When I was a little girl my mother used to go to a beauty shop in our neighborhood in Girard. Only one block away, this haven from domesticity was in the basement of a neighbor's home.
Mary Cataffa was a kindly Italian-American lady who lived on Davis Street, one street and one block below Dearborn Street, where we lived.
It was at Mary Cataffa's that I first learned the power of female communication. My mother would take me with her and I would sit, swinging my feet, on one of the chairs attached to a huge hooded hairdryer. I marveled as my mother reeled back in the chair in front of the shampoo bowl. Her neck was cradled in a dip in the porcelain sink and as Mary began shampooing my mother's hair, Mom seemed to drift into a world of sheer relaxation.
Mary would chat to my mother about her day and my mother would nod in assent. Once the shampooing was over, my mother was ratcheted back upright in the chair.
Mary was a wizard at the coiffeurs of the day and while she parted my mother's hair and wrapped it around rollers she and my mother would begin serious talk.
To Mary's credit she never gossiped but she was virtually the Western Union of Parkwood, our neighborhood. Mary would report on who had obtained a new job, whose baby was just baptized, whose parent was in failing health. My mother would engage in the conversation often referring to her own domestic situation; that is, living in a tiny house with three small children, a husband and an ailing father-in-law. These conversations were intimate in that they shared genuine concern or celebration for the people being discussed.
During the times Mary's beauty shop was full of other customers, I was consigned to the little chair behind the appointment desk. At these times, without the constraint of any male presence, conversation was much louder, raucous and a little naughty.
I recently found myself in what is now called a salon rather than a beauty shop. It was one of those trendy Trumbull County places seen frequently advertised, named for something or someone I have never heard of. My usual beautician has her shop at her home and like Mary, schedules me so we can have a one-on-one conversation before her next client.
She was away, so I was at the mercy of this hip salon. I marveled at the beauty operators who sported purple or spiked hair, and profuse tattoos. The clients, undergoing their 21st century wizardry, sat with pieces of foil in their hair or had heated curling irons applied to their locks. Some sat with their heads encased in thick dye. Shampooing was left to assistants, as were manicures, pedicures and something called eyebrow braiding.
First I had a relaxing shampoo by a trusty assistant. Then, with all the bravery I could muster, I allowed the beautician to cut my hair. To my amazement, as she started to cut, she also started a pleasant conversation reminiscent of my mother's and Mary's. I paid attention to conversations going on around me, although the topics had changed over the years. Now, women were talking about husbands, college admissions, preschools and who had done what to whom on the Kardashian's. These were still women communicating with women, without any men present, about their everyday life in a safe environment. Every station in the salon was busy, and the noise level rose and fell with the whir of hair dryers, tides of jokes, and general merrymaking. Happily, I ended up with a haircut that I actually liked. I learned a few stories, and enjoyed the conversations with the other women in the salon, most of whom I will likely never see again.
Garrison Keillor, host of the long-running variety radio show ''Prairie Home Companion,'' once said that his fictional town of Lake Woebegone was missing something, but he could not quite define what he had left out. A listener wrote in and told him Lake Woebegone lacked a beauty shop where the women could go to discuss their men.
I couldn't agree more.
O'Connor is a Brookfield resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org