A Hairdresser’s Diary
It was a long and painful, five years that followed the devastating car accident that targeted me in mid-June of 1970. The memories were overwhelmingly painful for me. So horrifyingly vivid were those first hours after being hit by the unconcerned, uncaring drunk driver that the memories remained fresh in my mind. The life altering accident happened in a split second, but in my mind, it repeatedly played back in slow motion. There were even freeze frame moments. I was overcome with anger as I recalled the way my back was twisted so severely and grotesquely. Seat belts were not installed in vehicles as of yet. I was sitting in the front facing Ron, my husband, both my knees rested on the seat; my feet on the console and my left arm dangled over the back between us. Then, in a flash of a second, a drunk driver sideswiped us. When he hit us the whole top of my body twisted to the right. I hit my forehead on my passenger side window. My knees remained, as if glued in place, on the seat. I thank God that Ron was not badly injured, even though our vehicle was totaled. Fast thinking and in shock, Ron was able to get us to the OPP station safely. He was smart enough to get the description of the car and had part of the license plate memorized.
It was not long before an OPP officer had the driver in custody. Remorse was not in this uncaring person’s personality. He was driving a stolen car, and was on probation from prison and had no driver’s license. He was eventually charged with dangerous driving. For someone who caused so much devastation and destruction he got off easily, his sentence consisted of only a few more years in jail. My sentence was far greater. Although I was the injured one, my punishment would be for life. How profoundly unfair, one drunk drivers inconsiderate choices changed the lives of a whole family. At the time, Ron and I did not know just how much fight God had instilled in us. In the next few years, we would have many an opportunity to show the world just what we were made of. I still remember those family members who thought these two, nineteen-year old kids wouldn’t last a year together, let alone have the guts and gumption to get through this life-altering circumstance.
Now we were into early March 1974. Four more years had passed and there were even more dramatic changes in our lives. We had happily and delightfully reunited with my Baba and Guido only to be heartbroken when Guido passed away just a few weeks before our son Douglas Ronald was born. I was biding my time until I was comfortable about asking Baba how I could get in touch with my father. Connecting with my grandparents, I hoped, might also bring me a second chance to get to know him. I must admit I had a burning curiosity to see him again. I was not sure if it was to confront him or forgive him. Maybe it was a little of both. Baba made the arrangements and once reunited, our visits were sporadic but we were trying to get to know each other. I was looking forward to having our three children and Ron get to know him as well. This reunion did not sit well with my mother so we didn’t discuss it with her. I had not seen him in twenty-six years. We had so many years to catch up on. There were so many changes in our lives and some happened in a very short time.
I also had the good fortune, of finally cultivating a good and loving relationship with all the siblings I grew to know as my brothers and sisters. Now we were grown and could think for ourselves, we as a family decided to be just that – a family. Nothing pleased me more. We started going to the family Christmas gatherings, something we had not done for many years. This was great for our children – they now had a very large extended family. We raised above our childhood misfortunes and flourished as loving, caring adults.
The smartest and most life altering decision we ever made was to take the four thousand dollar settlement from the car accident – not more than an insult for the extreme loss we suffered – and use it as a down payment to build our tiny one floored castle. We could not know how this one important decision would have such a positive impact on our young family. We would no longer look back. We went from Windsor Housing to becoming proud homeowners. How proud we were of that accomplishment. We would take a horrible experience and make it something special and wonderful – ‘a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ – or so they say.
One of the things that made it so perfect was we brought our beautiful, seven month preemie, miracle baby boy, Douglas, home to our new home the first week we took possession. We had to leave him in hospital for five heartbreaking, frightening weeks after he was born. Weighing only three pounds four ounces, he was too tiny, sick and weak from fighting for his life to come home with me. We knew he was our son when he fought and won. Christine, now nine, was the typical big sister who wanted to be a little mommy and Terry four, was the big brother who wanted to protect his baby brother. God gave us three amazing, caring and loving children who rarely complained even when they had to chip in and help. It did not matter if it was helping with Douglas, housework or just running errands. While other children were out playing ours had chores, their playing came after.
Doug was only a year old when I had to have an emergency hysterectomy. I was shocked but so very thankful that my mother came to the rescue to take care of Christine and Terry. They were old enough to go home with her and they genuinely loved their Nanny and Poppy. To my delight, my mother and I had found some common ground. I no longer wept for the mother I never had. What she lacked in motherhood she made up for as a sweet, loving grandmother who the kids called, Nanny. She showed her love not just to our three children but to the rest of the family as well. She showed no favoritism. Poppy and Nanny always had a houseful of Grandchildren.
