It was an ancient ritual in the South for a woman of a certain age and a certain social standing to clock in at the beauty parlor, which my mother did twice a week without fail. The men about town may have owned seats at the coffee counters, but god help any one of them who came between his wife and her beauty parlor appointment.

Mildred Bond washed and rolled my mother’s hair, then sat her under the dryer until her face turned pink and her ears heated up to bright prickly red.

Out came the rollers, at which point Mildred went to work teasing my mother’s hair and arranging it into, ahem, a style. Think Country & Western without the glamour. The beauty parlor was always thick with hairspray, half of which seemed to land on my mother’s do. She didn’t rise from the chair until her hair was absolutely immovable.

No, not really.

Although there may have been a few steel magnolia customers at Mildred’s place, she was no Dolly Parton. A farmer’s wife who spoke in a soft country twang, Mildred moved calmly from head to head in her plain white uniform and white shoes. Her own hair, the color of a young doe, seemed less important in height and not quite as stiff as her customers'. Constantly she pushed her glasses up her powdered nose and was the kind of woman who looked as if she’d been sixty all her life. Strange then to see her with her husband, who was the spitting image of Superman in overalls.

I learned quite by accident that Mildred was guilty of moonlighting. One evening my mother told me to find my father and tell him dinner was ready. He wasn’t in the office, nor in the casket room, so I knew I was going to have to check the embalming room. I was as skittish about the embalming room as anyone might be, but I had developed a grin and bear it attitude over the years. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again. Nothing.

I heard strange sounds, stranger than usual, through the heavy wooden door, so I slowly cracked it open a bit. My father said, “Come on in!" as if inviting me to a party. There stood my father with a horrible thick hose in his hand. There stood his employee by a shiny white machine. And good god, there stood Mildred Bond with a strange contraption in her hand. She waved the noisy thing around the head of a woman who lay on the table draped in a sheet. It was a blow dryer, the first I’d ever seen. I felt I was on the set of a science fiction movie.

Very early blow dryer

Mildred looked up at me and smiled her easy smile. “Hi,” she drawled, “how are you this evening?”

Oh just great.

Some doors are best left closed.


  1. I can remember when I was very young all the women of the family getting together to do each others hair and to watch Coronation street on an old tiny black and white set... God I must be old. xx

  2. Oh Ruth, I wish you had a photo of THAT!

  3. Ah yes, the beauty parlor. Ours was at home where my mother fried and tortured our hair with vile smelling things called Toni Permanents. In the female population at that time only those females born with curls were immune to those travesties.

    My first question is actually about that "hose." Hope to hear more of an explanation in the future.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I remember Toni permanents. And didn't they smell vile?

    I'm aware that if I reveal too many details about certain aspects of the funeral home, especially the embalming room, that I may risk alienating many people. I felt I was taking a risk in this post and was fearful of turning people off. I know that's not answering your question, so if you really want to know, you can always email me. Thanks again for reading.

  5. No, no I don't want details, perish the thought, but I was just curious about a general idea of what was happening. Did his employee do all the embalming? Did your father do only the business side?

  6. Thought perished! My father did the embalming, but often had an intern, employee or partner who sometimes shared that task.

  7. He gets more interesting all the time.

  8. This sentence, "Constantly she pushed her glasses up her powdered nose and was the kind of woman who looked as if she’d been sixty all her life" is my favorite. That picture is iconic. I love your posts Kate.

  9. Thanks so much Susan. I think I'll include that in the book then!

  10. I could be wrong, Kate, but I think there is an entire book behind this post! People, women, are fascinated by hair -- fashion, trends, history of, symbolism of, etc. Great post, Kate!

  11. Kate I have my grandmothers old blow dryer its the same as one in the pic (blue one) can you tell me what year that one was made? Thank you connie