“Over here! Over here!” Dottie Swaggert wildly waved her arms over her head. She jumped up from the metal fold-up lawn seat we’d brought from Happy Trails Campground.
A piece of wrapped candy whizzed by our heads. Dottie scrambled around the chair, giving the kid behind us a snarl after he snatched up the sweet treat before she could.
“Did you see that young ’in?” she spat, sitting back down on the edge of her seat like a baseball catcher ready for another chance. “He had a sack full of candy already.”
The sunshine beat down, and the warm summer breeze funneled through the crowd that’d lined both sides of Main Street that ran through downtown Normal. Like us, they came to view the parade kicking off Daniel Boone Day.
“I bet Abby will have some good stuff.” Dottie elbowed me, gawking at the float for the Normal Public Library coming down the street toward where we’d planted ourselves in front of the Laundry Club Laundromat.
“Look!” I pointed to the passing float with the schoolkids on it. They were all dressed in period costumes from the Daniel Boone era. “It’s Beck Greer. Hey, Beck!”
Dottie and I smiled as proud as peacocks at our younger employee. He stood in the middle of the float with one leg hitched up on a fake log, an axe in his hand, and a coonskin cap on his head.
He turned when he heard us call to him, and a huge grin grew on his face when he made eye contact.
“Get a picture, Mae.” Dottie kept waving at him. I fumbled for my phone, but by the time I’d gotten the camera app open, the float had passed. “You get it? We can post it on the community board in the recreation room.”
“Yep.” I sighed and decided not to tell her I didn’t get it since her thought was passing and she’d soon forget.
The Normal High School band really got the crowd cheering and pumped. The classic cars were next, revving their fancy engines and creating car exhaust that almost ran us out of our chairs, only to be followed up by the one sheriff’s car, a couple of ranger trucks, and the fire engine.
“Now, is that necessary?” Dottie put her finger in her ear and gave it a couple of good shakes. “Al Hemmer doesn’t need to put on the siren that loud.”
I could barely hear her complaint over the tune of the sheriff’s siren.
“It’s a parade,” I reminded her and decided to take her mind off of the siren. “Oh! Look! It’s the National Park Committee float!”
“Mm-hmm.” Dottie craned her neck to see who was on it. “Did y’all get candy?”
“No, Dottie. We decided to do a little timeline of Daniel Boone’s journey.” I waved at my fellow committee members who had volunteered to be on the float during the parade. I was one of the volunteers who had decorated the float.
It had been in the making for over a month, and I’d spent most of my free time at the Milkery Dairy Farm, where we had parked the float in one of Mary Elizabeth’s barns so we could work on it.
Mary Elizabeth was my foster-turned-adoptive mother, and she co-owned the local dairy farm with Dawn Gentry. They had a lot of land, and since the weather in the Daniel Boone National Forest was somewhat unpredictable at times, it was best to keep the wagon we’d decorated on the float indoors until it was finished rather than out in the elements.
“Candy!” Dottie screamed and got to her feet when the Cookie Crumble float started to pass by. Christine Watson saw Dottie and waved her over to give Dottie her own personal handful. “It’s the good stuff too.” Dottie returned and sat down. She put the candy in her lap.
“I’m going to grab a water. Do you want one?” I asked, knowing it would be okay to leave her now that she was satisfied with her loot.
“Nah. I’m good,” she mumbled through a mouthful of something chewy.
“I’ll be back.” I looked back at the parade to make sure I wasn’t missing seeing someone I knew. This was the part of the parade where the high school color guard was followed by the rifle team, the archery team, and the Saddle Club.
Coke Ogden, the owner of the Old Train Station Motel, was the president of the Saddle Club, which made perfect sense due to the fact she had several horse barns and offered tourists trail rides on horseback.
“I’ll take two bottled waters,” I told the vendor, who was carrying a cooler by a strap that hung around his neck.
“How about a twirly whirl? Cotton candy? Swirl sucker?” Every time I waved my hand no, he continued to try to upsell me.
“Just two waters.”
I suddenly jerked around when I heard someone knocking on a display window behind me. Helen Pyle was sparkling head to toe in bright-orange lipstick and different colored jewels she’d bedazzled onto her white short-sleeved top. Her shirt was all tucked up in her mom jeans that were pulled clear up to the bottom of her boobs.
I tried not to look at the orange-tinted hair that was piled in a mess on top of her head when she waved me toward Cute-icles, her hair salon.
“You want cotton candy?” the vendor tried one more time.
“All good.” I took a couple bucks out of my pocket and handed them to him. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks, lady.” He nodded and moved on. “Cotton candy! Twirly whirls! Waters!” he screamed, making his way along the parade route.
“Excuse me.” I made my way through the crowd filling the sidewalk between me and Cute-icles.
“What’s up?” I asked Helen when she greeted me at the door. She quickly shut it behind us and rushed around me.