There were lots of cousins to play with at any one time. Mom and I had too much baggage to let bygones be bygones but we could have comfortable and enjoyable visits. I must confess I had painful moments when I caught myself feeling jealous of the attention she so lovingly gave my kids; these thankfully were short-lived and fleeting. It was very important to me that our children have grandparents that I was deprived of. It was obvious she was still oblivious to the bad treatment she bestowed on me. She acted as if it never happened. When I tried to talk about it she would look at me as if I was talking about someone else. I put it aside for our kids’ sakes.
Ron didn’t want Douglas, who was so young and fragile, to be so far away. We had a friend come stay at the house and take care of him for the week I was in hospital. She also helped for the six weeks I needed to recover. I was so content when Christine and Terry came home I missed them terribly and it was obvious they were happy to be home too. Although they were in good, caring hands they were not in mine.
Although I was healed from the surgery I wished that was the end of my suffering but some of it was just beginning. It seemed like chronic pain and surgery were to be the two constants in my life. I was only twenty-seven and I had already been four times under the knife. This left me feeling lost, overwhelmed and useless much of the time. I was a burden to Ron and the family, I could not work, my household duties were limited and I depended on the kids and Ron to care for me too often.
Needing to find something, anything, to take my mind off my pain and frustrations, I started accepting a few of my former customers for hair appointments in my home. These clients had been almost begging me to do their hair and asked to be notified if I ever decided to get back into the business again. No one had a problem with the inexact schedule I was a slave to. When it rained, my friends and customers knew, on those days, not to call for their hair needs. My fingers and my back were far too painful to work. I was, at first, restricted to haircuts and styling, but gradually as I was stronger I was able to stand or sit long enough to do the occasional colour or perm. This was a far cry from the customer base I had while working in a salon, but it kept my hand in my craft, and helped us a little financially. This made the few customers I accepted happy. But, what I craved the most was having my fingers entwined and caressing the strands of silky, flowing long hair, I so desperately desired to help make me feel alive and creative.
1974 was the year that things would start to turn around for us, financially. Ron was promoted to salesman and one of the perks was a fully loaded company car, his own office and expense account. Ron worked so hard for this position and no one deserved it more. We splurged with a celebration dinner. The kids were so excited they could hardly wait to go for a ride in Daddy’s new car. Ron could hardly contain himself as well. He couldn’t wait to share with his mom – sharing with her just how far he had come, from being a truck driver to a salesman with all the perks. His father had passed away from a heart attack June 1968. It saddened him he could not share this great news with him too. There was no doubt he would have been proud.
For the first time in our lives I now even had my very own car. We had come so far in these few short years. We long ago decided we would never ‘pack up our tent’ or give up. We were determined no matter what it took we would fight to survive. We would forge ahead to make our lives better, not just for ourselves but specifically for our children. It was made obvious that both our families were proud of what we accomplished. Frank and Cathy in particular showed their ongoing support.
Since I had my own car and when I felt well enough I would go back to the old ‘Windsor housing’ neighbourhood. There I would cut a few heads of hair or give our former next door neighbour, Hildie, her much needed colour. Three of those haircuts and styles were for the three women who lived across the street. Sharon’s husband was the architect who had built the tiny castle we now owned. I loved doing Sharon’s, Leslie’s and their mother, Mary’s hair. They wore the elaborate, high bouffant styles that allowed me to be as creative as my imagination allowed. Leslie, at one time in
her career, was a practicing hairdresser and had a room in their house set up as a mini salon. This made my job very easy, but made me miss the salon atmosphere even more. To the lay person this may sound silly but I missed the smells of the hairspray, perms, gels and the sounds of the constant chatter from clients and personal alike. Although I suffered afterward with body pain, it was so satisfying for my soul and my ego.
Today was to be one of those days that was engrained in my memory bank and still makes me smile. Christine, now ten, just came in from school while I was bleaching Bethany’s hair – something I did as a six-week ritual. This time I was using a new bleach product just out on the market. Instead of going on white, it went on blue. Bethany was paranoid when it came to using new products on her hair. She had, over the years had some very unhappy results. Even though I had been doing her hair all the while I was at Nora’s she was still anxious.
Christine walked in and seeing Bethany’s hair, she casually said, “What a pretty blue colour mommy.”
With that, Bethany started to panic. She grabbed the hand mirror from the table and started to cry, “Why is my hair blue? What have you done?” It took some fast-talking to get her settled down. I begged her to let me leave the bleach on to finish its work. She was very cool to me. It was as if all those years of total trust had instantly vanished. I could not say anything to ease her anxiety. It was not until I showed her the stunning final results that I could see the look of relief and get a hug, these were indicators that she was no longer concerned.
