Stories of my Mother
Today is Mother’s Day!
When I was a lad, my mother cut womens’ hair. What is that called nowadays? A hair stylist? Back then she was called a cosmetologist.
Originally she worked with a group of other women in a beauty shop in San Rafael, CA, but her working conditions weren’t ideal so she decided to set up shop for herself.
Most of her clientele followed her, which made the ladies in the downtown shop pretty mad. They spread rumors about her having quit because of a “mental breakdown.”
She ran “Betty’s Beauty Salon” out of a remodelled outbuilding attached to our country farmhouse in Cotati, CA. It was a lively place, with lots of women congregating to chitchat and gossip while they got their shampoo and cut.
There was some friction with us two rambunctious boys playing just outside the shop, and my Mom tried hard to keep us quiet, especially after that fateful day I was loudly and repeatedly singing a playground rhyme I’d recently learned while the preacher’s wife was getting her hair done.
I don’t know why she was so mad. It didn’t have even one swear word in it! Here, give it a listen:
🎵 Lulu had a steamboat, steamboat had a bell 🎵
🎵 The steamboat went to heaven, Lulu went to 🎵
🎵 Hello operator, give me number nine 🎵
🎵 If you do not connect me I’ll paddle your 🎵
🎵 Behind the refrigerator there was a piece of glass 🎵
🎵 Lulu fell upon it and cut her little 🎵
🎵 Ask me no more questions, tell me no more lies 🎵
🎵 Lulu told me all of this just before she died. 🎵
And my brother reminded me that he burst into the shop one day to proudly show my mom the tattered and bloody remains of the hummingbird he had just shot with his BB gun.
That was not received well either.
And so we were told to play quietly outside the shop, and not interrupt my Mom while she was working. If I needed her attention I was to wait silently in the doorway while she talked with the customer, until she finally looked over and gave me permission to speak.
One time, after 10 or 15 minutes I heard, “Oh, good boy, you waited so patiently. Now, what was, it, sweetie?”
“The toilet is overflowing.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier!??” she cried out, dashing into the house.
When I look back at photos of her holding me as a baby, I am struck by how beautiful she looked. Not gonna lie; she looked like a movie star. Of course, I don’t doubt that I am biased on this point.
When I was a small child, one day I asked her, in all seriousness, “Mom, are you the most beautiful woman in the world?” I wasn’t trying to butter her up; it was a sincere question and not rhetorical at all.
After she recovered from a sudden fit of the giggles, (perhaps after wiping away a tear or two), she responded very solemnly.
I don’t remember what she said exactly, but I do remember she pointed out that this was quite probably not the case, and almost certainly also pointed out how unimportant that would be in the grand scheme of things.
That I’m in this photo isn’t really what interests me… I’m struck by the pride and delight on her face, and how young she looks.
She had to fight to get me, and I think it shows. I was premature, and required a lengthy hospital stay, which was a financial hardship; they weren’t going to let her have me until their entire hospital bill was paid.
“Well, I guess you’re going to have to raise him, then,” my dad huffed, turning on his heel and marching down the hall… they hastily called him back and relented, letting my parents take me home after they promised to pay off the bill little by little.
My dad joked that I was his “time payment baby.”