your time working as one?” She nodded, “What, a nurse, or as a hairdresser?” I shook my head. “Er, hairstylist. I, um, well…” I then proceeded to spill my guts, talking about how special my shared interest with hair had been with my stepmother, how I missed it, so on and so forth. I got emotional, but was (mostly) able to keep myself composed. Mallory let me talk, and when I had finished, she was already sitting next to me, handing me a few tissues. She gave me a reassuring pat on my arm, and said “I hear you, dearie. I’ll tell you what. Every day I can come stop by, and we can chat hair, the weather, your health, any good stories I have, you have, whatever you want! One of the joys of being retired, and thankfully in good health, and with two kids who live out of the country, is that you’ve got all the time in the world to spend with your friends.” This made me VERY emotional, and she chuckled, giving me a hug, not easy to do in a wheelchair, and then finished preparing dinner for the both of us. It was a lovely evening.
The next month and a half went by much more easily with the help of Mallory. Every day, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, but almost always for dinner, too, Mallory came over, and we chatted, watched TV, played cards (I now know how to play cribbage VERY well!!), and of course, talked hair. I asked her loads of questions, she answered, she gave her opinions, I gave mine, and we laughed, reminisced, and then kept chatting! This pattern continued for several weeks until about three weeks ago, when Mallory came over, this time with a large bag. Now, my hair was in need of a trim when I fell. Heck, my hair was in need of a trim a month before I fell! It was in pretty rough shape, to say the least. Despite my love of more retro, eye-catching styles, I’ve been guilty of wearing ‘boring’ hair for the past few years. My (colored) brunette locks have been arranged in a longer, simple bob that at its longest, until very recently, skimmed my shoulders, and at its shortest fell about an inch above my chin. The last time I had my hair that short was a few years ago. When I should him, I had startled my Daddy, who, without making eye contact, said that when I wore my hair like that, I reminded him of my mother. For reference, my birth mother ran out on Daddy and me when was I was just a little girl, so you can imagine how eager I was to keep any passing resemblance to her!
Back to the present, or rather three weeks ago, when Mallory came in, she loudly set a large, deep red canvas bag on my counter and said “Good morning, Janet! Today, I’m going to give you a treat: I’m going to fix those grays of yours!” I blushed, but was not overly surprised by this announcement. If there is one area in which Mallory shows her age, it is her lack of filter sometimes. Not so subtly for the previous few weeks, Mallory had been hinting, then suggesting, then insisting that she let me have her work on my ‘horrid’ colors. If my hair length and condition was rough, my colors were, well, horrid is about the best word I can think of, too! Grays are more than poking out, the roots that aren’t gray don’t match the various shades of lighter brown and caramel, and there are patches where the darker natural color is clearly showing through. For as much as I love talking hair, I was somewhat hesitant to let Mallory work on me. It had nothing to do with trust in her skills, not at all! Even today, I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s mostly rooted in two things: I enjoy going to the salon, but the second reason is more personal, and perhaps almost foolish. Angela, my stepmother, was generally the only one, aside from myself, who did serious work on my hair outside of the salon. Having someone, anyone, else do work on my hair outside of the salon, again I know how foolish this sounds, just didn’t sit well with me. I would be lying if I said something like “Oh, I feel like I’m betraying her memory”, or some nonsense like that, but it still just didn’t feel right. However, now that the bag was in front of me, or rather across the room from me, my feelings on this subsided.
I smiled a bit nervously, and said “Oh, well, I didn’t have anything else going on today!” We both laughed, and Mallory wheeled me over to the island in the kitchen. She then laid down a large tarp on the floor, and carefully wheeled me into the middle of the kitchen, and turned on all of the lights. The first thing produced from the large bag was a thick, sleeved cape, which smelled a bit musty. Its weathered, gray appearance reflected its heavy use, but all of the edges were crisp, and I certainly wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions based on a cape! The sleeves were a bit tricky and required me to awkwardly pivot while in the chair to properly situate myself. Still, she and I were eventually able to get me properly outfitted for this most DIY of hairdressing, and Mallory could begin her work. The sinks are very low in our house, which has never bothered me, but my 6 3” husband has always been a bit irked by it; today, however, they proved most useful! Making sure there were no pieces of plate ware, silverware, glasses, cups, etc., in the vicinity, and after wrapping a towel around my neck, Mallory began washing my hair in the kitchen sink. I slouched as much as I could in my wheelchair, and closed my eyes as she began shampooing, and using the nozzle to rinse my hair with warm water. It was the first time in months I had had a real shampooing, and it was bliss! Mallory was very methodical and thorough, and her long, bony fingers massaged my scalp, relieving tension and even forcing out a few giggles!
I wish I could say Mallory used some luxurious brand of shampoo on me, but in reality, my friend and semi-caretaker used literally one of the most basic shampoos ever: VO5 Balance. If you don’t know it, it’s the shampoo that is pretty inexpensive and is the same color as honey, but darker, and, well, browner. Given that the bottle was half empty, I assumed that she and I were now using the same shampoo! It has a very basic, ‘clean’ scent that I have always associated with older women, but it wasn’t unpleasant. After she was done, Mallory began towel drying my hair, and tried her best to keep any water from landing on the tarp. Now, before I go any further, I need to describe Mallory’s appearance. Mallory is somewhat tall at 5 9”, and very fit. She jogs a mile and a half three times a week, and walks two miles at least twice a week, too. She doesn’t smoke, eats very healthy, and keeps busy. As a result, she’s very trim, with a somewhat flat build. She regularly pokes fun at her ‘lack of assets’, but honestly, when she wears a nice outfit, I’M envious of how she looks! She wears cat-eye glasses of all colors, red, purple, white, pink, blue, but most often black, and always has impeccable makeup, even when I’ve seen her jogging! As a retired hairstylist, you might expect her to have either a more trendy style, or perhaps a more elaborate, retro hairdo, as a sort of contrarian stance against modernity. Nope! For as long as Mallory has been our neighbor, which has been quite a while, she has almost never strayed from her simple permed, teased, rounded ‘poodle’ style that is the ubiquitous hairdo for women over 60. It’s full on top, and cut short and neat around her nape and ears, with the curls resting neatly just over the tops of her ears. She also always has dyed her hair, and it is a very, very dark brown, almost black. I think today many people would call it a ‘teased pixie’, but Mallory calls it for what it is: a permed crop. And she thinks it’s the greatest style in the world!
