Sunday Jul 14

WempleJerry Jerry Wemple, a Pennsylvania native, writes frequently about the people and places of the Susquehanna Valley. His work includes three poetry collections: You Can See It from Here, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winner Yusef Komunyakaa for the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, The Civil War in Baltimore, and most recently The Artemas Poems. His poetry and creative nonfiction are included in several journals and anthologies. He is a Professor of English at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. His website can be found here

Beauty Operators

The beauty operators live out on
the county roads that connect small town
to village, their shops fashioned out of

a converted garage, renovated
breezeway, or a side room with separate
entrance added off the kitchen. The husbands

are usually farmers or night-shift workers
who grumble because they are farmers and have
to work the night shift because soybean prices

have gone to hell and corn won’t be nothing
this year because hard rains so late into
the spring delayed planting to well past

its time. Beauty operators are mostly
a one-generation thing, women who
like to do hair and talk and know that in

between customers they can go over
to the kitchen, make some coffee, and sit
down with the news on the radio.

Their daughters have no interest in the shop,
and get pregnant early, just out of school
or not quite. The father farmers grumble

more when they have to give up the better
part of a level acre for the girl and
her fiancé to put a trailer on.

The farmer has to call in a favor
to get the septic field dug on short
notice and a discount, and then another

favor to get the kid on in the warehouse
instead of part-time at the convenience
store because he knows that won’t be enough

for two no-nothing kids and a baby.
And it shames him a bit to know that all
the neighbors and the guys at work know all

about his pregnant daughter and the boy
and the trailer. But the beauty operators
know this ain’t nothing new. That these days

even the old women who go to the Ridge
Evangelical Lutheran church
will talk sotto voce about a granddaughter

or great niece who‘s had the most beautiful
baby, and sometimes there’s the mention
of the father, and sometimes not. Sometimes,

when the beauty operators drink
their coffee and look out the window to
see their daughters in a hand-me down Dodge

driving off to doctor’s or the market,
they are reminded of an older sister,
or a favorite cousin, who years ago

“got in trouble” with a boy, and left town,
sometimes never coming back. The beauty
operators watch as their daughters turn

the car from the long dusty dirt driveway
to the blacktop road, watch until they crest
the little hill and then vanish from sight.