1976 was the year I got my first paying job. I was all of thirteen, skittish and shy. Not ready to face the world at all. My mother arranged for me to work in the salon where she had her hair done. I’ll never forget the owner, Mrs. Wilma Flitton. Like Fred’s wife, only real and not a redhead. She was oh-so-kind to everyone who entered her establishment in the Mayfair Shopping Centre. She called the salon “Mayfair Lady.” Get it? I didn’t. Not back then.
I spent two months sweeping up trimmed hair, refilling the hairdressers’ shelves with glass vials of Fermodyl, washing combs and brushes and rollers and washing and drying load after load of dye-stained towels.
After a month I graduated to more responsibility. The kind that fuels a teen’s nightmares.
I washed old ladies’ hair.
One day a really old woman came in for her weekly wash, rinse and set. I went about washing her hair only to discover after the first shampoo that something was seriously wrong. I recall looking aghast at Yoki, my Mom’s hairdresser. Huge scales dislodged from the woman’s scalp and were stuck in her hair.
“You’re too gentle,” Yoki told me as she pushed me aside and took over. She scrubbed that old lady’s head with a fever. Out came all the scaly flakes. When it was over, the lady patted Yoki’s arm and thanked her, then cut me to the core with a steely glare.
That was the day I learned how to properly wash my hair. And that I wasn’t cut out to wash anyone else’s.
My hands were never the same after that summer. I pulled sheets of dead skin from my fingers, like the worst sunburn – but without the sun. But it was all worth it because of the boy next door.
One door down from the salon was a fast food joint with the best home-cut greasy fries on the planet, and a butterscotch shake that blew Dairy Queen out of the water. I got the same thing every day, spent a full hour’s wages just so I could talk to him.
“Fries and a butterscotch shake please.”
“Here you go.”
That was the extent of the talking. Same thing every shift. Damn the shyness that held me back. But he was the cutest thing I’d ever seen with long dark lashes and a heart string pulling scruff of mustache that only a fourteen year old boy can pull off. And only a thirteen year old girl can find attractive.
But he wasn’t the best thing I got out of that summer. No, the best thing was a free perm. On my last day of work at the end of summer break, Moira permed my hair. I played with the lovely loose curls all the way home on the bus. For the first time my long locks didn’t hang straight as the prairie highway.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best thing. Because years later, those soft curls sparked an ‘80s love fest with the kinky perm that didn’t end until the mid-‘90s. The proof is in the pictures. . .