My mother returned to work when my twin sister and I were 7 months old. At this time we went into the very capable and strict but loving care of “Nanny”. A woman who would became effectively a third (though non-related) grandmother for my sister and I, and later, our brother. I have always known my mother to be busy and to be working. True to form, even now in her 70s the busyness has little abated! We all hope this is the year she at least shifts back a gear.
For 15 years our mother owned and ran a hairdressing business. She worked in the salon for nine years before my sister and I were born and another six years afterwards. Her returning to work, at 7 months post our arrival, was definitely a financial choice for my parents; not a lifestyle choice. The salon, named Chezanne, was one of a number of locations that formed the geographical landscape of the early lives of my sister and I. Even to this day I cannot imagine the salon without the distinct smell of perming solution (or to be more precise -peroxide) seeping into my nostrils. My mother (at least through my watchful eyes) was a queen of perms and the quintessential “set”. For those who may not know what a “set” is, the Chezanne version goes something like this. Think… ladies of middle age and up, with short hair, doused in a setting solution, wound around a dozen or so rollers and their heads encased by a stationary hair dryer (which in hindsight held a striking resemblance to an intergalactic helmet – see Mork and Mindy episode at 58.06mins click here). Once the hair was dry and after some coaxing and backcombing, the end result was a crown of curls, finished off with an aerial dump of ‘final net – extra hold’.
I have many times over the years fondly recalled my visits to the salon on a Saturday morning, when I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old, where I would make cups of tea for clients and sweep up mounds of hair off the salon floor. I can clearly remember my mother buzzing between two or three clients and capably holding conversation with them all. Yet to my horror it was not until today that I seriously thought about what a unique woman my mother was. To my astonishment, emerged the realisation that, in addition to her domestic roles (which to my embarrassment I have unconsciously prioritised, as the lion’s share of her ‘lifeworld’), my mother was not just a hairdresser she was also a businesswoman, an artiste and client relations manager. As the businesswoman – I can vaguely remember material evidence of this –supply orders, books with lined margins that outlined product costs, a fat appointment diary and the odd apprentice. As for the artiste – well anyone who can tame perms, mould French rolls, and sculpt beehives; as well as any number of other impressive creations (which she can still pull off, as evidenced by my ‘updo’ at my brother’s wedding in recent years) at least in my eyes ticks the artiste box. Undoubtedly she was also adept at client relations, having had a loyal clientele; many of whom visited our home after she sold the salon. Indeed this is no small feat in a country town where little remains sacred for long.
Businesswoman, artiste, client relations manager…. I actually have to say these words to myself a second and third time after the thought initially formed, because they felt so unfamiliar. Reflecting on my childhood days, I can with little effort conjure up images of my mother as busy, tired, hurried and at times harried. Our father often worked away during the week – again a financial necessity rather than a lifestyle choice. Images of my mother coming home from her paid work and having to grind through further unpaid hours, almost certainly more taxing than those spent at the salon, easily take flight in my memory. But to think of her in the aforementioned tripartite ways, seems all but alien. This leads me to wonder; that perhaps for those whom we are most close and connected with, because of the very nature of this connection, we spend little time interrogating the seemingly familiar and taken-for-granted understandings of the other. As children, the world that we observe around us and which we ultimately go on to recall in our adult years (as imperfect as our recollections may be) is but one facet of a wider reality, often unexamined and unexplored. I often think of myself as curious by nature. This curiosity has often catapulted me into a vast array of interests and sources of exploration (Heideggerian philosophy, gothic architecture, Foucault, physical exercise often verging on the extreme end, personal training, yoga, Hinduism and Hindu goddesses – just to name a few). Yet my abject lack of curiosity about one of the people most dear to me seems akin to a criminal act. The realisation that knocks me to the ground from which I have to scrape myself up with a mouth full of dust, is that I have until now only managed to see as my mother in 1-D or at the most 2-D, rather than the 3, 4 plus-D character that she really is.