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For the Love of Sylvia!

Posted December 15, 2016 by Maurice Tannenbaum

Sylvia had been a client for 41 years. Sylvia was special! So much so that most of my clients knew her or at least knew of her. If I made a move, most of my clients were more concerned whether it was convenient for Sylvia than it was for themselves. She had a following. A fan club. Whatever it was, she was famous among my clientele.

People loved talking to her. She had gift for making everyone feel special, loved and happy. She always commented on women’s clothes, hair or makeup, and especially on their breasts if she thought they were nice. She loved breasts! She wasn’t afraid to fondle another woman’s breasts. She would sort of ask before squeezing but that doesn’t mean she waited for a response! I mean, she was gentle (after all, being a woman she knew how to fondle a breast). No one seemed to mind. After all it was Sylvia!

I met Sylvia when I was working as Style Director at the Saks Fifth Avenue Beauty Salon in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. I noticed a smart looking woman who was getting a a manicure in a hair drying chair near me. She crooked her finger in a come here motion, calling my name. Usually I would ignore this kind of demand, but something about this woman compelled me to respond. I sat down in the dryer chair next to her and she said, “I’m Sylvia and I’m wearing a hairpiece. Do you think that you can do this? Elliot does my hair.” (Elliot was a well respected hair stylist in the Main Line area of Pennsylvania at that time). I replied, “Of course!” So she booked an appointment with me the next week. Sylvia never missed a week. Mostly because she had extremely thin hair so she needed more of my time than other women. She would say, “It’s a curse! But, what can I do?!?” She never accepted it, but she did make the best of it.

After I opened my salon in Center City Philadelphia, Sylvia would have her brother drive her to the salon because she was afraid to drive on the expressway ( can’t blame he as it is a little scary). During one appointment, my assistant came to her, kneeled down and whispered, “Sylvia, your driver is here.” Her response was, “Say it louder!”

She was like a Jewish mother to me – proud of my achievements but noting that they weren’t good enough! After all, Allen Gold’s salon was bigger than mine. Not good enough! “You should have been rich by now,” she would say. Continuing with, “Why do you have to spend your money on travel and all the things you do? Why don’t you save your money.” She truly loved me as I did her.

I wasn’t blessed with the most loving and caring mother (years on a psychiatrists couch and stories for another time). But I was blessed with Sylvia! She had two hair pieces at all times. One was on her head and one was in the salon to be groomed for her next appointment. My proteges were all trained on Sylvia’s hair pieces, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some stress. After washing one of the hair pieces, one of my assistants wrapped it in a towel that was accidentally thrown into the washer. It was a wreck when it came out of the washer. We spent hours combing it out. We never told Sylvia. She just thought that her hair piece seemed a little “dry” for a few weeks as we worked hard to condition it back into shape.

Her 90th birthday was a blast and everyone wanted to roast Sylvia! And roast they did. Roast aside, we all agreed that Sylvia was unconditionally loving. By her 90th birthday, she was going blind (macular degeneration) but you would never know it! At that time, I was doing her makeup every Saturday. She wanted to keep looking good so she wouldn’t wash her face until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Soon, Sylvia would grasp for words, struggle to finish sentences, and get lost in a thought. When someone said, “hello,” she could see who it was so she would summon me with that very same finger motion she used the day we met. I would kneel down and she would whisper, “Who was that?” She wanted to being sure to say hello and to make sure no one really knew her eye site was bad.

She had caretakers who would transport her to and from the salon. Some were kind and good. Others, just left her to us and passed the time on a mobile phone. One time a caregiver brought her in and I noticed that Sylvia’s shoes were on the wrong feet. I vowed to report anything to Sylvia’s daughter, Linda, that wasn’t right. Eventually, she had 3 wonderful women who cared for her with love.

October 2009, was the last time I saw Sylvia. She stopped coming. In November I called her and she was as cordial as she could be, but I knew she didn’t know it was me. I called a few more times, to talk with Vennessa, one of her caretakers, just to find out how she was doing. Her spirits were always good even if health was not. I made arrangements to pay her a visit one Thursday. Figured I’d bring lunch. I called Vennessa to find out what time would be best and she told me that Sylvia had had a bad night and Vennessa didn’t think that it would be a good time for me to come. Even though I had cleared my day, I understood.

I was sitting in a box at the Devon Horse Show on memorial day and realized that I had a voicemail. I tried to listen to the message and only heard “Linda” and “mother died.” I knew what I was going to hear when I could hear to the entire message. I wasn’t surprised. I was glad for Sylvia that it was over for her. I knew more then anything Sylvia’s dignity was the thing that she cherished most after her kids, grandkid’s, great grandkids and of course, me. That’s why it was ok for her to stop getting he hair done. Loosing her dignity was just unacceptable! Eye site was one thing. But not one’s dignity!!

Even though I “lost Sylvia” in October, I am still saddened. After all, I did love her unconditionally! I love you so Sylvia and always will! XOXO