Over the two decades that my mother and I cohabited the planet, her beauty regimen changed very little. She switched from doing her hair herself to having it “done” each week at a salon. She chose a style which was highly constructed, bore no relationship to anything hair would ever do on its own, but could last a full week between salon visits and look astonishingly unchanged. Sometimes I would lie in bed and think about her hair remaining unwashed for an entire week. And looking the same! Occasionally I dreamed of plants starting to grow in my own hair that I would have to painstakingly pull out of my scalp, making sure to get the entire root without breaking the little sprigs.
My mother discovered the great joy that many women of the time shared – the weekly visit to the hairdresser! She returned with her curled and lacquered coif in bubbly good spirits that carried through the rest of the day. Each week we would hear new tales of Don and Gretta, the husband and wife owners of the shop. Don was clearly the front man of the outfit – the chatty, convivial, completely non-threatening, [cough*straight*cough] charmer that anyone would want to tell their troubles and secrets to. By early 1960’s suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania standards (ouch), Gretta was Glamor itself – meaning she came off as adorable (rather than trashy or “cheap”) in her bleached-platinum, cat-eye made up, slim. capri-sporting way. She was quiet, letting Don do the heavy lifting of the conversing. Quite slender and petite, she also gave the impression of perhaps just a hint of fragility, a hint that expanded considerably once she experienced a number of Tragic Miscarriages. My mother was all aflutter about poor Gretta, taking each of the miscarriages, and Greta’s increasing quiet, totally to heart; with the news of a third miscarriage, I came home from school to an open bottle of Anacin on the kitchen counter alongside a note saying she had taken to her bed, but that she had every intention of rallying in time to have supper on the table at the usual stroke of six o’clock.
Gretta never did carry a pregnancy to term; she and Don never had a baby. But her tragic situation touched the hearts of her middle-aged patronage deeply. Meaning – business boomed. She and Don expanded into a brand new shop with considerably more space and more staff, and they began carrying a wide array of beauty products – including make-up!
Sadly, perhaps, this coincided with my own entrance into the 1960’s. In junior high, as it was called back then, I had endured the torture of setting my stick-straight hair in rollers that I slept on at night, even though my poor hair would invariably revert to its natural state well before I got anywhere near the school. I liked to think that I looked mighty fine at the bus stop, and perhaps for a portion of home room as well. At the ripe old age of 12 and 13, I never left the house without a chic coat of mascara and nearly-white lipstick. And, if I were wearing a dress/skirt ( which I was, every day at school, since girls wearing pants was a dream for the future), I wore a girdle. A girdle. At 13. WE ALL DID. And if you don’t think you’ve come a long way baby, read that last sentence one more time.