Roberta Whittaker is in the hair salon at San Joaquin Gardens, getting her hair done for the 50th anniversary luncheon to which she is headed afterwards. She and Anna, the hair stylist, have been chatting about the upcoming event and what all the Allied Arts Girls have done. We come in midway through the hair styling.
Anna had all the hair cut and was ready to blow dry. “Is this short enough for you,” she asked as she ruffled through the light brown hair.
“It looks good to me. Let’s see how it looks once it’s dry. Maybe a little more off the sides towards the back?”
Roberta liked the look of the short hair and the renewed color. She didn’t want gray hair yet, even though she was old enough to be gray. The Allied Arts girls were split with about half of them going natural and the other half still coloring their hair.
“I figure I’ll keep coloring my hair as long as it looks this good.”
“It looks real good on you since you also use makeup and have some color in your face. You don’t want to look all washed out,” Anna responded. “With you being a famous cook, you must have had some good food at those meetings.”
“I wasn’t in charge of the food for every meeting. We took turns. Whoever was the hostess would ask some of the other girls to help out with the food. We’d decide what to serve and then who would bring what. Sometimes we did real simple things like cookies and we all baked the same cookie, each one of us bringing a dozen. We had a big coffee pot we kept in Lois Jameson’s garage. For tea, we’d put the teapot on the stove and heat up the water and the girls could make their own tea if they wanted to. For the fancy teas, though, we had silver service sets that we used. A lot of the girls got them for wedding gifts so they would offer to let the club use them. I never had any silver because I hated to polish it. Even if you put it in those specially made bags, the stuff still tarnished.”
Roberta found herself shouting to be heard over the blow dryer so decided to quit talking while Anna worked her magic. After the blow dry, she took her curling iron and made big curls all over so to give the hair more body. Roberta always liked the look when Anna brushed it out and it was fluffed around her face.
“Tell me,” Anna quizzes, “how has cooking changed since you started Allied Arts?”
“Everything is easier! That’s the main change. You can get food at a restaurant or delicatessen or a grocery store that is as good as we could make in our own kitchens. There are microwave ovens which cook everything so fast. Dishwashers are in every home now. Back then, after our meeting, someone had to stay and wash the dishes. If we even use dishes now. Lots of paper products are used. We didn’t have that back in the forties. Nothing was disposable. Maybe that’s not such a good thing, though. We were fancier about how we did things. Serving food was such a big deal. We passed everything on trays. The girls would sit and the hostesses would do the work. Now, we do a buffet and you can get your own food. We would occasionally have lunch at a hotel restaurant, and that was a big deal. The girls all dressed up and we wore hats. Many of the girls worked and they couldn’t come during the day. In the sixties we started having dinner meetings at restaurants and no one seemed too shocked to see a group of women out at night by themselves. We couldn’t have done that in the forties and fifties. It was unlady-like,” Roberta said in a teasing voice and fluttering her eyelashes.
“What did you ladies serve at the meetings. Did you have a meal every time.”
“Oh, no,” Roberta waved her hand in a dismissive motion. “We would have fixed dinner for our family and cleaned up by the time we headed to our meeting at 8. We had dessert, usually, occasionally a salad. We did cake a lot, or in the spring it was strawberry shortcake. November meetings always had pumpkin pie. Then, for awhile in the fifties, we had gelatin desserts. You know, jello and whipped cream. There were all these cookbooks coming out from Jello that showed how to do layered salads and desserts. One of them had pieces of cake and fruit in it. I made that on the cooking show one time. The jello had to be whipped into a creamy mixture. It was very pretty with red and green jellos at Christmas time.”
The hairstyle done, Anna removes the red drape from Roberta and brushes off any excess hair clippings.
“So, have you decided what you’re wearing today?”
“Yes,” enthuses Roberta. This is the best part of the whole anniversary celeberation, a new outfit and Roberta is very pleased with her selection.
“I went to Macys and tried on a dozen outfits, but the one I liked best was a brown suit that reminded me of one I had in the fifties. The skirt is straight, with a kick-pleat, and the jacket has a pinched waist and lapels. I bought a cream colored silk blouse to go with it and new brown patent leather pumps. It’s very stylish.”
“Thought you might be wearing red since it’s February and Valentine’s Day and all.”
That comment sort of stops Roberta in her tracks as she’s already out of the chair and headed to the door after dropping two twenty dollar bills on the counter.
“I hadn’t even thought about that! You’re right. We did wear red in February, especially for the sweetheart banquets. Even later we would wear a red blouse or jacket to commemorate the holiday. I just got so caught up in the fact that it was the fiftieth anniversary and I wanted a special outfit. Wonder if any of the other girls are wearing red?”
“Well, I know Mrs. Vincent isn’t. She was in here yesterday,” Anna starts to tell the story as she sweeps up the beige blond hair scraps around the chair, “and she was telling me almost the same thing you just did. She went to Mona Lisa and bought a knit suit in blue.”
“Oh, she would! I didn’t even think about Mona Lisa. I felt like Macy’s was a big enough splurge. Most of us buy our clothes at Gottschalks but I wanted to bump it up a notch. I don’t know what we would do if Gottschalks ever closes its doors. We’ll go naked, I guess! They’ve been around almost as long as First Baptist Church, though, so I don’t expect they’ll be going out of business any time soon. Long time ago, we had members in the church who owned a real nice dress shop here in town, Cashions. Before that it was Cashion & Carey, little play on their names. When everyone started moving out north, in the sixties, they split up and Jack and Becky Cashion had their store on one corner at Cedar and Shields, and Mrs. Carey had hers on the other corner. Cashions was always pretty high-end, though, so for work clothes I’d shop at Careys. Mona Lisa is another old name in high-end fashion. They used to be downtown, too. What is nice about that store, there is usually only one item in each size so you know you’ll not run into someone else with your outfit on.”
“I remember shopping at Lerner’s when I was a girl,” Anna responded to all those store names. “We didn’t have much money but I could find cute things there that didn’t cost too much. Now, I’m like your friends, I go to Gottschalks. They have so many stores around town that it’s just easy to get to.”
“Yes, they are. Speaking of getting somewhere, I gotta get going if I’m going to be early to the tea house. It’s time.”
And with that, Roberta, was out the door of the little salon.