I wrote this last week and posted it on my other blog from Canada that you don’t know about and have never met.
I’m losing my neighbor today.
This is kind of a big deal.
One year ago, my mom had spinal surgery to replace a disc in her neck. It was getting to the point that she was in constant pain and could barely stand. For 40 years, she has been a hair stylist, and she had no intention of stopping. So she got the surgery, took 4 months off work and recovered.
Next week she will turn 68.
Today, she is opening her salon for the final time.
For 37 years she has been in this particular location. For a while in the late 70s, she had a second location but sold it after a few years. Probably had something to do with me? But she stayed at her main location and in turn had a client list that has remained loyal to her for the past 4 decades.
As a child, I was practically raised at that salon. I remember spending at least every Saturday there for a very long time. Her customers would buy me Christmas presents. Her landlord would take me to lunch. My very first “job” was helping my mom clean the shop.
I have paid for a haircut exactly once in my life. The only other time my mom closed the shop was back in 1996 when she shattered her wrist while on vacation in her home island of Puerto Rico. I was with her when it happened. She took a misstep on a sidewalk and went down, throwing her arms out to catch her fall. We were walking in Old San Juan to the fort, El Morro. We did not go the fort. I wrapped her arm in a wet rag and we took the shuttle back to our hotel. My dad was out golfing with my uncle. When they got back, he took my mom to a hospital in San Juan during some sort of parade, so they were gone something like 6 hours. Puerto Ricans are a very festive people. When we got back to Ohio, she discovered the extent of the damage to her wrist and needed immediate surgery and lived for 4 months or so with a giant contraption sticking out of her arm. Other than that and her neck surgery last year, she went to work every day, even while sick. But during that time in ‘96, I needed a haircut, so I went to a Supercuts or something like that. It was weird.
Even when those two breaks came, her customers all came back to her. Sure they went other places during those months, but they were eager for my mom to return to style their hair every week. I should say this, and it may sound mean, but the median age of my mom’s customers – even when I was a kid – was about 137 years old. Her customers are elderly, is what I’m saying. But they are loyal, even in death. More than a few of them have asked her – in the event of their passing – that my mom do their hair for their funerals.
And she has. Numerous times (she also has said, sometimes it’s better when they’re dead because they don’t move or talk or complain). Apparently, that is also a very well-paying job, hair stylist to the dead.
But she and my dad have decided that as she – and her customers – are getting older, it’s time to close the shop. Part of it is a liability thing. Her shop is upstairs, with no handicap access. More often than not, her customers use canes and walkers to get around. Just last year, she watched a customer fall over the handrails on her steps down to the parking lot below. Thankfully, she was unhurt, but still – it’s not a thing you want to see happen as a human being, let alone as a small business owner.
One time, my ex-girlfriend and I were going to visit her and saw a man crawling on the sidewalk, slowly. He had MS, but refused to use his cane, walker, or wheelchair. We asked if he wanted help, and he did. So my girlfriend and I lifted him to his feet and helped him up the stairs, where his wife was waiting in the shop.
But while the shop is closing, my mom is not retiring. In a stroke of luck that I hope I have when I inevitably look for a new job, my mom got an instant interview at the very first place she turned in a resumé, and a week later had a job offer. She will be the stylist at a senior community near her home. She pays no rent, sets her own hours and prices. She has decided that she will work two days a week. She starts next Thursday, but already residents have been trying to make appointments.
For 37 years she has owned and operated her shop from the same location. For my entire life, that shop has been a part of our family. I was practically raised there before I started going to school. I spent my weekends there until I was in the fourth grade or so. Even then, before I got a real job in high school, I’d go there on Sundays to clean. When I went to college, I would eat there during my lunchbreaks. And finally, when I moved out of my parent’s house I moved to the apartment next door to the shop, where I have lived for the past 14 years (the rent is cheap and the place is big).
So I’m losing my neighbor. More than that really. I am losing a significant part of my life. I spent a lot of time in that shop. Even as an adult, before Netflix, etc. I would go over there and watch TV (she had cable, and then eventually Direct TV) at night, I would bum cleaning supplies and snacks and things. I even once helped my girlfriend color her hair using the equipment in the shop. But also, it was just good knowing that on the other side of the wall was my mom, and anytime I wanted, I could just go over and say “hi”, get a hug when feeling down, borrow money when feeling broke, get a haircut when feeling like a dirty hippie (the past couple years, I’ve taken to shaving my head on occasion. She won’t do it, so I’d sneak over at night and do it myself using her tools).
I’ll still see my mom, of course. I go to the house at least once a week. But there’s a new emptiness now, knowing I’ll never see her car in her parking spot again, never having her customers reminisce about how little I was when I was a kid (I was never little, it’s a damn lie) and watching them all graciously thank her for making them feel beautiful for another week, providing conversation and friendship.
Goodbye, Olga’s Hair Boutique.