Back to coloring, Mallory pulled out a few boxes, but they were all the same: Clairol Nice n’ Easy No 3 Brown Black. At this point, my hair reaches beyond my shoulders, with minimal layering. Like I said earlier, boring hair. Despite the boxes of dye coming out, Mallory has picked up a pair of shears. “Janet, I know we didn’t talk about a cut, but you need one, plain and simple.” I stiffened at this, feeling not attacked, but a bit cornered. My vanity was sending up blaring sirens, and they won out, this time. “Er, I won’t say no to a trim, Mallory, and yeah, I totally need one, and I don’t want you to think I’m being ungrateful, but, well…” I didn’t need to finish, though, as she nodded, smiling, and looking a bit exasperated, “I hear you, loud and clear Janet. No big chops today, dearie. I’ll get you to change your mind, though!” She laughed at this, and I cracked a smile, but I knew she would be true to her word! As I stated earlier, as I’ve grown into middle age, I’m not sold on short hair. I think I not only look younger with longer hair, but given that my wardrobe is, well, limited for the next few months, my vanity said I needed to retain as much traditional femininity as possible. Oh, how foolish I was three and a half weeks ago!
Mallory used a stool to lower herself more to my level, and humored my ego, brushing my hair, and taking off no more than two inches all around. I forgot to say, but she did put up a mirror in the kitchen ‘salon’, which was actually an old four foot long, one foot wide mirror that used to hang behind our bedroom door when we first moved in. Neither my husband nor I could bring ourselves to toss it, as it was a fixture of the house since it was first built! Mallory brought it up from the basement herself without issue, placed a moving blanket behind it, and laid it carefully against the oven, making sure it wouldn’t move. I watched with interest as she trimmed the ends, and she and I had a wonderful conversation throughout. We talked about the joys of home ownership, mostly, what we could do for dinner, and dogs before she was done. When she was finished, even with my hair still somewhat wet, it looked a LOT better than it had even before my accident! I smiled, and said “Wow, I never doubted you for a second, Mallory, but I wasn’t expecting it to look this good!” She chuckled, rinsing her hands of cut hair. “I’ll take no offense to that, Janet, dear, but we’re not done yet. I’ll do a bit more trimming after the color work is done.”
I’m not going to bore everyone here for outlining the entire coloring process, you can read Amazon’s very detailed instruction page, but Mallory was an absolute pro. Mallory’s gloved hands used the applicator to ensure every inch of my roots were covered with the permanent dye, and every strand was, too. She even cracked a second bottle, and said “I’ll use the rest of this to do my own hair when I head back in a bit. I think you’ll really like this color, dearie. There’s a reason I’ve kept it for so long!” I smiled, but I had foolishly not comprehended that Mallory and I would now have the same color! Still, my hair was in such a deplorable state, I really wasn’t going to complain! Once my hair had been thoroughly covered, Mallory and I had even more time to talk. Despite having been over dozens of times by this point, Mallory and I had never discussed her late husband. Well, for the next 45 minutes as my hair dried and the dye set in, I got the full scoop! I won’t recount everything, especially because it’s not really of interest to people on this site, but it was actually her husband’s passing that allowed for her to pursue a career in hairdressing, instead of nursing. He had a sizeable life insurance policy, and while she said she still misses him dearly, it afforded her the opportunity to pursue her true passion without risking her and her children’s futures.
I was fascinated by this, and this conversation passed the time very quickly. She then rolled me back over to the sink, and proceeded to rinse out my hair again. When I asked her what made her retire, she shrugged and said “It was time. I didn’t like where styles were heading in the early 2000s, my kids had already moved overseas at this point, and I didn’t want to risk ruining my back or legs. I do miss it, though. I get my fix for styling by doing my own hair, but this, doing your hair, has been a real treat for me, dearie.” I smiled, “Well, the pleasure is all mine, Mallory. Can I, um, see my new color?” She laughed, “Oh, of course! Now, you’re still wet, so it’ll appear darker until it’s dried, so just keep that in mind.” She wheeled me around to face the mirror, and said “Ta-dah!” When I looked at myself, all I could say was “Oh, wow!” I haven’t had a major hair change in a long time, so when I looked at myself with almost black hair, it was a shock! Mallory flicked the hair forward so it surrounded my face more, and said “Like I said, dearie, it’ll dry a bit lighter, but what do you think?” I honestly didn’t know how I felt at first! “I…I like it, really, it’s just, wow. So dark!” She nodded, “Yes, now you see why I like it so much! You’ll like it even more after I trim and dry this, Janet.”
I stared at myself as she again took out her shears and began doing some more trimming. Again, not much layering, but enough to make it look like a hairstyle. She then removed a tan hairdryer that was easily 25 years old and a black and red brush from her large bag, and began running them both through my hair. She used the heat and the brush to add a bit of volume, and to my relief, my hair gradually lightened with each pass of her tools. She laid my hair expertly in a traditional long bob, brushing the ends forward, ends that now reached halfway up my neck, markedly shorter than she had led me to believe. Mallory said a bit firmly, “Now, before you get all up in arms about the length, your hair needed it, my dear. Plus, you’ve still got plenty of length to play with, and I think the darker shade compliments you nicely.” As I looked at her, remarking her identically shaded hair, I grinned “You’re an unbiased source, of course!” We both laughed at this, and she responded with “Oh, well of course!” With the same lack of grace it took to get it on, Mallory helped me remove my cape, and I got a better view of myself in the mirror. My hair looked and felt significantly better than it had in months, and even though it was neither the length nor the color I would have chosen for myself, I really liked it! It looked fairly modern, and inarguably salon quality.
Mallory quickly cleaned the kitchen, throwing all of my hair into the garbage can, removing the tarp, and taking it out to the garage to dry. When she came in, I was digging through my purse, and she rushed over, saying “Oh, no dearie. This was all my expense, please! I don’t want your money, Janet!” Her expression was very sincere, almost panicked, and I quickly removed my hands from my purse, and said “Well, um, okay! That’s really generous of you, Mallory, really.” She smiled, relaxing, “Sorry, dearie. I never like money to be discussed or given between friends; it’s one of my bugaboos. Now, I’ve got to do my own hair, but I’ll be back in a couple hours to get dinner started for us, alrighty? And don’t even think about moving the mirror, Janet! I’ll do that when I come by, too!” After trying my best to help her pack up, Mallory was on her way across the street, and I was left alone for a few hours to enjoy my new hairdo. Ever since my accident, I had given my hair almost zero thought, and it didn’t exactly help that there was only one mirror, two with the kitchen one Mallory set up, that I could easily see myself in, so it was easy to not think about. I did honestly like it, but as I looked at myself in the mirror, I was surprised at how different I looked. I did look better, without a doubt, but that’s hardly a stretch for me!