Christine learned a valuable lesson that day to never to make unsolicited comments when it came to a customer. I calmly explained to her that some people are obsessed and over react when it comes to their hair. Once alone we joked about Bethany’s ‘panicky blue hair’ over reactions. Shaking her head wildly said, “Mommy I don’t want to be a hairdresser. Too much fussy people.”
My makeshift beauty shop was unusual and definitely not your run – of – the – mill salon. I had no specialized equipment, no fancy pump chair or lighted mirror above my hairdressing table. I used a kitchen chair, a utility room sink and a hand mirror. Sometimes the sunshine was my only overhead light, and a lawn chair my customer’s beauty chair. There was more than one occasion when Ron would have to remove an implanted hair from one of my feet or from my belly button. I had a habit in the summer of cutting hair outside, barefoot and in my bikini. I am sure for the passer by that would be quite a sight. I carried my scissors and comb everywhere I went. Without them I felt naked, like a part of me was missing. When we went to visit either family, I always had a haircut or style to do. Even my mother was treated to a professional cut and style or perm when I went home. This pleased her, other than me she had never been to a beauty salon for a professional treat. I learned to cut my hair by watching my mother for all those years growing up cut her own. What a turnaround in her thinking from just a few years earlier. Oh, how far we had come from the attitude that my hairdressing training was a waste of time and money.’
We spent a great deal of time with Frank and Cathy- Ron’s brother and our sister -in -law. Our two families were exceptionally close, the four of us almost inseparable. Cathy and I would finish each other’s sentence that is how close we were. One pleasure I had was working with Cathy’s long beautiful hair with which she allowed me to use my imagination. She was never disappointed.
It was on a beautiful, breezy, sunny afternoon after Cathy and I had just finished making strapless halter-tops for ourselves. Cathy, being the awesome seamstress she was, loved any excuse to switch on her sewing machine. These cute tops looked like short skirts with elastic that fit snugly under our arms and just fell loose to our waist with a bit of flair. They were not only cool to wear but looked cool as well. Just as we finished, Aaron, Frank and Cathy’s nineteen year old son and youngest of three, reminded me he had asked me for a haircut earlier that day, I said, “As soon as mom and I are finished making these tops I will be happy to do that.”
Aaron smiled and said, “Great just let me know when you are ready.” Cathy did not have a special place for me to do hair, so I tried to keep the mess outside if possible. In the warm weather anyway it is not easy to cut hair in the snow in a parka and mittens. That would be a pretty silly sight and possibly a scary looking haircut as well.
So there we were out in the backyard, Aaron sitting on a high kitchen stool, wrapped in one of Cathy’s handmade hairdressing capes. I had the hair clippers plugged into an extension cord that was sitting on the picnic table – a spray bottle filled with warm water, my scissors and my comb ready for use. Aaron wanted a short cut so most of his hair was cut with the clippers. The top though needed to be wet so I used my scissors. The strong warm breeze was drying his hair as fast as I was cutting. All of a sudden there was a big gust of wind and the freshly cut hair blew into my face. As it did, without
thought, I reached down and picked up my top to wipe my eyes. Not until I heard the gasp from Aaron did I realize I had no bra on. I had just flashed my young nephew. Oh my gawd! I was so embarrassed. How was I going to play this boo boo down?
Aaron and Cathy were laughing hysterically as he hollered, “Hey Dad, Aunt Chris flashed me.” He could hardly stay seated on the stool he was laughing so very hard. Cathy almost fell off the picnic table I thought she would bust a vessel. Again he shouted, “Hey Dad, Aunt Chris is trying to showing me her boobs.”
“Aaron, I am so sorry – it was an accident,” I said, very embarrassed. I tried to finish his haircut, hoping to brush the incident off as if it did not happen, but he would not stay still. He continued calling to his father Finally, Frank came outside and Aaron told her what I did. I could not apologize enough and then everyone started laughing. Cathy suggested we move all the hair implements into the house so I could safely cut Aaron’s hair without me stripping. For the rest of the day, all in the house made gestures mimicking me pulling up my top. To make matters worse, Aaron’s cousin Charissa was visiting. Now more family members would know of my stupidity.
A few days later Frank said. “By the way Chris the neighbours want to know when you are coming to visit next.”
“Why, would they want to know that?”
“Well they said they were hoping you would be cutting Aaron’s hair in the backyard. It is not often they get a peep show with a haircut.” Covering my face with my hands we all started to laugh, including me. Every chance Frank got he took the opportunity to kiddingly remind me that I had flashed his son.
It was the next year that Aaron told us all he was gay. It was not long before someone jokingly blamed my flashing him for being the reason. You know the old saying, ‘Do something right no one remembers, but do something wrong, no one forgets.’ How true how very, very true.