About this time every year, as the summer becomes more permanent and the evenings are so light so long, I remember our summer with Mrs. Gruits.
I grew up in a small town, with nothing to do but build forts in the woods and rollerblade 'til the streetlights came on. Courtney, my neighbor, and I, were always seeking adventure. We created "The CA", a combination of our initials named our secret territory in the woods beyond our subdivision. We put decorated milk jugs on sticks stuck into the ground to claim it as our own. We went there everyday, improving it, making it beautiful, until one day a man with a shotgun warned our parents that we were on his property. Devastated, we packed up our blankets and turkey sandwiches, and whimpered back to the paved land.
We were almost to my house when a very old woman was struggling to collect the paper from the end of her driveway. We naturally ran to meet her mid reach, pick it up, and hand it to her. Grateful, she invited us inside. Courtney and I hesitated, knowing what was safe and what wasn't, but hungry for a new adventure we went inside.
Mrs. Gruits chatted with us for hours, treating us as equals, not as children. Her house smelled like a library, and though the house had central air, she didn't turn it on. We were all sticky in summer humidity, and Mrs. Gruits insisted we drink cold tea with her. I remember it being my first time drinking the bitter watery awfulness, but being so thirsty I'd drink cup after cup.
After loosing her husband, the poor woman only had two little girls to hear her cries. She looked so old to me. Definitely older than anyone I'd ever known. She was openly so sad, lonely, and unhealthy. I now know she knew she was dying.
Some parts of the story get fuzzy. I'm not sure how often we went to her home, but we had frequent life lessons over casual tea parties. I don't know how we kept going back. It wasn't an appealing environment for kids, or anyone really. It was depressing and confusing, but the moment I left, I felt so wonderful. She was so grateful every time we visited her, and I understood just how influential we were to her happiness. Looking back, we continued to visit her because we loved the feeling of such selflessness. We too kind of knew she was dying, and that we were making her days.
School started back up, and it had been a couple months since we stopped by. One day Courtney came running to my house, her mom had told her an ambulance had gone to the house and left while we were at school. We went to our old place in the woods, and cried together. We never saw Mrs. Gruits again.
People ask how long I've known I wanted to be a hairdresser, and I explain that around my freshman year of high school I started figuring that out. But it was years earlier that I knew I wanted to be a daymaker. I wanted to do something with my life that made people feel better. I went back to Mrs. Gruits' home over and over because I was addicted to making her feel good, to making her day.
I know that doing hair doesn't require a college education, it could be perceived as vain, or easy, but I do what I do because it makes me feel good to make people feel better about themselves, and being creative is a great bonus.
To my clients, thank you so much for the opportunity.