THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Written by Susie Rich
Alicia jumped slightly at the sound of the tea kettle as the steam whistle blew, gently startling her from her daydream and alerting her that the water had reached the boiling point. She rose from her chair, turned off the burner, and looked out at the beautiful morning sun as its warm light flowed through the window. The warmth from the sun, commingling with the warmth from the handle of the tea kettle, reminded Alicia of how secure she felt at this very moment.
As Alicia allowed her mind to drift into the events of these last 18 months of her life, she thought back to those days after the layoff. She had been with the automotive company for eight years as a secretary. It almost brought tears to her eyes when she recalled the very first time she had not had the money to pay a grocery bill. She and her daughter Carrie had gone to Mr. Roses’ store to pick up a few things that she hoped would last them through the week. Alicia always thought Mr. Rose was a very handsome man, with high cheek bones and a wide bright smile. She often thought that she would like to know him better.
“That’ll be twenty-four thirteen, Ms. Carter” ,he said as he began to place her items in the bag. “Just a minute” Alicia had started to say as she pulled out the twenty dollar bill that was stuck down into her change purse. Realizing that the twenty was the only bill she had (and practically no change), embarrassment swept over her like a blanket. “I’m sorry Mr. Rose, but I’m going to have to put something back” she remembered whispering, and hoping that no one else had heard.
“Let’s just put the four dollars and thirteen cents on a mental tab, and you can pay it next time you come in” he said. Thinking back now, Alicia realized that Mr. Rose must have read the embarrassment on her face. “As for this little beauty,” he said, leaning over to Carrie and handing her a large pretzel, “you are always a wonderful sight to see.” Alicia and Carrie replied “Thank you” in grateful unison as they left the store.
Alicia smiled at the memory of that day; that’s when she believes it all began. She moved slowly back to her chair at the kitchen table, suddenly thinking of how scared and worried her daughter must have been then. “Mom, are we broke now?” Carrie had asked. “What!” Alicia had answered, shocked and simultaneously shooting a sharp glance at Carrie. “Well you didn’t have enough money to pay Mr. Rose and I heard you tell Mrs. Tubbs across the hall that your unemployment would be running out soon; and more and more every day you say there’s less jobs in the paper.” Alicia remembered being furious with herself for allowing her daughter to hear the reality of her life. On that day, after reassuring Carrie everything was going to be alright, Alicia promised herself that Carrie would never see her come up short in any way again.
Glancing up at the kitchen clock, Alicia noted that it was forty-five minutes before work. Then, thoughtfully, she looked down at her hands. “Three Band-Aids this week” she whispered to herself as she chuckled aloud. Her own mother always seemed to have every finger covered with Band-Aids. Alicia remembered that her mother was always burning her hands or irritating a hang nail while doing somebody’s hair. Mrs. Carter never trusted perms; she always used the hot comb, or put in braids, even to this very day. Alicia’s grandmother – “Queen of the hot comb” they called her teasingly, could never seem to be able to remove the grease and hair oil smell from her hands. Alicia now thought it strangely funny that she would actually have a beauty shop of her own. “The Lord sure moves in mysterious ways” she concluded, pondering the fact that she was making a living doing what her mother and grandmother did for their relatives and friends free of charge as an act of love.
Once again, Alicia’s thoughts drifted back to the occurrences of the last 18 months. One day she had received a call from the principal at Carrie’s school, Mr. Weatherspoon. He recited the story of how Carrie had caught him early one morning to ask if he knew anyone with a job opening. Initially he had teased her and suggested that she first finish school. However, the seriousness of her pleas caught his attention when she stated “it’s not for me; it’s for my mother.” Every time Alicia pictures her baby asking for work for her, tears form in her eyes thinking about how sweet and sincere that child must have been.
During that very phone call, Mr. Weatherspoon offered her work. It wasn’t anything fancy, just helping out with the school’s annual production of the Wizard of Oz. Usually, the production was run strictly by staff and volunteers, but this year, as a result of the passing of a school levy, there was a little extra money to pay a gratuity to a few people to work on the costumes and the sets. Alicia was excited at the offer, and delighted to help out. Of course she would still look for work, but she determined that a few hours away from full-time searching would do her good.
From the start it had been hectic, hard work, and fun. Just watching the kids prepare was wonderful. Somehow, in all the shuffle, Alicia was assigned to do the costumes and hair. Dorothy’s hair had to be done, Glenda’s hair had to be fabulous, and even the Witch’s hairdo had to be on the case. Alicia knew that there were wigs for those parts, but she decided that the school could stand to go a different way that year. She did the hair of each major character herself; and even the styles for a few of the munchkins.
Wraps, waves, braids, cornrows, and weaves – she enjoyed every moment of putting them in, and the parents and audience were thrilled. The special hairdos made the production a hit. The school board loved it, the staff loved it and the kids were ecstatic. The evening was just as wonderful for Alicia, and she later learned that the school actually made money on the play.
That night alone produced an instant new start for Alicia and Carrie, and it also produced numerous potential clients. Alicia had always done her own hair and Carrie’s braids, but, until that night, she had never thought of starting a business.
After the program, she made a commitment to Mr. Weatherspoon to do the hair for next year’s production, and then received several calls from high schools inquiring about her services for their productions. She had taken the next several months to become licensed and to take a few business courses after Mr. Weatherspoon volunteered “I’ll give you some information on educational grants.”
Her mind now moved on to Carrie, and how proud and happy she is today. Alicia glanced again at her clock. “Good, time to go.” She thought. “Maybe I’ll swing by Mr. Rose’s store to say hello. Now that it’s come to mind, I never did pay him that four dollars and thirteen cents I owe”. She walked back over to her kitchen window where, from there, she could see her shop and her new life. “BEAUTIES – The Eye of The Beholder” read the sign over the entrance. Alicia could see Carrie just getting home from school, arriving at the shop where they meet every day. “Thank God for you” Alicia whispered as she gathered her things and strolled out the door.
Copyright © Susie Rich 1994