It’s just a small salon located at the rear of a non-descript building along a busy commercial highway. Inside there are only two chairs, and it’s warm and inviting, painted in soothing muted colors, and decorated with interesting artwork. Comfortable and cozy, rather than big city slick. I’ve been coming here for so long that I think of the two women who own the shop as friends, rather than professionals who style my hair.
When I walked in this week and saw several fresh floral arrangements resting on a counter, I thought perhaps there had been a death in one of their families. But that wasn’t the case. Steph received an arrangement from a client simply because it had been a difficult week and her daughter’s school had been closed for several days due to threats of violence. The other bouquet was for an older client who had recently returned to the area after a brief move out of town. A customer who often had appointments at the same time wanted to welcome her home with a surprise bouquet of flowers.
Those flowers reflect the intimate sense of community that exists in a hair salon. The people who color and snip and make us shine a little brighter are also our therapists and ministers. We sit in front of the mirror, vulnerable with dripping hair, and share our lives—our joys and frustrations and heartbreak. Our children grow up and our parents grow old and the mirror reflects a few more lines on our face and a lot more gray in our hair, but our stylists keep us going and send us out into the world looking and feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever is coming at us next. Kind of like church.
The salon is a great source of information and gossip, (also like church.) Scandal and drama in the schools? A new restaurant or store has opened that’s exceptionally good or bad? The salon is way ahead of social media when it comes to finding out the latest scoop. As we wait for our hair to dry or the color to soak in, we eavesdrop on each other’s conversations. We spread rumors and share ideas and recommend plumbers and house painters and help each other figure out ways to cope—whether it’s with a bad back or a bad landscaping job. No online presence can replace the human connection of someone looking at us and saying, “I had the same problem and let me tell you what I did about it.”
Our stylists, like our pastors, are there for us in the good times and the bad. They are there for homecoming and prom and wedding hair. Lisa met me at the shop before hours on the morning of my father’s funeral so that my hair looked good. It was one less thing I had to deal with on one of the most difficult days of my life. When I had major back surgery and worried about how long it would be until I could get a haircut, she reassured me that she would come to my house and do my hair and that she occasionally does that for clients with health issues. A version of home communion.
These women work their magic on all of us, but they reserve a special grace for their oldest customers. They tenderly wash and style the hair of ladies for whom a trip to the salon is an event, a big trip out. Fridays are often “blue haze” days when elderly clients come in to be permed and colored and sprayed, many times in the same style they’ve worn all their lives. Having their hair done makes them feel connected to the young women they once were, even though their aging bodies may betray them.
I was still there when the customer came in who received the anonymous flowers. She spoke with sad resignation about moving into a small apartment in a local retirement facility. I got a sense that she felt defeated and that she knew this move would probably be her last. When her appointment was over, Lisa presented her with the flowers and said they were a gift from another client who wanted to welcome her back and hoped they would see each other again soon at the salon. At first, the woman’s face lit up with a delighted smile, but then she worried about how she would carry them home in her car without spilling them. Lisa and another customer walked with her down the ramp from the shop, helped her into her car and securely tucked the flowers on the floor of the backseat.
I hope those blooms brighten her days at least until next week, when she comes back to the salon.