As extremely vain as this sounds, I studied Mallory’s work in the mirror for almost two hours! I reflected on the experience, and found myself not only extremely grateful, but also excited, too. I sent a picture of my new look to my husband, who gave me a call a few minutes later to compliment me and whisper sweet nothings. Even if that’s his job, it still felt great to hear! When Mallory came by later that afternoon to get dinner started, I complimented her on her own hairstyle, which looked visibly refreshed. It was shorter, neater, and the color and clearly just been done, too, as she said. “Oh, thank you, Janet. After working on you this morning, I felt I had to give myself a trim, set, and obviously color, too!” As we worked to get dinner started, with me doing what I could, we talked hair without stop, even after we sat down to eat an hour later! When we cleaned up, I again complimented Mallory on her hair, and she said “Well thank you, Janet. You know, when you’re ready, dearie, you should let me cut your hair shorter. It’s so much more practical, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner, believe me!” I smiled, but shook my head, “I’ll think about it, really, but you see how good I look with longer hair, Mallory! This is the best my hair has looked since even before I took my fall!” She smiled, but shrugged, “Well, you just let me know, dearie. Oh, which reminds me! I actually brought over a spare straightener I had in my bag. Do not take this as an insult, but I assumed you either didn’t have one, or can’t find it, based on how your hair looked.”
I felt my cheeks redden, but I nodded, “You’re right. I can’t find it, and my husband couldn’t find it, either. I keep forgetting to order one online.” She waved her hand, “Oh, don’t do that! As you can see, I don’t use straighteners, and why waste your money?” She retrieved from her bag, which had cards, books, and a few DVDs, a new in box straightener with a *Price Reduced* sticker from Walmart…dated 11-28-2003! To my mild surprise, it worked perfectly! Worked, past tense. Mallory’s new style she had given me inspired to take care of my appearance more, which especially since my husband went back to work out of state, had not been of much priority. I made more of an effort with my outfits, well, the top half, applied some makeup, and took the time to do my hair. I straightened my hair two or three times a week, and Mallory commented on it several times. All the while, she kept hinting that I should let her give me a shorter hairstyle, maybe even a perm, and I graciously declined, though kept promising I would consider it. During the last couple of weeks, she and I also took to using my smart TV to look at pictures online or go on YouTube to look at retro styles, and had running commentary throughout slideshows and videos people had posted. She even read the stories I had previously posted here (though I showed her the original google doc file, not the website), which she enjoyed thoroughly! She came to understand how important hair was to me, and the special part it played in the bond between my stepmother and me.
Then, two days ago, something happened. In order to add some convenience to my life, I added a few clips and hooks to my wheelchair’s arms and back to add a few pouches for basic necessities. I don’t have to tell the ladies reading this that our wardrobes don’t often include pockets, and pockets are also more risky when you’re, well, in a wheel chair, with contents more likely to spill out. In my pouches I keep my phone, a notepad, the book I’m reading, my water bottle, and my ‘grabber’. It was about 9:30 in the morning, and I was dressed, and was about halfway done straightening my hair. I was wearing a fun Fall (no jokes!!) sweater I bought years ago with pumpkin vines sewn on, running up and down the sleeves. The guest room into which I had to move, since it is on the first floor and I CANNOT do stairs, is also the only room with a mirror at my eye level, as the bathroom one is just barely too high. Unfortunately, it is tucked into a recess in the wall, and you have to sort of pivot directly against the wall to use it. It’s a pain when you can stand, but in a wheelchair, it’s almost unbearable. However, there is an outlet on the wall right there, so it has been the ideal place for me to use the straightener! Or at least, that’s what I thought.
I’m right-handed, but to use a baseball metaphor, I’m a switch-hitter when I use either a curling iron or straightener. When I work on my left side, I use my left hand, and for my right side, my right. I had finished my right side, and was about a quarter of the way through my left, when one of the vines on my sweater became snagged on the clip holding the pouch with my water bottle on the back of the chair. Worse, my left hand and arm were stuck in the up position, as I was straightening my crown. I couldn’t grab the iron with my right hand, and I couldn’t let it drop, either, because I might burn my face! I tried turning myself, but this is much harder to do on carpet, and especially with one hand! I could not physically reach the pouch with my right arm, even leaning forward, practically falling out of the chair. The panic only started to set in after I started to smell that scent. That scent so many girls and women dread: the scent of burning hair. Do you know what modern straightening irons have that ones from the early 2000s, or at least this particular model, don’t have? Auto-shut-offs. Every girl knows that fear of leaving the curling iron or straightener on. I’ve certainly driven home from work to confirm it! I will admit that I started to cry, and I felt incredibly helpless. However, as a tiny amount of smoke started to fill the room, I took a deep breath, and slowly slid forward as much as I could, I slowly began pivoting myself and forcing the chair to make ever so slightly a turn towards the wall. Beneath the short mirror is a short cabinet with faux handles on top. If I could grab onto one of those, I could use that as leverage. My hair continue to burn, but after a few more minutes, I finally made it over, grabbed the handle, and leaned to the right, allowing me to move my left arm backwards, and unhook myself!
I was so relieved and then started to cry again. I ripped the straightener out of the wall, and proceeded to smash it as hard as I could against the metal bedframe, breaking it in two. Was this the mature thing to do? Of course not! Was it a very cathartic action? Absolutely. I have had the displeasure of smelling burnt hair a few times in my life, and it is very unpleasant. For those of you who are lucky enough to have NOT smelled it, it’s a uniquely horrible smell, like hardboiled eggs and burnt toast. After yelling in frustration, I wheeled myself over the mirror, and noticed for the first time a small trail of burnt hair. My reflection showed the scope of the damage. Using perhaps the most dangerous method of cutting your own hair, I successfully burnt all but about three and a half inches of my hair off in a nearly three inch wide section near my crown. The burnt hair stuck out obviously, and the frayed ends were still warm to the touch. All things considered, it could have been much worse. The next things I noticed is that I was drenched in sweat. The panic, effort, and adrenaline had all sent my body into stress-mode, and I was now sitting in a soggy outfit with a very red face, covered in still drying tears and sweat. Of course at this moment the doorbell rang, and the door opened, with Mallory calling in to see if she could enter.
I called back, asking her if she could come to my room. She could tell something was wrong, and moved with impressive speed. She rushed in, phone in hand, ready to dial the EMT. “Oh, Janet, what happened?” she said, immediately crouching down to my level. Half laughing, half crying, I relayed my little misadventure to her as she sat on the end of my bed. When I was done, I blew my nose and sniffled, feeling now the sense of humiliation and stupidity for getting myself into this situation. Janet held my hand and said “Well, the important thing, dearie, is that you’re not hurt, nothing burned down, and you’re…mostly no worse for wear.” I then motioned to my hair, “I’m sorry I ruined your hard work, Mallory! Oh, and I’m sorry I smell.” She waved her hand, standing up to inspect the damage. “Oh, stop it! You hardly need to apologize, dearie. I only wish I could have been here sooner!” She then clucked her tongue, “Oh my, my. You certainly did a number here, Janet! You’re lucky you didn’t burn your ear! Are you sure you’re all right, honey?” I blushed, “Well, erm, this is not very ladylike, but I’m starving! Can you take me to the kitchen so I can fix myself something?” She made a dismissive sound, and answered “Yes to the first request, no to the second part. I’LL fix you something, my dear. The very idea after the morning you’ve had!”
