A life changer in the blue liquid
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A life changer in the blue liquid

Aug 20, 2023

Aug 3, 2023

Recently, I spotted a jar full of blue liquid that brought back an entire chapter of my childhood.

Beside the nail salon’s sink, sits a large glass jar with a chrome lid, filled with Barbicide. It is the very same disinfectant, in the same-styled container, used in the beauty salon I worked in as a kid.

This particular jar contained, instead of used combs, a pair of nail brushes. Dig-in gardener that I am, those brushes have proved handy for manicures. I’m grateful every time I lift the chrome cover, retrieving a brush from the blue liquid that I became so familiar with at age 10. This is an odd little tale, but I learned a lot.

I have often written that my mother had two jobs while I was growing up. But she also had a few little side gigs that helped our budget. She wanted to spoil me, but at the same time, teach me that “money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” She decided to show me, rather than tell me.

No lesson is better taught than one on-the-job, so she enlisted me to help with her Monday night cleaning job. The restaurant she worked in nights was closed on Mondays, allowing her to take this cleaning job that fit her schedule perfectly.

The barber shop, facing the street, was owned by a town old-timer named John. The door in the back wall of his shop connected to the beauty shop, owned by his daughter, Ginny. I guess their credo was the family that cuts together stays together.

Mom and I arrived just after 5 o’clock. The entry door to the beauty shop was at the end of a narrow walk alongside the building.

Our job was to completely clean both shops to showroom quality. “When we’re finished, a photographer could come in and take a picture of a perfect shop,” she said. She made the point that only perfection would be acceptable. And she patiently taught me how.

My tall mother took all the jobs above counter level, mopping the walls and ceilings in both shops and dusting all the light fixtures. With the Windex (yup, the other blue liquid we still use today), she stretched to the tops of all the mirrors, in both shops. She washed and squeegeed the large front barbershop windows inside and out. She followed the windows with a good scrub on the entry doors – both sides

I cleaned the three beautician stations – counters, bottles, sinks, and chairs – while Mom did the same in the barber shop. But she handed the barber’s Barbisol jar to me. “Don’t drop this, whatever you do.” I carried it like a crystal vase.

In the supply room sink, I washed, wiped and refilled the four jars from the gallon of blue liquid. After carefully polishing the chrome tops, I returned each jar to its spot. I cleaned all the combs and brushes at each station, storing them by each sink. I was so proud of the sparkle of each of those Barbisol jars. Perfection.

If she noticed me slowing down, she reminded me, “Pick up your pace or we’re going to miss Lucy.” I Love Lucy aired at 9 o’clock and she wanted to be home, changed, and feet up, ready to watch her favorite show. I was allowed to stay up the extra half hour on Mondays and allowed to share the popcorn she made when we dragged home.

Mom cleaned the two bathrooms while I wiped down the dryers, chairs and the big, scary permanent wave machine that looked like an outer space torture machine. She made me clean the ashtrays in both shops so I wouldn’t be lured to the habit. “Did you remember those disgusting cigar butts in the barbershop?”

After every surface glistened, our last weekly chores were the floors. Mom, on her hands and knees, started at the front of the barber shop and worked her way through the door into the salon. I started in the back supply/lunchroom, the bathroom, and worked my way forward. We washed the salon floor side-by-side, working around the chairs on our way to the exit door. Once a month, we repeated the pattern a second time as we waxed. Perfection.

The scenes, stored in my brain from those scrubbing nights, are still triggered by those same blue jars at the hairdresser and the manicurist. The memories are full of mops, sponges and brushes, and plucking stray curly hairs from the floor wax before it dries. While we worked, Mom told me stories from her childhood, and I do remember a lot of laughter as we completed her weekly checklist.

It was three early years of working with an encouraging task master. Mostly, the lessons stuck. Nowadays, it would be nice to get back to that weekly, sparkly perfection. Fuggedaboudit. Those days are gone. Forever.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

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