A brow-raising experience

Story by Sarah Clower

Illustration by Cliff Thomas

During “quarantine,” many people realized how they took the ability to get regular haircuts for granted. Especially my clients that like to come every few weeks, or even every week. For my elderly clients that reside in nursing homes, I was unable to see them even when Phase 1 came into place. Because of their susceptibility to Covid-19, nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been closed off to visitors for quite some time.

Finally, when Phase 2 was put into place, these facilities started allowing their residents to leave for haircuts and doctor visits, and some even allowed hairdressers in the nursing home’s in-house salon.

One of my favorite clients, Gertrude, finally got approval for me to come out to the nursing home to cut and style her hair. Her daughter, Agnes, arranged the appointment and let me know all that I would have to do upon arriving.

I arrived a few minutes early so the nursing home staff could make sure I was wearing the appropriate protection for Covid-19. A nurse came to the entrance to greet me. She checked my temperature, asked a series of questions, and looked over my mask and gloves. She then welcomed me into the nursing home’s in-house salon area.

The nurse said she would go get Gertrude, so I started to unpack my plastic ziplock bag that I kept my sterilized items in: a comb I only use for Ms. Gertrude, a couple of hair clips, and of course my scissors. Agnes and I chit-chatted while we waited for Gertrude.

A few minutes later, the nurse returned with one arm around Gertrude’s arm, helping her into the room.

“Hi, Ms. Gertrude!” I exclaimed, as I took a double take. I hadn’t seen her in several months, and I was quite shocked to see my white-haired client with black-as-night, thickly drawn on eyebrows. Agnes glanced at me wide-eyed, apparently she was just as surprised as I was by their drastic appearance.

“Hi, Ms. Sarah!” Gertrude said. “Thank you for coming all the way here to cut my hair. I’ve really missed you! You have no idea how much you will miss the simple things like haircuts and Subway sandwiches until you can’t get them anymore.”

I stifled a giggle and agreed with her. I helped her into the barber chair, wrapped the styling drape around her, and reclined her into the sink to wash her hair.

“Ms. Gertrude, you look great, and I see that you’ve been doing something new with your brows,” I said as I shampooed her hair.

“Oh yes, I’ve been using the new brow pencil you left here last time you came. I reeeeeally like it, and it’s so easy to use, but if you need it back, I’ll give it back to you.” Gertrude said, with a furrowed brow, perhaps because she feared I would want her prized brow pencil back.

“A brow pencil that I left here?” I mused, as I glanced at Agnes, who shrugged. I didn’t remember leaving a brow pencil behind. And I certainly didn’t own any black brow makeup, as I am a fair-skinned redhead.

I continued talking to Gertrude while I washed her hair, cut it, and blew it dry into her preferred coiffed style. Afterwards, I inquired about the brow pencil again. I of course didn’t want it back, whatever it was, but was quite curious as to what type of makeup I could have left behind at her last appointment.

Gertrude said she would go back to her room and get the brow pencil while Agnes paid me and set up her next appointment.

“Whatever she comes back with, just go with it,” Agnes said. “While the nursing home was closed and I couldn’t visit her, I would Zoom call her and her brows were black as night then too, but she was so proud of whatever she found so I just let it be.”

I smiled and nodded.

Gertrude returned to the salon with her prized brow pencil and held it out in her palm for us to see.

I immediately stifled a giggle, and I saw Agnes sigh and discreetly roll her eyes.

Lo and behold, what Gertrude held out in her hand was a black Sharpie pen. I must have left it behind when I came to cut her hair back in March.

“Oh, yes, that makes a great eyebrow pencil, and it would definitely stay on a while. It’s yours to keep Ms. Gertrude,” I said to her with a smile.

Later that day, I dropped off groceries at my mom’s house, as I have been discouraging her from going into stores. I retold her the Sharpie story over a cup of coffee.

My mom let out a chuckle. “Well, since Ms. Gertrude hasn’t been able to leave her nursing home or have visitors for a while, it probably was a small joy that ended up making her really happy. In times like now, it can often be the smallest joys that bring us the most pleasure.”