I was asked to put together a few thoughts and share them on this momentous occasion. Well, folks, there is not enough time left in this day—probably this week—for me to help you fully understand the scope of the impact that “The Shop” has had on my psyche.
I am a writer, so think of this as a public reading of a literary work. I write stories not speeches. I mean I can write a speech in a pinch. This opportunity could not be accurately described as a “pinch”.
I struggled mightily with my attempts to select which of the myriad topics I would present. I could have regaled you all with an eight-year-old’s recollection of the wild and raucous parties held at Iris’ backyard pool.
Along those lines, I could share the same memories in regards to the annual salon summer picnic/gala at the Christmas Lake home my parents shared when they were still married. These were not quite on the same level as Iris’ pool parties, but they were not all that far off.
I could share my memories of sweet Tammy. When she first cut my hair, we were both still kids. She was just starting her career working for Twila and I was just turning ten-years-old. For 25 years we grew up together one haircut at a time. I have encountered select few souls in this lifetime that could approach the level of sparkle and brilliance hers did. Tammy’s was the prototype for the notion: larger than life. A life that would end well short of the capacity left in her soul to spread her unique brand of joy to anyone drawn into her irresistible orbit. I can honestly say today that this world would benefit immensely from a whole hell of a lot more Tammy’s. And it is terribly sad that we no longer have ours…
I could enumerate the vast number of renovation projects with which I have been involved in my 40 years on this planet. I have often told my mother that the overall square footage of the salon is not what it once was due to the sheer number of alternating layers of wallpaper and paint that adorn her walls. So if any of you, Marlene, Iris, Shelly, have ever felt that the walls of the salon were closing in on you over the years, it is because they were, literally…
Along those lines I could enumerate the various positions I have held over the years at Fantasia: head grounds keeper, chief custodial engineer, inventory control specialist, head photographer, webmaster, chief organizationalist, head mechanic, external business consultant, leaf pile removal specialist, day laborer, shampoo vial filler, and the list goes on…
Instead, I chose to focus on three themes that have been omnipresent throughout my dealings with Fantasia Together Salon, Spa, Nails, Make-up, Aerobics Studio, Workout Gym, Tanning, Spray Tanning, Nutritional Consulting and Hair Replacement Center.
There is a song by K.T. Oslin entitled “80s Ladies”.
The chorus goes like this…
We were the girls of the 50’s.
Stoned rock and rollers in the 60’s.
And more than our names got changed as the 70’s slipped on by.
Now we’re 80’s ladies.
There ain’t been much these ladies ain’t tried.
And just as there is a song entitled” “80s Ladies”, there is a photo that hung on walls of various salons that I have personally captioned: “80s Ladies”. It is this photo (motion to the photo).
As the 70s were devoured by the 80s, I was eight years old and “the shop” as we know it was just being built. The group of women in this photo was likely thrilled to be moving out of a strip mall into a free-standing building where they would have much more room to spread their wings and be fabulous.
You see, for me, that is what they were: fabulous. Beneath the surface, they were all struggling with the issues of the day, but on the surface, they exuded class. As you looked around 2756 Douglas Dr N shortly after the doors opened for business, you saw a group of women that were the essence of “put together”. They were fabulous divas before the notion became marginalized and eventually meaningless, as it is today. They were, for the most part, approaching middle age. And with age came experience, knowledge and in some cases, wisdom. As a hairdressing collective, they were beyond reproach.
So through the eyes of an introspective, sensitive, older-then-his-biological-age eight year old, these ladies shaped the notion of what is meant to be a professional women. They were confident and put together, they took shit from very few and could dish out a heaping pile when required to do so. And so I could have done much worse for a group of role models…male or female.
They were indeed 80s ladies, and there surely there ain’t been much these ladies ain’t tried…
The Biggest Family Ever
“The Shop” and the souls that graced her hallowed spaces represented much more than a business and the people who worked within, where my mother just happened to sit atop. Over the years, especially during the ‘80s, these women became an extension of my family – as I knew it. You see, there was never a point in my life where my mother was not running a salon full of women. So, to have these ladies play such an integral part in my life was the very essence of normal.
Sure, not every single of the 1,297 employees in the history of “The Shop” were extended family. That notion is as preposterous as it is impossible. But there were a few whose lives intertwined significantly with mine. I’ll touch on them, one-at-a-time, in chronological order.
Some of you know Rosie Oschlager. She was our cleaning lady at Christmas Lake. She eventually became our part-time daycare provider. After that, she went to work as the business manager at Fantasia.
Rosie often provided dinner for my brother and I at her home. Not surprisingly, Rosie made meals that were straight from the USDA food pyramid. I do not ever recall a single meal that did not include a vegetable. One evening, Rosie provided cooked beats as the vegetable. At five years old, I was not a fan; I remember mentioning this to Rosie. She listened to my concern about the viability of beets as actual food source, and put this spin on it: (paraphrasing) “If you don’t like beets, just eat them first. That way you will have the rest of your meal to enjoy without having to worry about the beets.”