Mallory chastised me again for thinking I’d be cooking for myself as she wheeled me into the kitchen. I didn’t feel a great desire to chat too much, and so gladly listened to her recount a few stories from her nursing days, telling me about REAL burn victims she had seen, and some of the harrowing situations she had heard. Wisely, she said “When I say ‘it could have been worse’, as you know Janet, it truly could always be worse!”. Mallory had prepared us both a lovely brunch of sausage links, mixed fruit, and wheat toast, and, after asking me where I kept the champagne, prepared and poured us both mimosas. I really was starving after coming down off the adrenaline, and devoured my meal. “You know, I really am lucky beyond belief to have you checking in on me, Mallory,” I said, feeling a sudden rush of emotion. She took a sip of her drink and beamed, saying “Oh please, my dear, the pleasure is absolutely all mine! I’ve kept to myself for so long that I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have friends I actually see, instead of just call. This sounds perhaps cliché, but I just had this sense I should extend myself to my neighbor, and I’m every so glad I did, Janet. Now, I imagine you want to freshen up and put on a new outfit.” I nodded, wiping my mouth with my napkin. “Yes, very badly. Frankly, I’m amazed you could sit across from me and still have an appetite!” Mallory laughed, “Oh, Janet, the smells I had to deal with as a nurse and a hairdresser made me accustomed to all manner of not-so-nice scents. Now, might I suggest you put on a nicer outfit after you freshen up?”
I smiled, but turned my head in confusion, “Um, I guess so. Can I ask why?” Mallory smiled, “Well, truth be told, I think it’ll make you feel better, dearie. While I certainly don’t mind when you wear a t-shirt and a pullover, I think you might feel a bit more confident in a nice outfit, and I don’t need you turning into a worrywart plagued by doubt and low self-esteem after this morning. Believe me, you’ll feel better.” She spoke with such sincerity and command, I could hardly argue with her. I smiled, “Uh, okay! I’ll go pick out something, something nice, and get myself together. You, erm, don’t have to stay if you don’t want to, Mallory. My shower and whole ‘getting ready’ routine is, like, a 45 minute process.” She smiled, “I’ll be here, dearie. Now, go pick out your outfit, and I’ll quickly do the dishes so I won’t use your hot water while you’re in the shower.” Feeling dismissed, in a nice way, I wheeled myself to my room, the scene of the crime, and made my way to the closet. My husband had been kind enough to move almost my entire wardrobe and put it into the closet, even if I wouldn’t wear most of it. Looking over my outfits, I settled on a more preppie-inspired outfit. I carefully laid out a dark blue blazer, a dark tan turtleneck sweater, my royal plaid pleated skirt, dark tan nylons, and even though I’d only be wearing one, a pair of dark brown loafers. My jewelry box was still upstairs, but I did have him bring down a few pairs of earrings, and I selected a pair of single-stud pearls.
Somewhat to my surprise, this was an immensely enjoyable experience, and I did feel better about myself! I hadn’t gone through the effort of really carefully choosing an outfit in some time, and it was a pleasant, if minute, return to normalcy. I was not exaggerating when I said showering and getting ready takes about 45 minutes. It takes me a few minutes just to get from my wheel chair, to my walker, to the shower chair, followed by the, you know, actual showering! While in the shower, I thought I heard the front door close, and was a bit surprised, as I thought Mallory would be waiting, only based on what she had said. However, I could just barely also hear the TV from the living room, which is through the kitchen, opposite my room, so I assumed I had heard something other than the door. However, a few minutes later, I again heard the door close, but still heard the TV playing. I almost turned the water off, intending to call out for Mallory, but then I could hear her distinctly whistling, fairly well, too, the theme to The Andy Griffith Show. I’m used to not hearing much of anything when I shower, and even though I trust Mallory implicitly now, you never know! As I gently shampooed my hair to try and get rid of the lingering burnt smell, a few more pieces broke off in my hands. I had no idea what I was going to do, hoping I could just pull it back, and cover it discreetly. Hopefully Mallory would have some recommendations, but I was doubtful.
After I turned off the water, I continued getting ready, brushing my teeth, putting on a fragrance, putting on underwear, which again, takes at least double the time for me with the injuries. When I wheeled back into my bedroom, I smiled as I looked at the outfit I had chosen, and eagerly began dressing. With some difficulty, I put on my dark tan nylons, which I am aware I should only do sparingly on my injured leg. Then the turtleneck, which was much easier, followed by the skirt, which was awkward. I carefully leaned this way and that to get everything situated, careful not to crease the skirt too much, and then grabbed my blazer. This was the easiest thing to put on of the entire ensemble! Lastly was the loafer, which was actually the easiest thing to put on (aside from the earrings). I did begrudgingly use the mirror to put on my makeup, opting for a more formal look, arching my eyebrows a little, and putting on ample foundation, blush and red lipstick. As I looked at my hair, I sighed. Had it been the day before, I would have actually looked quite pretty! But with a good chunk missing, my hair looked…lopsided. I did gently blow dry it, and brushed it out to an acceptable presentation, even using a tiny bit of spray to keep the singed edges from sticking out, but it still looked odd. However, I was so pleased with my outfit that I decided to just accept it, and breathed a satisfied sigh. “Mallory!” I called, “Can you come wheel me out?”
Mallory came in, her cheeks slightly flushed, but as soon as she saw me, a huge smile crept across her face. “Weeeelll, who is this beautiful lady? Don’t you look just delightful, Janet!” I beamed, “You were 100% correct: I feel a lot better! I don’t know, getting all made up like this, well, I feel like I accomplished something! And, yeah, I do like looking neat and presentable!” She chuckled, walking over and patting me on my shoulders. “I just knew you would, dearie. People always feel better when they’ve accomplished, to use your word, something, and you did just that!” My smile faltered, “I just wish I hadn’t burned my hair with that damn straightener! The missing chunk sort of ruins the whole look, don’t you think?” Mallory began pushing my chair out of the room, and said “Hmm, funny you should mention that, my dear.”
