When I was in my teens and early twenties, my mother owned her own beauty shop. It started out, in 1975, as The Beauty Boutique, with a psychedelic sign painted by my uncle. When she was forced to move out, bought our little ranch house, and turned the garage into her shop, she simplified the name and the sign—black and white, Lorraine Ellis, hair stylist. Her rationale—“That’s how everyone signs their checks, anyways.” The house smelled of perm solution, towels waited by the T.V. to be folded, and the cat sat on the doorstep to be admired, but never crossed the line into the shop. It was a decent living for a working class woman who never graduated from high school; she attended her Aunt Mildred’s beauty school instead.
I never wanted to do that work. I was a tomboy with tangled hair, torn corduroy coat, and a book and a dog biscuit tucked in my pocket. I didn’t mind answering the phones, helping with taxes, or sweeping up the hair trimmings, which I spread around my gardens to scare off the deer. I liked some of her customers One took me to volunteer at the local library every week one summer. Others gave me herbs and flowers in exchange for vegetables. Two convinced my mother that yes, we did need that fluffy kitten I cleverly brought in on Saturday afternoon, knowing that they were going to be sitting under the driers. The work did not appeal.
But, there was a huge benefit to the shop—whenever you needed something or had a question, we “put it out on the wire” as Malcolm X says. Within a week, the network of women who knew women who knew women, knew the answer. Home repairs, esoteric questions, houses for rent, child care questions…..the topic did not matter. Within a week, the phone would ring with the answer.
Last week, I looked at my Hen on Nest sitting on the porch. “What,” I wondered, “do you actually do with that thing, besides set it on the porch, surrounded by greenery?” So I put it out on the modern-day wire, not my mother’s shop, but Facebook. Before long, the answer was clear. Candy, nuts, jelly beans, and baby teeth. It was a storage container. I have theories about why a hen, but I had the beginnings of an answer, enough to go on. And, for a little while, I was back in my mother’s beauty shop, sitting on the concrete step between the house and shop, cat peering over my shoulder.
Baked Mac and Cheese: a meal we could all agree on, even when I became vegetarian.
Cook a pound of elbow macaroni (no sense messing around here. We need leftovers.)
While the macaroni is cooking, make a white sauce. Brown four tablespoons of flour in four tablespoons of butter. Add a quart of milk and stir until thickened. Then add grated cheddar cheese, a few handfuls, and slowly melt it in. Add salt, pepper, and dried mustard.
Get out the big casserole dish with the glass lid. Mix sauce and elbows together. (The best mac and cheese comes when you chop up all of your weird cheese ends, like provolone and cheddar, and toss the chunks into the sauced pasta. It really helps to have connections, like a daughter who works there, to the local meat and cheese counter, so you can score a few cheese ends.) Level off the contents, cover it all with sliced American cheese and some bread crumbs, and bake until bubbly.