She wasn’t alone. Her two best friends were in there with her—Pam Purcell and Carol Wise. Each woman stood beside Helen, not bickering about who had the better fruit, which was unusual. Pam and Carol took pride in their ability to make the perfect jam, but today, they looked as though they’d called a truce.
“What’s going on?” I asked cautiously as I charted this new territory with them. “Are y’all trying to get me in the chair?”
I plunged my hands into my curly brown hair—a little more unruly today than usual, but it was only because the humidity had ticked up overnight and it wasn’t a hair-washing day for me. It took an hour to fix my hair, and when you ran a campground, it wasn’t necessary to get all primped up. I saved those times for when I went on dates with Hank Sharp.
“No.” Pam’s voice squeaked. She shook her head, her short silver hair not budging with the movement.
“Have you seen today’s paper?” Carol asked in her Southern drawl. Her eyes bored into me like I had some sort of say in what went into the Normal Gazette. “It’s a disgrace to our community and—” Her voice broke as she looked Helen.
“I can’t bear to think of the repercussions this is going to have on our economy.” Helen lifted a hand to the corner of her eye and dabbed it with a tissue as if she was tearing up.
The three of them stood there all doe-eyed. Carol’s lips pinched. She tucked a strand of her long black hair behind her shoulder.
“Well? What are you going to do about it?” Carol pulled a folded paper from underneath her arm and held it out for me to take.
“Do about it?” I took the paper. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Helen took a couple of backward steps farther into the Pepto Bismol–pink salon before she let herself fall back into one of the puffy pink salon chairs. The twinkly lights along the walls and ceiling made the scene so much more dramatic, though I had no idea what was going on.
“I just might faint.” She held the back of her hand up to her forehead. “I won’t be able to show my face in this town again.”
“Isn’t that a bit much?” I asked and snapped the paper open.
“You don’t have to turn the page. It’s right there, front and center.” Carol’s eyes drooped. “It looks like we need to let Waldo Willy know how things work around here.”
“I Hope She Goes Bald” was the title of the piece on the front page of the Normal Gazette alongside a photo of Helen Pyle cutting someone’s hair inside of Cute-icles with a big smile on her face. There was some text, which I’d not read, between Helen’s photo and another photo of a young woman with wavy blond hair sitting on a piano bench, a beauty-queen sash laid neatly across her body.
“And I swear he made my hair brighter than it is.”
Helen had more things to worry about than the color the photo made her hair. Little did she realize her hair in the photo was exactly the same orange it was in real life. But who was I to comment? I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut.
Waldo Willy was the new reporter for the Normal Gazette and Channel Two News. He’d recently taken the job after Violet Rhinehammer moved away from our little tourist town here in Kentucky.
Waldo wasn’t familiar with our town and how we operated, so to say he’d ruffled a few feathers over the last few months was an understatement. And when it came to beauty around here, the headline was a downright insult to the Southern women of this town.
“Cute-icles is a staple. A safe place where women can talk and complain about their husbands. It’s a sacred space, and words do not leave these walls. That—” Helen’s lips tightened, and the lines around her mouth deepened. She pointed to the paper in my hands. “That so-called reporter thinks he can just waltz in here and devalue years upon years of the hair industry—he’s got another thing coming to him.” She started to hyperventilate, and sobs escaped her. “We need Violet back.” She looked up at me. “Can you get Violet to come back?”
“I heard Millie Kay and Evan are getting divorced. Millie Kay packed up everything and mailed it to Violet. She’s been gone since Mother’s Day.” Carol nodded, a confident look on her face.
“I know Violet isn’t going to come back, so we are stuck with Waldo for now.” I tried to offer Helen a sympathetic smile and looked back down at the article.
“He could’ve put a different title on it,” Pam said with disgust, obviously concerned for Helen, “not to mention the fact someone violated our cone of silence.” She circled her finger through the air, gesturing around the salon. “Helen was only venting. She didn’t mean anything by her comment. The fact it has already hurt her business…”
“Hurt your business?” Now, this made me stop to listen, really listen, to see if there was a cause for concern.
I’d moved to Normal after I was left penniless with only a run-down camper and campground to my name. It took everything I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and I’d come up with a big plan to revitalize the entire town in the process. With the help of these ladies, as well as my group of friends, the Laundry Club Ladies, the economy in Normal boomed. So when I heard someone in our community jeopardized one of our own, I took offense to it.
“Why, yes. It’s the first time in thirty years Miss Daniel Boone Day hasn’t come here to get her nails and hair done before the parade.” Helen pointed to the far wall where the glittery gold frames hung on the wall. “I’ve already had some cancellations, and I know it’s because of that article. I’ll be ruined because of her. My business is already suffering, and I’ll have to shut down.” She jabbed her finger at the wall. “Tradition.”