With a tight-lipped smile, she wheeled me out of the room into the kitchen, which had been totally transformed! The tarp used a few weeks ago for my trim and dye was again neatly laid out on the floor, and once again, the full-length mirror was resting in place against the oven. In addition, two large oscillating fans stood in the opposing doorway, and most noticeably, a freestanding black hooded hairdryer was tucked in the corner of the kitchen. The island countertop was occupied by Mallory’s giant red canvas bag, and numerous boxes, bottles, and tools were already laid out, ready for use! “What’s, what’s all this?” I asked, my shock unhidden in my tone. Mallory turned the TV off, and said “I was hoping you wouldn’t hear me get all of this out, Janet, so you’ll forgive this slight deception, but I’m sure you’ve wondered how you can possibly fix your hair.” “Yeesss,” I said slowly, as comprehension dawned on me. “Well, dearie, sadly, there isn’t. Thankfully, though, I have a different idea for how to fix your hair. Simply put Janet, I’ll be giving you a sizeable cut, and then a perm.”
I laughed, “So this is what I kept hearing in the shower!” Mallory smiled, “Yes, I was a busy bee, dearie. Now, shall we get started?” I sighed. Mallory’s mind was clearly made up, and after all she had done for me, how could I deny her? Besides this, even if I didn’t want to admit it, I knew that burning such a huge chunk out of my hair could end in only one way: with a short haircut. The intent to perm, however, surprised me! “I…I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?” I said, grinning. Mallory shook her head, “My dear, I think you should have something more practical, and now you rather NEED something shorter. And, well, if I were to be completely frank, I would love to give someone else a perm, besides myself. Will you humor me, Janet?” It was an easy choice. “Of course, Mallory. If this is some small way I can show my thanks and gratitude for everything you’ve done, then please, by all means, style away!” Mallory shrieked in delight, leaning over and pecking me on the cheek. “Oh, thank you, thank you, honey! Ah! This is going to be a hoot!”
I admit I felt a twinge of regret at saying what I did, but it was almost entirely countered by stronger feelings of excitement and pleasure in knowing I was making Mallory happy. After she removed my blazer, I was once again caped and wheeled carefully into the middle of the ‘salon’. Mallory put on a pink apron that clearly had been folded neatly for a very long time, owing to the giant creases running up and down its length. Mallory spoke as she retrieved several clips and bands from her bag, saying gleefully “Janet, I know you’ve had short hair before, but you’re going to love it. I wish you weren’t doing this out of necessity, though, as I always loved it when a lady came in, finally having made up her mind that she was ready to go short.” I nodded, “Yes, I remember that feeling! Still, um, I guess the result will be the same?” She nodded, and then began brushing my hair carefully into sections. “Oh yes, very much so.” Mallory parted my hair into four even sections, well, three even sections and the one with the burnt hair. Bands were secured a few inches from my scalp, and she carefully let each section fall. She then retrieved from her bag that device of such myth on this website: the clippers! Just like you might imagine, Mallory uses Oster, though I couldn’t tell the age of these clippers. This model, though, is dark red, and not very large.
Mallory beamed, and said “Here we go!” Her enthusiasm was impossible not to share, and although I again felt a pang of regret as the clippers dove into my hair, I was smiling, watching myself in the mirror as Mallory began her task. It was, to say the least, surreal, to have my hair buzzed in my own kitchen. In no less than three minutes, my caretaker-stylist had leveled my hair to, at its longest, three inches. The edges of the burnt section were now indistinguishable from the rest of my hair, and as I ran my fingers through the dramatically shorter length, I could only exclaim “Oh my gosh! This is WILD!” I turned my head from side to side, seeing what could pass for a long, but not bad, pixie. Mallory ruffled my hair, and then began wetting it with a spray bottle. “This is just the rough cut, too, dearie. Now, it’s about to look even shorter, but just be patient.” Her clippers were placed on the counter, and in their place, a pair of shears and a comb. Mallory first attacked my sides, running the comb through a section, grabbing the same section with two or three fingers, and then snipping the edges away with her shears. She went especially close short on my sides and my back, and I could already see the classic shape start to appear. The length up top was largely left alone, though plenty of wet hair raining down on my nose signified that plenty more length was removed. Had she stopped here, I could have walked away, figuratively, with a modern, simple, albeit slightly masculine, crop. “Are you liking it so far, Janet?” she asked, her tone still as effervescent as it was when she started. “Erm, it’s a little bit shorter than what I was expecting. To be honest I’m still a bit surprised, but I do like it!”
Mallory walked around to face me, and though still smiling, was visibly confused. “Sorry dear, what were you expecting length wise? I didn’t intend to surprise you!” I smiled, and said “No, I mean, it’s okay! I, uh, just wasn’t prepared to see how different I looked!” This seemed to relieve her, and she walked back around, chuckling. “Oh, I see, honey. I was afraid I hadn’t been clear enough with your intended style!” At this moment, now I WAS confused! “Well, erm, maybe I missed something, Mallory, I’m sorry! What, ah, what is that style?” I watched her reflection as she beamed and primped the underside of her permed curls just above her ears, “Well mine, of course! You’re just going to LOVE it! I can’t say it enough!” I didn’t know what I had been expecting, exactly, but this wasn’t it! “Oh, yes, of course!” I grinned, blinking away my shock. The realization washed over me, and I wasn’t sure how to feel at first, aside from shocked!
However, I had plenty of time to process my feelings as I handed Mallory end papers. Mallory uses Ogilvie home perm kits, so naturally, that’s what she used on me! Although I had gently washed my hair in the shower, Mallory had given me a quick, but not unenjoyable, shampoo and conditioning treatment at the kitchen sink, which again, was a bit surreal. An additional towel was now also clipped in place around my neck as the wrapping process began. “When was the last time you had a perm, Janet?” asked Mallory. I thought about it. “Oh, it’s been a number of years. I had a body wave done I think in 2015, but I stopped having regular perms in the late 1990s or maybe, like, 2000. But, this is actually kind of funny, because I’ve been mulling over going curly again for almost two years!” Mallory chuckled, “Oh, that is too funny! Hmm, Janet, I forgot, are you wearing contacts?” I turned to look at her, “Yes, why?” She shook her head. “Sorry, personal experience, dearie. Perming solution and contacts do NOT mix. I think it even says it on the box.” Sure enough, she showed me. Now, this is somewhat alarming, as I have worn contacts for nearly 15 years, and I don’t recall taking them out last time I was permed in the salon. She wheeled me over to my room, and I took them out. “Do you have a pair of glasses, honey?” she asked. I grimaced, “Uh-huh. Upstairs, somewhere. I have no idea.” Even with my blurry vision, I could tell she was disappointed. “Are you nearsighted or farsighted?” I nodded, “Farsighted, and you?” She smiled, “Same. My glasses are -4.00. You are, dearie?” I beamed, “The same, actually!”
