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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

It Wasn’t Steel Magnolias.But Then Again…

They could not have been more different.

Mom was a petite woman in her nineties with snow-white hair, conservative in dress and manner. She preferred to notice rather than be noticed, to serve rather than be served, to listen rather than speak.

Richard (name has been changed) is of indeterminate age, tall and lean, with long gray hair neatly tied in a low ponytail or tightly pulled back in a man-bun. He dresses flamboyantly - long scarf brushing the tops of Converse sneakers, silver bangles stacked along one arm, shiny hoops through his ears. A born and bred southerner, Richard chats easily and listens respectfully, eyes intent, manner thoughtful.

Richard was Mom’s hair stylist for the 18 months she lived with us here in the mountains.

More importantly, he was her friend.

When Mike, Mom and I made our decision several years ago to move to western North Carolina and do it together, Mom’s first concern was finding a new church.

“Somewhere I will feel at home,” she said wistfully.

Her second concern was locating a hairdresser who still knew how to do perms and could roller-set and style an older lady’s hair to last out the week.

“So I will look like myself,” Mom explained.

The Baptist church just down the mountain from us was the first answer to her prayers.

Richard, who rented a station at the salon Mom and I both frequented, was the second.

It’s been nearly two years since Mom passed away. I’ll never get used to having her gone. You don’t, of course. You have to trust your heart will expand enough to hold the loss along with the love.

Trixie, the shy one of our two cats, still sits at the foot of Mom’s bed waiting for her to come back. I sit there too, knowing she won’t. She can’t. Wouldn’t want her to.

But still, there are those days like yesterday…

It was my turn for a color and cut – a longer appointment than most as I’d been away so much I’d missed my regular visits. My roots glowered darkly beneath my highlights.

(“You look just FINE!” my girlfriends said at lunch last week. “Ombre hair is in! You’re trendy!”)

I’ve asked the Lord to help me accept the things the salon cannot change, but duo-toned hair’s not one of them.

Yesterday morning as I handed foil squares to my stylist, she spun the chair sideways so I was facing Richard’s station. His elderly client was turned away from me, but I watched idly as he carefully clipped and curled her snow-white hair. A lump lodged in my throat.

I didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but in a southern beauty salon it’s not only tolerated but expected. Richard set down his scissors, combed, sprayed, then handed his customer a mirror. She nodded in approval then struggled to rise, Richard’s hand beneath her elbow.

The client reached into her square handbag, like the one Mom used to carry, and pulled out a wad of cash. Richard looked at it and handed it back.

“My dear,” he said quietly, “You’ve given me too much.”

The elderly woman blinked up at him, patted his arm, let him help her into her car-coat.

“It’s just the right amount,” I heard her say, “to give to a friend.”

As she left, Richard reached for his broom and caught my eyes. Saw the tears. Handed me a tissue.

He glanced away, then smiled.

“Your mama was a good woman. Such a spirit she had. I enjoyed talking to her. I’m glad I knew her.”

My reply got tangled up somewhere between my heart and my mouth. I said nothing. Nothing needed to be said.

When I left, I tipped my stylist. Always do. But yesterday morning, I tipped someone else’s too.

Sometimes you have just the right amount on you to give to a friend.

Maggie Wallem Rowe, (c) 2021


If you'd like a gift-wrapped, personalized hardcover copy of Maggie's book This Life We Share: 52 Reflections on Journeying Well with God and Others in time for Christmas gift-giving, you may contact her at Tax and shipping (US only) included with cover price. Please order by December 14 and specify "rustic" or foil gift wrap (as in photo).



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