This seemingly simple piece of wisdom would eventually become one of my core philosophies. To simplify it greatly, it was the: business-before-pleasure axiom. But whether intentional or not, it was much more profound than that. Rosie provided me a strategy that I would use countless times in my life to de-emphasize the non-pleasurable tasks and emphasize the pleasurable ones. In that tiny snippet of advice was a life-long strategy for maximization of happiness.
Some of you know Betty Coleman. She was my mother’s first employee. My mother and Betty started their respective families right around the same time. Hence, we would have numerous occasions to get together and interact with Betty’s kids Mark and Kendra. Although this was more of a sporadic occurrence, I still distinctly remember one of our visits to Betty’s house to play with Mark and Kendra. Do you know how you have the most vague and random memories of places from your childhood. I have those memories of Betty’s house. I have always felt like my mother had met a kindred spirit in Betty and that Mark and Kendra had an experience somewhat similar to the one my brother and I had while growing up. Although Betty did not work at the salon forever—like the next person about which I’ll speak—she and my mother remain good friends to this day.
Iris is here tonight—God bless her!!! I have more stories about Iris than I have time with which to regale you. So, I’ll just hit a few…We spent an entire summer at her house while her son David—bless his heart–provided part-time daycare for Erik and I. I can recall on numerous occasions where I either lost or broke one of my toys being reminded that if I could just take as good care of my stuff as David did his, I’d have more stuff. David did his best to entertain us that summer. I remember countless afternoons in the backyard pool, listening to Billy Joel LPs in the basement, hanging out in the neighborhood with David’s friends and much, much more.
Some of you may know this, but Iris and her dogs lived with mother, brother and myself for a brief stint in the mid 80s. The house at: 1315 W. Medicine Lake Drive was sort of a mystical place to grow up. It represented what could be accomplished when three people work together to run a house. And, if I recall correctly, we were more than happy to welcome Iris into our happy, harmonious little homestead. I thought that is was really cool that we were all living out a real life Kate & Alley sitcom in our little home on Hidden Lake. It was like a holiday when a bunch of relatives are staying over, only it was not a holiday and it lasted more than a day or two. I looked at Iris as just another adventurer trekking through life with the rest of us @ 1315 W. Medicine Lake Dr.
To this day, my mother still chats with Iris on the phone multiple times each week. Every time she hangs up the phone, she reminds me of the importance of people. Things are as transitory as they are temporary; they provide no permanent happiness. As fabulous as money can be; it provides no intrinsic joy. But people provide memories and memories last forever. Fantasia, for me, has always been about the people…the family…and the memories…
There is not a day that has passed in the past 50 years where this cute little engine-that-could business has not chugged forward fueled—in large part—on the blood sweat and tears of my mother. I rarely see her in her role as: CEO/president/chief cook and bottle washer at Fantasia. I do, however, get to see her in many of the other roles that she plays: mother/grandmother/friend. From my vantage point, I can say this without equivocation…this business is never more than a thought or two from the one she is having at any given moment. My mother loves this business, she loves the employees that work with her, she loves the clients that choose to patronize it and she revels in the immense happiness, success and memories that 50 years of Fantasia have seen facilitated.
It is often hard for me to see my mother as a super hero, especially when I have to show her how to operate the Comcast universal remote for the 17th time or explain the intricacies of how her internet access actually works. But folks, you must understand that she grew up in some of the most modest settings imaginable. And if you need help imagining, think a couple clicks outside of Little House on the Prairie. She has often told me of the time when her mother told her on the eve of her high school graduation: “you have to leave, there is nothing for you here.” And with literally no notion that opening one’s own business was nowhere near as difficult as running it successfully for 50 years, she did both…
I have often questioned the business decisions that have come to pass over the years. I remember thinking that when we were lugging the exercise machines into the basement of the building that I would be lugging them back out in a few months. I remember thinking that there was much too much clothing and accessories for sale at a place that was supposed to be a hair & nail salon. And I can’t tell you how many questionable coats of paint I have applied at “the shop” that I was positive I would be “refreshing” with a new color in 18 months or less. But the one thing I have nary had occasion to question was my mother’s passion for this business and for the people. For her, the focus was always right and true…the people have been and will always be the focus.
Grandma Ellen and Grandpa Harry would be so immensely proud of you on this day. For I feel that they always knew in some way that your destiny lie outside of the friendly confines of “the country”. And although at the time they could not have envisioned “the shop” as that destiny, it was truly your vision that brought it to life. And it is that same vision that moves it forward today. And so today we celebrate 50 years of that vision. Congratulations, Mom.