In the beauty salon where I began my career there were a number of hairdressers who still had weekly clients who came to have their hair shampooed, set in rollers, dried under the hooded hairdryer, and then combed out and sprayed with enough hairspray to ensure that not one hair would fall out of place until they returned the following week.
These clients were the bread and butter of the hairdresser who catered to them as well as the manicurist who could provide not only a lovely manicure, but a welcome diversion from 30 minutes of brain numbing heat and boredom.
As a manicurist just beginning to build a clientele, I spent a great many hours sitting and waiting for one of these women to realize they truly needed my services, both the manicure and the diversion.
These early days seemed long and boring to me, until I discovered that these dull moments spent quietly waiting were moments of grace compared to the 30 minutes I would spend with some of these women.
Betty was a client who lived in a small town where she owned and operated a restaurant that catered mostly to people who came to town to shop for antiques, and enjoy a nice lunch or dinner.
Every Monday she drove an hour to the beauty salon to see her hairdresser, James. After shampooing her hair and briefly freeing it from its lacquered prison, James would use his considerable skills to make sure it would look perfect for the next 7 days.
Just looking at Betty would give you no clue that she was a hands-on restaurateur. She was of average height, solidly built, with shoulders like an NFL quarter back, and thanks to James her bleached blonde hair was perfectly teased, and heavily sprayed into place. She wore only expensive designer clothing…including her lingerie…she told me so.
All of her clothes were soft to the touch, and possessed a bit of sheen, because Betty loved seeing reflected light, and that most definitely included the sparkle of diamonds.
She loved diamonds, and her husband loved that she loved diamonds, because that made it extremely easy for him to shop for her on her birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Arbor Day…you get the picture.
By now you can imagine this perfectly coifed, perfectly dressed, glittering woman driving to Indianapolis in her white Cadillac every week to visit with James and have her hair done. However, can you imagine her running a restaurant?
Taking one look at her hands would tell you that she not only managed the restaurant, she probably scrubbed the pots and pans as well. And… after you got to know Betty you would realize she probably scrubbed the pots and pans because she didn’t believe anyone else could do it as well as she could.
Every Monday she would bring her work-weary, chapped hands with no nails to me, and expect me to work a small miracle with my orange stick and nail polish. Please believe me when I say I was thankful for that opportunity, but when I looked at those needy hands I felt needy inside, like maybe I needed twice my usual fee to do this! However, I persevered. I would turn on the hairdryer and solemnly lower the hood over the first stage of James’ masterpiece, while silently asking for divine aid to see me through the next 30 minutes.
Five minutes would quickly disappear as Betty removed diamond rings from each finger and put them in the extra-large ring dish I kept in the drawer just for these days with her. Next, I would try to shape and file her nails while swearing she had bitten them to the quick. However, in an extremely loud voice, so she could hear herself over the hairdryer, she swore that she had not. A short soak in warm soapy water would help to soften the cracked cuticles, and then a long, soothing massage with a rich moisturizing lotion. Finally, it was time to apply the “nail lacquer”. Betty never called it nail polish, it was always “nail lacquer”.
This began a 5-10 minute debate about whether she should wear Revlon’s Love That Red or Revlon’s Sheer Pink. Each and every week she pondered this same decision and each and every week she would say to me, “Just paint one coat of Love That Red on one hand and I’ll see if I like it or not, and if I do you can finish painting the rest. Okay?”
“Okay Betty”, I replied, “But we did this last week and you ended up not liking it. Remember? And your nails haven’t grown all that much since then.”
In her loud hairdryer voice she would say, “Yes, Honey, I remember, but let’s just try it again. Okay? I love that red!”
“Okay Betty”, and I would carefully paint one coat of Love That Red on the nails of one hand, and she would look at them and say, “I like it Honey, go ahead and paint the rest .”
Every week I would paint two coats of lacquer on all ten extremely short nails, and just before I was ready to apply the top coat she would pull her hands away from mine and say, “Honey, you know I really love this red, but I think my nails are just too short to wear it, don’t you?”
By this time I would be seething inside with frustration and impatience, but I would reply calmly, “I think you’re right Betty, would you like to wear the Sheer Pink?”
“Yes Honey, I think the Sheer Pink would be better.”
As I very carefully removed the red polish from her nails I would watch as it inevitably bled into all ten cracked cuticles. I would grit my teeth, breathe deeply, clean up the cuticles as best I could, and apply the Sheer Pink.
About this time I look up to see James unhappily hovering nearby, grieving for his now completely blown schedule. His next client is here and waiting for him. With a tight little smile on his face he asks sweetly, “Is she finished yet?”
That was Betty’s cue to say, “Oh, I have to pay you!” and ruin a nail or two while digging around in her purse for money. I always offered to repair the ruined nails, but she would now be in such a hurry to get to James that she would just lick them with her tongue to smooth the polish back down and say, “No honey, they’re fine, see?” Then she would be on her way with a few botched Sheer Pink nails, and red stained cuticles. I prayed every week that she would never tell anyone who did her nails.
During these trying sessions with Betty I had no idea I was receiving the divine aid I had prayed for, but little by little I began to notice a change in myself. I began to realize that when Betty walked into my world each week I was offered a choice. I could choose to frantically rush through her manicure with frustration and anger; or I could choose to be fully present, breathe deeply, and try to find the beauty in each difficult moment with her.
Making the right choice soon became easier for me as I saw how it truly enriched both of our lives with patience and humor.
Eventually, outside the salon, I noticed that my young son had to try harder to “try” my patience. I felt my breath deepen and my haste dissolve as I held the door for an elderly person to slowly shuffle through, and when someone cut me off in traffic I would just smile to myself and shake my head instead of shouting expletives they would never hear.
I remember Betty now with gratitude for the lessons in patience she brought to my life. With those lessons came the awareness that I can find beauty in every moment of my life, even if it seems elusive at that particularly beautiful moment. The choice is always mine to make.