Mallory briskly walked around the island, retrieving her purse. When she walked back, she was holding a pair of black cat-eye glasses, identical in every way, save the red color, to the ones she was wearing at that moment. I took them, putting the spectacles on. While not perfect, it was almost like seeing through my contacts! “Wow, these work pretty well, Mallory!” She smiled, “Perfect! I was worried you were going to miss your big transformation! You know, with those glasses, you and I will look even more alike when I’m through with you, dearie!” It was only in spite of, or perhaps because of, my great affection for Mallory that I kept smiling so broadly upon hearing this. With this little intermission, I was wheeled back to the ‘salon’ and the perming process could now begin in earnest.
Mallory brought out a clear sewing container with neatly arranged perm rods, all of them small and either pink or grey. “These are the rods I use, so I know they work perfectly, Janet. Don’t worry, though, I sanitize them VERY well after each use.” I chuckled, “Oh, well that’s good!” She then emptied the contents of the home perm kit, and dumped the end-papers into the one empty slot on the container holding the perm rods. This was then set in my lap, and she said “Now, even if it’s been a little while, I trust you recall what to do here? Just hand me a paper when I hold out my hand? You don’t have to, of course, but it will make it go much, much faster, dearie.” I was almost offended by the idea that I would refuse to help, and said “Oh, Mallory, of COURSE I’ll help! It’s, well, it’s my hair after all! Gosh, as you would say ‘the very idea!’!” She cackled at this, and said “Well, you’ve had a rough morning, honey! I just thought I would offer! Now, let’s get started, shall we?”
While I have written about in a previous hair memory the engrossing experience of my illustrious childhood hairstylist Chrissie giving me my first perm, that initial excitement and fascination with the rolling process still manifested itself when Mallory did it, too. I couldn’t help but smile at the vision of myself with short hair, full makeup, and now cat-eye glasses having my short hair tightly wound around pink and grey rods of tiny sizes. While she started the procedure of sectioning my hair with her comb, raising it high, wrapping the rod around the paper, then tightly winding it down to my scalp before snapping the elastic in place, I did have a chance to ponder this sudden makeover. My glasses, her glasses, only had to be removed briefly when she wrapped the areas above my ears, but she was eager to have me put them back on. While not in an arrogant way, I think she wanted me to see her show of her skills, and who can blame her? Although my eyes were trained on my increasingly wrapped head, with the way the mirror was positioned, it was impossible for me not to also see the massive mound of hair beside my wheelchair. In a rare moment, I was actually glad my husband was gone for a while longer. Like a lot of men, he does like my hair longer, though he’s hardly a control freak about it. As recently as three months ago, when we were having dinner with another couple we are close friends with, we all commented how cute and fun the wife’s new pixie looked. She, Kayla, enjoyed her new look immensely, and said I should think about trying it sometime! I believed all the compliments I said praising her new look, but on the car ride home, my husband privately remarked how he liked that I kept my hair longer, and said, somewhat sheepishly, “I hope you’re not thinking about going that short any time soon.” Well, sometimes things change unexpectedly!
My thoughts on this were interrupted when Mallory reached the halfway point in wrapping my hair by saying “Are you alright, honey? You look deep in thought!” I blinked, and smiled, and for half a second saw that my expression had become almost dower in the mirror. I gave a nervous, high-pitched laugh, “Oh, no, sorry Mallory! I’m fine. Well, if I’m honest, I was just thinking about how my husband is going to react when he sees the new me!” She snapped another rod into place, then took another paper from my hand, “Hmm, a common worry I recall from ladies when they went short. Well, this perhaps doesn’t bode well for you, but I didn’t go this short until after Harrold passed, so it was never something I had to worry about. But, I’ll tell you the same things I told dozens of ladies over the years: men will ALWAYS enjoy a well done hairstyle, long or short, and secondly, it’s not his darn hair! Now, I’m not a lady who will be condoning of a spiteful hairstyle, mind you, but I’ve always been of the opinion that a man should love his wife no matter how her hair looks. Unless, of course, she gets one of those god-awful punk haircuts with the front left long and the back shaved. Then I’d say that’s grounds for divorce!” We both laughed hysterically at her declaration, and then had a lively discussion on other ‘terrible’ hairstyles while she continued wrapping my hair. Eventually, all my hair that was left long enough to perm was tightly wrapped up in a neat pattern over my top, back, and sides up to the tops of my ears. “I always thought women looked adorable all wrapped up in rods, and you, dearie, are no exception!” My cheeks flushed in gratitude, and I grinned “I’ve, well, I’ve always enjoyed this part of the perm, Mallory.” She beamed, looking very satisfied, then she switched to a more mischievous expression, adding “Well, the next part will be less enjoyable, as I’m sure you know.”
Getting a home perm from Mallory was very much the same in many ways as I remember having a perm done in a hair salon. I keep saying this, but it was very odd receiving just such a dramatic hair makeover in my own kitchen! For those of you who lived through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, I’m sure you knew somebody, or maybe even had one yourself, who had a home perm. The closest I ever had to witnessing a home perm was that I recall was one of my roommates in college tried a home perm in our dorm room, and while the results weren’t bad or anything, we all ended up sleeping elsewhere that night because of the smell! If you Google ‘home perm meme’, you’ll see a picture of a poor little girl with rods all in her hair, clearly having a bad time. If you check user reviews for Ogilvie home perms, the number one thing you’ll see as a complaint is the smell. I am, well, not exactly thrilled to report that the smell is quite strong. The towel that had been removed from my neck earlier was refitted, and after retrieving one from her bag, a long cotton swab was stuck to the perimeter of my head with Vaseline, just like it was in the good old days. Mallory was, as she was throughout the entire process, a complete professional, and skillfully applied the perm solution carefully to each rod. She used a gloved finger to trace the applicator slowly across each and every rod, and she and I both kept quiet during this part so she could focus on her task. After she had emptied the bottle, she took out some Saran wrap, and using an old Frito-Lay chip-clip, secured my odorous hair under the plastic.
Despite the crisp Fall (again, no jokes!) weather, the oscillating fans were brought in for the purpose of clearing the air, aided by Mallory cracking the window above the kitchen sink. The sleeved cape, which had become a bit warm, was now greatly welcomed as cool, fresh air blew into the ‘salon’. “After several years of getting a headache because of the smell, I had this bright idea, and I must say, I’m rather embarrassed I didn’t think of it sooner!” laughed Mallory. I looked down, and admitted, “I, erm, wouldn’t have ever thought of it, so I’m even more embarrassed!” As she wheeled over the freestanding hooded dryer, Mallory said “This has been in my possession since before I retired. Would you believe I got this thing when it was considered top-of-the-line? My salon was going to toss it when they expanded the floor and added more seated dryers, and I couldn’t believe it! Thankfully I had a station wagon at the time, so I just tossed it in the trunk, and I’ve kept it in my basement ever since! It still works wonderfully, only had to replace the plug a few years ago.” Like so many people my age and older, I responded with the common expression of “They just don’t make stuff like they used to!” Mallory shook her head, wisely, “They sure don’t, dearie. Well, now to just have you cook! I’m going to move you a bit, so I can sweep up all that hair for you.” I thanked her as she pivoted and moved my chair, wheeling over the dryer and lowering the hood.
