The True Spirit of Christmas
by Carolyn S. Steele

One more hour, I thought. Just one more hour and
I'm free. It was Christmas Eve and I was stuck
in beauty college. It wasn't fair. I had better
things to do than wait on fussy old women with
blue hair.

I had worked hard and fast to get four
shampoo-sets and one manicure finished before
lunch. If I had no more appointments scheduled,
I could leave at two o'clock.
Just one more...

"Number seventy-one.
Carolyn, Number seventy-one."

The receptionist's voice over the intercom made
my heart fall to my stomach.

"You have a phone call."

A Phone call.
I exhaled a sigh of relief and headed
up front to take the call.

As I reached for the phone, I gave the
appointment pad a cursory glance to confirm my
freedom. I couldn't believe it.
I had a 4:30 perm.

No one in her right mind would have her hair done
on Christmas Eve.
No one would be so inconsiderate.

I glared at the receptionist behind the counter.
"How could you do this?"

She took a step backward and whispered,
"Mrs. Weiman scheduled you." Mrs Weiman was
the senior instructor, the biddy of the ball.
When she spoke, no one argued.

"Fine," I hissed and turned to the phone.
It was Grant. His grandmother had invited me to
Christmas Eve dinner, and could I be ready by
three o'clock? I fingered the diamond snowflake
necklace he had given me the night before.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I explained
the situation. After an interminable silence,
he said we'd make it another time and hung up.
Tears stung my eyes as I slammed the phone down
and barricaded myself behind my station.

The afternoon hung bleak and gray,
echoing my mood. Most of the other students had
gone home. I had no other patrons until the
4:30 perm, and I spent the
time at my
station, stewing.

At about 4:15, Mrs. Weiman stuck her pinched
face around my mirror and advised me in her soft,
no-nonsense tone, "Change your attitude before
she gets here," then quietly stepped away.

My mood would change all right, from angry to
murderous. I grabbed a tissue and whisked away
the fresh tears.

My number was called at 4:45.
My tardy, inconsiderate patron had arrived.
I strode brusquely up front to greet a very
shriveled, frail old woman gently supported by
her husband. With a tender voice, Mrs. Weiman
introduced me to Mrs. Sussman and began escorting
her to my station. Mr. Sussman followed us, mumbling
his apologies for bringing her in so late.

I was still feeling put upon, but I tried no to
show it. Mrs. Weiman cradled Mrs. Sussman closely
as she lowered her into my chair. When she began
raising the hydraulic chair, I feigned a smile and
took over, stepping on the foot pump. Mrs. Sussman
was so small, I had to raise the chair to its full

I placed a towel and plastic drape around her
shoulders, then jumped back, aghast. Lice and
mites were crawling over her scalp and shoulders.
As I stood there trying not to retch, Mrs. Weiman
reappeared, pulling on plastic gloves.

Mrs. Sussman's gray top know was so matted, we
couldn't pull the hair pins out. It disgusted me
to think anyone could be so unkempt. Mrs. Weiman
explained that we'd have to cut her hair to get the
mat out, and Mrs. Sussman just looked at us with
tears streaming down her cheeks. Her husband held
her hands tenderly in his as he knelt beside the chair.

"Her hair was her pride all of her life," he
explained. "She put it up like that on the morning
I took her to the nursing home."
Evidently her hair hadn't been combed or cleaned
since that morning nearly a year before. His eyes
misted over, and he shuffled to the waiting room.

Mrs. Weiman cut the matted top knot gently away,
revealing a withered scalp peeling with yellow decay.
She worked patiently and lovingly, and I feebly
tried to help where I could. A perm would eat
through her scalp like acid. It was out of the
question. We bathed her scalp gently, trying to
dislodge the lice without tearing her hair out.
I dabbed antiseptic ointment on her festering sores
and twisted her sparse hair into pincurls. The curls
were held in place by gel, for we didn't dare scrape
her scalp with clips. Then we gently fanned her
curls dry near the warmth of the radiator.

Mrs. Sussman slipped a palsied hand into her tiny
bag and drew out a tube of lipstick and a pair of
white lace gloves. Mrs. Weiman dabbed the lipstick
softly on her lips, then carefully threaded the
shaking hands into the dainty gloves. My thoughts
were drawn to my grandmother, who had recently
passed away--how she always put on lipstick before
walking to the mailbox on the curb. I thought of
stories she told of her youth, when no proper lady
would be seen in public without her gloves. Tears
formed in my eyes as I silently thanked God for
having taken her with dignity.

Mrs Weiman left me to sterilize my station and
returned with Mr. Sussman. When he saw his wife,
their mutual tears flowed unchecked. "Oh, my dear,"
he whispered, "you've never looked lovelier."
He reached into his coat pocket and presented
Mrs. Weiman and me each with a small nativity set:
Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. They were small
enough to fit in the palm of my hand. I was filled
with love for this man and his sweet wife. For
perhaps the first time in my life, I knew the true
spirit of Christmas.

We walked the Sussmans up front. There would be no
fee this night. We wished them a Merry Christmas and
saw them outside. It was snowing lightly, the first
snowfall of the season. The flakes looked like
powdered diamonds. I thought briefly of Grant and
the dinner I had missed and knew that on this
Christmas Eve, his grandmother would understand.

Song playing is
Sister Rose by Kenny G