The Christmas I was 17 years old, Elvis Presley singing about his “Blue Christmas” was the most popular song on the radio. My Christmas was also looking blue, but for a different reason.
Early in November, I arrived late to work and was fired on the spot. I’d been warned about my lateness, but my big thrill was dancing all night to the new sounds of rock ’n’ roll. I scraped up every 10 shillings I could to attend the dances. I arrived home as our rooster crowed and the milkman left glass bottles of milk outside every family’s door.
I was training to become a hairdresser in Bagenalstown, a one-hairdressing salon and railway town 65 miles south of Dublin. My pay was one pound a week (the price of admission to two dances).
My only chance to find work was to head to Dublin. All I wanted for Christmas was a job. But I was only 50 percent trained and very young. I got a lift to Dublin and arrived at Aunt Greta’s house on Harrington Street. She was my mother’s sister and had nine children.
“Ah sure, what’s one more,” she said and took my suitcase.
“Startin’ on Monday, you’ll go down Greater St. Georges Street and Grafton Street an’ all the streets that have shops. You’ll go into every hairdressin’ salon an’ tell ’em that you’re lookin’ for a job,” Aunt Greta said.
I did what she told me. To make myself look older, I put extra makeup on and penciled in thick, dark Joan Crawford-style eyebrows. But employers said I wasn’t experienced enough to be hired.
All around me, I saw the sights and heard the sounds of Christmas. I didn’t have a winter coat, a pair of gloves or sensible shoes. I didn’t even have the price of a Christmas card. How could I have been such a ninny and lost my job, leaving myself without a penny for Christmas?
Aunt Greta read the help wanted ads in the newspaper.
“Listen,” she said. “Small salon seeks an assistant from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31,” and there was a phone number. I phoned and the woman sounded nice. We set up an interview. At that time, she told me she had sold the business, and her last day would be New Year’s Eve. Using her hair, she asked me to show her the hairdressing skills I’d learned.
“You do have a flair. I need a good assistant. I’d like to hire you for the seven weeks. I will pay you 50 shillings a week. My customers will also tip you,” she said. My weekly pay went from one pound to two pounds, 10 shillings, the price of admission to five dances. I could hear my heart beating like a hammer. This was a miracle.
Every day, I was perched in the front seat on the top deck of the green double-decker bus and watched as Dublin’s Georgian buildings were decorated with big red bows. White lights hung along both sides of the Liffey River and mirrored the buildings in the water at night. Shop windows were packed with toys. Chanel No. 5 perfume floated in the frosty air outside the expensive shops on Grafton Street.
I bought new clothes and shoes, and contributed to the goose and turkey dinner Aunt Greta cooked for her big family on Christmas Day. While we ate, Elvis still sang about his blue, blue Christmas. I didn’t feel blue. I was happy. I had a good-paying job for Christmas.