While it did work, the dryer emitted a very high-pitched whine that even my ear coverings couldn’t fully suppress. I watched passively as Mallory whistled to herself as she began sweeping up my hair. The large clumps were swept up into a dustpan, and dumped without much ceremony into the garbage can. While I was now excited to see myself with a new, so to speak, hairstyle, it was still bittersweet to see years of growth dumped in the trash. However, I was not to dwell on this, as Mallory brought over two folding chairs, setting one a few inches in front of me, and the second a few inches behind the closer one. Smiling, Mallory took a seat, and laid down our cribbage board and a deck of cards, shuffling them and dealing them out in short order. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and between having my hair wrapped tightly in perm rods, the cat-eye glasses, sitting in a wheelchair, and finally holding a hand of cards, I really looked like a doddering old lady! A very small part of me screamed inwardly, but the truth is that I sort of enjoyed the image I saw! There was a certain…comfort I felt in that moment, and a certain self-appeal that even now I can’t quite define.
Playing cards while my hair cooked was probably the most pleasant time I’ve ever had under a dryer, and even if Mallory and I couldn’t hear each other talk, we were able to play two full games of cribbage before the timer went off. My bad luck from the morning must have carried through to our games, because I got skunked twice! The warmth from the dryer was actually quite welcome, as the ‘salon’ had become a bit chilly! However, thanks to the fans and the fresh air, the smell of the perm solution was greatly reduced, though it still made itself known. We had just finished our second game when Mallory’s phone buzzed, signifying it was time to check my rods. She moved the cribbage board and cards aside and pushed the off button on my dryer. The sudden ending of the high-pitched whine was most welcome, but my ears rang for a bit afterwards. Mallory lifted the plastic covering and the chip-clip, and unwound one of my rods. “Yep, just perfect, dearie! I was worried it might not take, but this looks as if it worked just fine on you.” Happy I wouldn’t need to sit under the dryer for any more time, or so I thought, I smiled both in relief and excitement as she gently rinsed my hair. The perm solution scent momentarily increased as the water hit my locks, but thankfully the open window again stifled the scent, somewhat. The neutralizer was not quite as potent as the perming solution, but still smelled strongly as she applied to my hair. Alas, there would be no card playing as the neutralizer set, as Mallory excused herself from the room to make a brief call to her doctor’s office.
When she returned, it had been the recommended amount of time, and she gently removed the rods before rinsing my hair once again. At this point, I did develop a small headache, but thankfully, it subsided shortly thereafter. After she had lightly dried my hair with a fresh towel, she positioned me in front of the mirror, and said “Well, what do you have to say to this, Janet? I think you look very nice with curly hair.” It had been such a long time since seeing myself with hair this curly, let alone this short! I smiled with my mouth wide open as I saw the results, with my dark hair now almost as curly as any poodle’s hair could be! My short hair now appeared even shorter, with the longest sections not even brushing the tops of my ears! “Oh, wow!! It’s so, well, so curly!” I pulled one of the curls, and saw it spring back into place. I giggled as I ran my fingers carefully through my curls, shaking my head and seeing them bounce. The damp, dark curls looked fun, and while the length was shorter than I had expected, it was very satisfying to see myself in curls again. “If you want, you can just let it dry, and you’ll have a fantastic head of curls that’s the definition of ‘wash-and-wear’ for you! Today, though, we’ll be doing a bit more.” Her shears came out once again, and tiny curls fell into my lap as she evened some of the length on the top and sides, making it a more precise shape.
Despite her affinity for VO5 shampoo, Mallory retrieved a tube of Paul Mitchell setting product, and applied a modest amount into her hands, and ran it through my freshly permed hair. “Normally I use this on dry hair, but your hair isn’t overly wet, so this shouldn’t matter too much for your set.” I smiled, though was a bit disappointed that this meant more dryer time for me. “I’m, I’m receiving a roller set?” Mallory nodded and smiled as she brought over another container. “Yes, of course! I don’t like using a curling iron unless I’m short on time. And, well, after this morning’s mishap, dearie, I think it’s better you master the use of curlers, too.” I turned a bit red in the face, but said “Erm, you’re probably right. I think I’ll need to order some rollers and pins, though, Mallory.” She chuckled, “Oh, stop it. You can keep the rollers I’ll be using today, and I also have some softer leave-in ones for bed, unopened, in my bag I grabbed for just this reason. I’ll even show you how to put them in later!” Her excitement was still ever-present, and still made it impossible to resist feeling the same! Mallory, having done this thousands of time before, probably, took no more than 15 minutes to neatly roll and pin my hair in teal, medium sized rollers. “Now, I’ll still have to clean up your sides and nape when you’re done, Janet, but we’re almost done!” As she wheeled me back under the dryer, I said “Mallory, this has been utterly delightful and fabulous. I…” I held back what I was really thinking, and just said “Well, thank you.”
She gave me a knowing smile, and lowered the hood before turning it on. We enjoyed another game of cribbage, and although I didn’t win, I thankfully wasn’t skunked again! Just like before, by the time we finished another game, my time under the dryer had come to a close. Her timer notified her just as she was shuffling the cards, and she sprung up, moving away the chair, cards, and cribbage board, all with a big smile on her face. Mallory was genuinely excited to see me styled, and even if I was still on the fence about the style myself, her exuberance was contagious as ever! After she removed my ear coverings, she wheeled me back into the center of the room, pivoting my chair so I was again facing the mirror. “You know, dearie, this was one of my favorite parts of styling, the combing and teasing out of freshly set hair. This won’t take too long, though, thankfully! Another benefit of short hair for you, honey.” I merely nodded in response, taking in my reflection as she unpinned and began removing the teal curlers. Tubes of almost black hair glistened under my kitchen lights, and Mallory hummed happily to herself as she dropped the curlers into a tub. “There we are, dearie. I’ll shape up your sides so I can clean up your nape and around your ears, then I’ll work on the top.” I couldn’t tell if she was waiting for a response or confirmation of some sort, so I just smiled and said “Okay, sounds good!”
