Monday, 07 January 2013
A Good Woman
By Marcy Belson
I want to paint a picture of my aunt, Loretta. I have a lifetime of stories about her, perhaps I can give you a hint of what she meant to me and many others.
She was a beautician for more than 50 years. By the time she was 80 years old, she was still working in her home shop, a garage my father had remodeled for her.
When a young woman came to the door and asked about an appointment, Loretta told her she only took women older than 70 years as customers. She wasn't interested in the stylish hairdos; she took care of the women who were wearing conservative styles and wanted an operator who understood their age and needs.
Near to the end of her life, she told me she was attending as many funerals as the time she spent in the shop with the few customers she had left. But those women had a friend in Loretta. Her husband would pick them up at their homes and then drive them home after their time in the shop.
If they were there at mealtime, Loretta would fix them a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich to eat while they were under the hair dryer.
She was the one who came to visit when I was a three year old at Christmas, giving me a baby buggy and big doll in a bonnet.
When I was about six years, she owned a beauty shop in Pt. Loma with her living quarters above the shop. I remember climbing the stairs and loving the long windows where I could watch the people on the street.
There was an electric street car that ran to Balboa Park, and in the park was a wonderful carousel. I think it is still there.
When Loretta had a day off, she would take me on the street car which was thrilling and better yet, we would go to the carousel and I was allowed to pick a horse to ride. I believe it was a 10 cent ride in 1943.
The bay was directly across the street from her shop with a small beach area. I loved the water but didn't have a bathing suit. Loretta assured me I could wear her suit. It was a black, shiny-fabric, two piece suit.
I thought I looked quite fine. In later years, I saw a photo of me, just a little girl wearing a bra top and skirt bottom that reached my ankles. I was quite the sight; I'm sure there were hidden smiles by my family. But if my aunt said it looked good, I believed.
When she was going to beauty school, she worked for a dry cleaners as a seamstress. When clothes were not picked up, she could buy them for a pittance. She brought me "dress up" clothes. I had party dresses of satin and lace. This made me a very popular hostess with the little girls in my hometown.
What an aunt! She brought me Midnight in Paris perfume which my mother refused to let me wear. I was so insulted; I wanted the little blue bottle with a tassel.
Another trip, she brought me a tiny change purse filled with dimes. Oh, what a treasure! I did get an allowance of 15 cents a week but a purse full of dimes! There must have been a dollar or more, a fortune to the great J.J. Newberry's shopper.
She was been born with a cleft palate. The family story was that she was born at home, so tiny they put her in a shoe box and placed it on the kitchen stove door.
Her grandmother looked at her and said to put the shoe box on the outside porch, that she shouldn't be allowed to live with the disability. Her father refused.
When she was 16 years old, her parents drove her to Memphis where a doctor was doing surgery on patients with cleft palates. Because my grandparents had a furniture business and four other children to feed and care for, Loretta was simply left at the Memphis hospital and they returned home.
After a week, they drove back and picked her up.
She always spoke with a different sound than most people but because I had been with her from my birth, I didn't hear it. My mother did tell me that when she was a child, she could only eat certain foods and that she was quite disfigured.
I never saw her that way. She had auburn hair and blue eyes. She was a Scot in complexion and a petite beauty. She made her own clothes and she wore them well.
She also apparently suffered from polio as a child but wasn't diagnosed until she was an adult. But what she was more likely to tell you about herself was that she liked to dance the Charleston. She had endless energy and a happy outlook on life.
At age 39, she went to the doctor, sure that she had a stomach tumor. Nope, not a tumor; it was a baby boy. He was born at Christmas time and my mother and I drove from Arizona to Pasadena when they came home from the hospital.
Loretta was the type of person who never spoke badly of others. She didn't give advice. She just lived her life, problems and all, and never expected anyone to help. I don't think her life was easy. I miss her every day. I was blessed to have her in my life.
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