It was a wall I’d seen so many times, but I had never taken the time to even look at the photos it held. Now taking a closer look, there was picture of every single winner of the pageant, sitting in one of the pink salon chairs, with Helen standing proudly behind her.
“I’ve done all of their hair, except the winner this year.” She frowned as she looked at the empty frame at the far end, ready for this year’s pageant-winner photo. “Alice Beakman wouldn’t even take my calls.”
The moment of silence let the parade music filter into the salon. Cheers and applause along with band music took up the space, making all of us look out the window. Helen bolted out of her chair and hurried over to look at the final float passing by.
“Your mama and Coke Ogden both called and cancelled this morning.” Pam’s lips curled in, and her forehead wrinkled.
Helen flung her hands over her eyes. “I just can’t bear to look.” Her chin fell to her chest. Pam, Carol, and I walked over to comfort her.
I couldn’t help but look out the window and watch the float carrying Alice, the other pageant contestants lining both sides. The float’s banner along the side read “Miss Daniel Boone Day’s Alice Beakman.” There were six women standing along our side of the float and six along the other.
“Elbow, wrist, elbow, wrist.” Helen’s voice cracked as she named the movements of their arms. “Now you’ll see Alice do the little child wave.”
It was like Helen knew all the moves. As the float came to a stop in front of Cute-icles, the total of twelve women turned to look at the log chair at the back of the vehicle where Alice Beakman proudly sat.
“Elbow, wave, elbow, wave.” Helen’s words were almost a whisper mirroring Alice’s moves. “Little child wave.” Helen tore away from the window and looked down toward her shoulder, as if it were unbearable to watch as Alice stood up and bent over slightly and gave finger waves to the little girls hollering for her attention along the parade route.
“What does her hair look like?” Helen begged to know.
“Terrible. Rat’s nest.” Pam grimaced when she looked at me and then shrugged as if to ask, What was I supposed to say?
Alice looked great. Her hair was parted down the middle and lay in waves as it cascaded down her back. Her Miss Daniel Boone Day crown sparkled with each turn, complementary to her smile. She was…
“Breathtaking.” I’d let it slip. “Breathtakingly awful hair style.” I gulped back the compliment.
“And see. That’s what you get when you go in search of something and break a thirty-year-long rule!” Helen cried out, quickly turning on the balls of her feet and running to the back of the salon to disappear into the room where she mixed all the colors for hair dye.
“She does look good.” Carol kept her Southern drawl slow and very low so Helen wouldn’t hear her.
“What is this about being bald?” I asked since I hadn’t had a lot of time to read the article. I had my own issue to deal with—Dottie.
“Apparently, Waldo came in here to do a story after sniffing around after he overheard someone say Alice was breaking tradition.” Pam told us how Helen got a call from Waldo wanting to do a story, but he didn’t tell her on the phone that he’d confirmed Alice wasn’t going to come to Cute-icles to get her hair and nails done. Instead, he sprang it on Helen while he was here to do the interview.
“‘Overheard’?” I snorted, knowing good and well someone had called him.
“Right.” Carol’s brows wiggled, sarcasm pouring from her words. “We have a snitch that comes here.”
“Waldo needs to know we take tradition in Kentucky very serious. Just as serious as going to church,” Pam added. “You know, we ain’t seen him come to church either.”
Pam was referring to the Normal Baptist Church. She, along with Carol and Helen, was a part of the Bible-thumpers, or at least that’s what I called them. They were a small group of women at the church who, along with my dear friend Betts Hager, did bible studies, ministered to the prisoners at the state penitentiary not too far from here, and had a prayer chain.
It was more like a gossip hotline, but they claimed it wasn’t gossip and they were praying. Whatever you wanted to call it or however you looked at it, someone had let the cat out of the bag, and here we are today, thirty years of tradition broken.
“He has no regard for our town,” Carol spewed, turning her attention back to the parade.
“There’s nothing we can do about it today,” I told them and put the paper down on the counter. “I guess I need to talk to him, or I can get the committee to talk to him about having some sort of sensitivity filter.”
“Sensitivity filter? Mae West, have you gone and lost your marbles? He’s flat-out, single-handedly in one line ruined our friend.” Carol jabbed her finger at the counter where the paper lay. “‘I hope she goes bald’ isn’t something you want your hairdresser to say about no one. And the fact Helen has had cancellations since it came out this morning doesn’t look good for her economy. She might have to shut down.”
“Let’s just hope Miss Daniel Boone Day doesn’t go bald.” I had no control over how the public took the headline as of this moment, making it difficult for me to even say what might come and what might not come. “But I assure you we will cross that bridge if we come to it.”
“I can’t stand here and watch this.” Helen bolted out the door and got lost in the crowd.
I glanced over at Helen’s two best friends. We all just sorta stared at each other.
Little did I realize we’d be crossing that bridge by the end of the night.