I grew up the daughter of hairstylists. I say this just to set the scene for how my heart feels whenever I step into a ‘beauty salon’ (which is what we called it back in the 1970s). I love the smell, I love the sounds, and I love the relationship between the people. So when I walked into Great Clips with Henry yesterday afternoon, my heart was already in a happy place. Happy for the reasons mentioned above, and happy that my shaggy son with the it-is-beginning-to-look-like-a-mullet hair was soon going to be nicely coiffed for a mere $13 plus tip.
But this story is not about Great Clips, really. It is about Jane and James.
When Henry and I walked in to the salon, I noticed a sweet little old lady standing near one of the chairs, talking to a stylist. A sweet little old man was sitting in the chair, getting his hair cut. In the meantime, our stylist Molly came out to cut Henry’s hair. From Molly’s rapport with the elderly couple, I could tell that they had been here before. Growing up the daughter of hairstylists, you know that there is no place quite like your stylist’s chair (though we called them ‘beauticians’ back then). It’s like going to see an old friend who knows you in ways others do not. I don’t know exactly why it happens, but from the moment you slide down into that chair, you begin to confide things with your beautician– much like you would a therapist. I know that Mom’s customers were and are some of her dearest friends, and they loved me and my sister as their own. But that’s another story.
James’ haircut was finished, so Jane lovingly helped him out of his chair before walking up front to pay the cashier. That’s when James walks over to Henry, who is now getting his hair cut. This is the first time I’ve gotten a good glimpse of James. He is darling. The CUTEST little old man, smartly dressed in his buttondown and sweater vest. (I have always LOVED old people). James begins talking to Molly and Henry, telling them he has a train set at home that he’d like for Molly to see. And to ‘bring this young man with you’ (referring to Henry). I could barely decipher their conversation, but I could clearly see their smiles. Then James began to gingerly and methodically wipe the trimmed hair off of Henry’s cape. As he continued, I was wondering what Henry was thinking. It was the sweetest thing, and Henry has a deeply sweet heart, so I figured Henry was both curious but also accepting of this sweet little old man. I closely watched James’ tender hands as he continued to brush the hair from Henry’s neckline. It was then I realized something about James. He has Alzheimer’s.
I now understood why Molly and Jane had been discussing an alarm system for the doors of Jane’s home– not for fear of intruders, but to beep when a door has been opened–to detect, perhaps, if someone has left the house. I now understood the talk of James’ train set. I now understood the distant look in James’ eyes when he was pointing to a truck outside, trying to communicate with me about something I could not decipher.
As Jane was busily talking to the cashier about car mechanics, James was awkwardly fiddling with his jacket, like he didn’t know what to do with the sleeves. So I got up from my chair and walked over to him, asking if I could help him. He smiled, so I took that as affirmation. As I helped his arm into his jacket sleeve and pulled the jacket up over his back and around his collar, tears began to well–and I began an inner monologue, “Don’t do this, Shannon! Do NOT start crying here in the middle of Great Clips! Get a hold of yourself!” We finished putting on his jacket, I fixed his collar, patted James on his shoulders, and looked into those precious grey eyes.
“You’re mighty dapper, Mr. James.”
He smiled and said, “Why, thank you.”
By this time Henry and Jane had joined us. Jane smiled and said, “Today is our 65th wedding anniversary.” You can imagine the gushing I was doing now, as I thought to myself, ‘of course it is…’ because devotion like theirs takes a lifetime to cultivate and nourish. We talked about how they were high school sweethearts, and how my husband and I had been married a mere 18 years to their 65. We did a lot of congratulating, talked about upcoming guests for Thanksgiving, and I expressed multiple times how precious I thought they were. Jane told Henry he looked like a certain movie star but couldn’t place which one. James agreed and kept telling me how handsome my son was and that he was a fine young man. Henry bashfully said thank you and happy to meet you, and then we were all on our way.
But as Jane was walking out the door to Great Clips, holding firmly onto James’ hand, she turned to me. She looked me in the eyes– and with a little bit of sadness in hers– said to me, “You know when you say those vows? For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse?… Well, it can’t get any worse.” My expression acknowledged to her that I understood. But then her demeanor quickly brightened, and she retracted those words. “Wait… it can. It could. It could be worse.”
Jane smiled, and then she and James were on their way… together. 65 years together. For better… and for worse. And as I watched them walk away, I internally recited those vows:
“…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”
And I knew that for Jane and James, those vows would prove true.
I never expected to find Beauty In The Messy at a Great Clips. But I did. And their names are Jane and James. Happy Anniversary, lovebirds. And thank you for the affirmation that yes, there is always beauty. ALWAYS.