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.
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.