The neat tubes of hair ended just above the tops of my ears were the first areas to be spread apart. Mallory used a small yellow comb with long teeth to gently spread apart the curled hair into a rounded, condensed shape. The curls were still very apparent, but like her own hairstyle, they were blended together to form a sort of layered look. Fruity hairspray filled the air periodically as she teased, again making me thankful for the open window. She worked quickly to perform the same technique on my back and opposing side, leaving me with a very odd reflection. The hair on top was still coiled, but the sides now were nearing the finished look. It almost appeared as if I was being given a style like our Founding Fathers! Mallory was unconcerned, though, taking out her clippers and comb once again to work. Diligently, she neatly shaped my sides with the clippers and comb, not quite blending the hair into the curled section, but rather forming a cleanly shaped crop. She carefully pointed what was left of my sideburns, having tiny triangles poke out just in front of my ears. She ran the clippers and comb over my nape, and although I wouldn’t see the finished style for a few more minutes, was buzzing it into a straight line that ended an inch below my ear lobes. As soon as she was done with the clippers, I was handed back the borrowed glasses, and I could watch the final parts of this coiffure creation. “Your hair is a bit thicker than mine, honey, so this teasing will still be a bit uncomfortable.” I thought this was odd with her saying this, not because it was untrue, but because she had already teased my back and sides with such warning!
However, Mallory was a bit more…exuberant as she began teasing my top. Like her hair, my permed and set hair was brushed away from my face, leaving my forehead almost fully exposed. The curls were spread apart and teased into a rounded, even bubble shape that rose a couple inches above my head. More spraying followed, with Mallory using her hand to block my face. She was unusually quiet as she worked on this portion of the style, but I was so drawn to the transformation of my hair that I would hardly have been a good conversationalist myself! Mallory hadn’t needed to snip a single hair after she had finished doing my nape and sides, which was very impressive to me. After a few more minutes of teasing, spraying, prodding, and poking, Mallory gently patted my sides, causing the curls to bounce slightly in and out of shape. “I think another coat is needed, Janet, dear.” With that, another cloud of hairspray enveloped my hair, which she waved away in rapid fashion. Mallory then beamed, putting her hands on her hips, and said “Well, there’s the new you, Janet! What do you think, dearie?”
In truth, between the short, round poodle helmet permed hairdo, the glasses, and the somewhat heavy makeup I had given myself, I thought I looked easily 10 years older. My hair had been shaped into the quintessential ‘old lady’ poodle perm, with neat, short cropped sides, a full top, and absolutely no semblance of anything that could be called ‘chic’. However, as Mallory lowered herself slightly down to my level, positioning her own, identically styled hairdo next to mine, a huge, triumphant smile on her face, I didn’t see myself as looking like an old lady. Instead, I saw myself as looking just like a close friend. A smile crept across my face, and I said emphatically, “Oh, Mallory, I love it! It’s, well, it’s very conservative, but I just adore it! We really look like sisters!” Mallory waved her hand, “Oh, pssh. You look much too you to be my sister, but maybe you could my…niece.” I caught her pause, and immediately understand her choice of words. I grinned even more broadly, “Mallory, this was beyond special. You gave me something only she had ever done before, and you know what? It was just as wonderfully enjoyable as any time she did my hair. Thank you.” I felt myself get choked up, and she did too, but neither of us shed a tear. The moment was quickly moved on from, though, as she said excitedly, “Come, come. Let’s get that cape off of you, and your blazer on so you can get the full effect!”
Giggling, she removed my cape and fetched my blazer from the couch. As she did so, I ran my fingers up my mostly shorn nape, feeling the sudden transition from neat, cropped hair to stiff, permed and set curls. It was a wonderful feeling, if more than a little shocking. She returned a moment later, and helped me slip into my blazer. She fixed my turtleneck collar, and primped my hair with her fingers, making sure it was perfect. Once my blazer and turtleneck had been situated, she moved me in front of the mirror, and said “Now, look at this gorgeous, distinguished lady! Janet, you are a true picture of style!” I beamed, chuckling as I turned my head in the mirror to inspect myself. “I look like I could be an executive in the 1990s! Wow, I’m so glad you had me get all gussied up, Mallory! This really makes my new look even better!” She placed her hands warmly on my shoulders, “I know this only happened because of a little mishap, Janet, but this was so, so much fun for me, and very fulfilling. I think you’ll really enjoy having this hairstyle! I know you’ll wear it more naturally in the coming months, but you look just tremendous with your hair properly set and sprayed.” I prodded a stiff curled section above my ear, “I have to say, I didn’t see myself getting my hair done like this for several years, but now that I’m seeing myself with a poodle perm, I’m pleasantly surprised how much I like it! Gosh, I wish we could go celebrate or something!”
Mallory smiled, walking around to face me. “Hm, well, I do share the feeling, but obviously that’s not going to happen. How about this: I have to clean all this up and take back my things over to my house. Then, I have to freshen up myself! I’ll order us some nice Italian take-out for dinner, and we can watch a movie!” I beamed, “That sounds absolutely perfect! IS there something I can do, Mallory?” She laughed, “What, and ruin your nice outfit and all my hard work on your hairdo? I don’t think so, dearie! And since I’ll be coming back for dinner, I’ll actually leave some of this here. Your hair will just be wrapped up the next few nights, but I will have to show you how I roll mine up each evening, and then tomorrow morning, I’ll come by to show you how I tease it out and shape it perfectly each morning!” I considered this, then had an idea. “Mallory, erm, well, you’re under no obligation, but since you have to show me all that, why not just spend the night? I mean, I know you only live across the street, but why not? You can use our room upstairs. It’s not going to be used for months, and you’ll have your own shower and bathroom!” She seemed genuinely surprised by the invitation. “Really, are you certain?” I nodded, “Yes, I’m certain! Bring as many things as you need over, and you can spend the night!” Mallory’s excitement was now back to where it was when she started my makeover! “That’s so gracious of you, Janet! Of course I’ll accept your invitation!” She leaned down and gave me a warm embrace. “This really has just turned out to be the perfect day, dearie!” I couldn’t help but agree.
That night indeed turned out to be one of the most enjoyable in a long time. Although she had to warm it up and added a few seasonings, the take-out she ordered was fantastic, ravioli and red sauce, and served us both nicely filled glasses of red wine. We watched a classic Western (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and enjoyed ourselves immensely. That night, wearing a floral, thick nightgown and her face covered in white, thick cream, Mallory demonstrated exactly how to wrap curlers around her hair, and covered it securely under a cap. The following morning, she not only quickly fixed my hair, despite my having carefully had her wrap it the night before, but also demonstrated now how to coax her curls into the same poodle helmet she had given me. While it was enjoyable for me, it was just as enjoyable for her, perhaps even more so. Since adopting this new, short style, I’ve taken to wearing glasses, my own pairs, now, and have tried to wear a more presentable outfit as my recovery comes along. While I won’t deny that my new hairdo does me any favors in the youth department, I like to think it has benefitted me in several other ways, and I think that’s more than a fair tradeoff.
Thank you for reading!