I’d do anything for my sister except style her wig for free
I was so excited for Lakey when her salon opened.
There’re three of us sisters, we all live nearby, and we’re close. Sara’s the high school mechaneches — classic oldest, super practical. Then there’s me, and then Lakey. She’s the baby of the family, and to be honest, she’s always been a little floaty. Head in the clouds, relying on Sara and me to get her out of trouble. Typical youngest.
But in the last few years, it seemed that even she’d grown up. Two little ones, husband in kollel, and money was tight. Sara and I could both relate to that — Sara and her husband are in chinuch, and as for me, the graphic design industry is not what it used to be. It’s flooded, and you need to up your game and lower your prices to stay in the loop. Lakey had been a stay-at-home mom for the first couple of years, but eventually we heard more and more mention of “maybe getting my name out there” and “I’d love to be bringing in some money, it’s not easy…” Still, knowing Lakey, I was surprised and impressed when she actually opened up a salon.
Of course, we cheered her on. Sara talked her through a ton of decisions (what paint color? How many appointments in a day? Should she match the prices of the established hairdressers or charge less? Would she look unprofessional if she charged too little?) and I offered to design her store logo.
“Wow, that’s really nice of you,” she gushed. “I was gonna get a graphic artist, but if you’re sure….”
“It’s no problem. It won’t take long,” I told her. I opened a new file and started creating a few quick samples — Lakey’s Locks in various fonts, linked to a comb, blow-dryer, and brush. “What’s your color scheme again?”
“Gold and brown — like wood-brown. Maybe do the logo on a wooden plaque? Or whatever, you’re the artist here, I’m sure you’ll figure out how to incorporate the colors.”
I e-mailed her a few designs. “Tell me what you like, and I’ll perfect it.”
She hung up the phone and I went back to another project I was working on. Promotional material, super-boring but good pay. Besides, I needed this client, he was one of the few very regulars I had.
The next evening, Lakey texted me: Can I come over to design logo?
I was glad to take the break from my work. Logo designs were fun, and she was easy to please. The design took about 15 minutes, and I e-mailed her the file before she even left my front door.
“You’re the best!” she gushed as she said goodbye.
“No problem,” I told her. It was good to be appreciated. And appreciation didn’t come too often nowadays. I had an e-mail blinking on my screen from a client who wanted her work done before the next morning. I stared at the half-done project and sighed. It would be a long night.
In between work, car pools, and laundry, I heard how Lakey’s project was going. Most of my updates came from Sara, who went to get her wig redone one night and described to me the whole layout of the new salon.
“It’s all professional and stylish, you gotta see it sometime,” she told me.
“Um-hm,” I said, focusing on shading the background of an advertisement.
“Do you need your wig done? She did a great job on mine.”
I snapped back to the conversation. “I always wash my own sheitel, it’s so expensive to keep getting it done. But maybe with a sister who’s a sheitelmacher….”
“Of course she’ll do it for you,” Sara said. “She’s got real magic hands, our sister. You won’t regret it.”
“You’re a good marketer,” I told Sara with a laugh.
“Well, I’ve been busy raving about her to the entire teachers’ room, I’ve had practice.”
She wasn’t the only one spreading the word. I’d texted a whole group of friends when the salon opened, hoping to get my sister some customers.
“Hey, don’t you have a chasunah coming up? You’ll get to see Lakey’s salon then,” Sara reminded me.
Gosh, it was already January. She was right; my brother-in-law was getting married in a few weeks. I had gowns for my four girls already — gemach ones, but expensive enough once you count the alterations and the accessories and the dry cleaning and everything — and there was absolutely no option of going to some pricey hairdresser. Last year, Rafi’s sister got married, and Lakey did all of us — me and my girls. She did an incredible job, and she hadn’t even trained in updos and stuff yet. Pure talent (and a bunch of online tutorials, most likely).
“I’d better book her in this time,” I said thoughtfully. “I mean, she has real customers now, and official appointments. I need to get used to that.”
“Yup,” Sara sounded distracted. “Okay, fine, Yisroel, I’m coming to look at your Lego now. Bye, Das, I gotta go. Speak to you soon!”
I finally got around to calling Lakey a few days later.
“How’s the salon lady?”
She laughed. “Great, how’s the graphic artist?”
“Eh, doesn’t have the same ring to it.” I didn’t have time to chat, it was late and I had two more deadlines. “Basically, I just wanted to book our favorite hair stylist, Rafi’s brother’s chasunah is in a couple weeks. Me and the girls, same as last time. That okay?”
She hesitated a little. “Uh, wait, what day did you say it was?”
I told her the date. “Don’t tell me you have a hairdressers’ conference or something right then….”
“No, no, I don’t. Um, I need to check my calendar, though. I’ll call you back.”
She hung up the phone, and I was left wondering if I’d really just heard my breezy baby sister stammering.
The next day, I knew why.
“I can’t believe it,” I said to Rafi. “She wants to charge us. My sister wants me to pay her to do the girls’ hair for the wedding!”
“Full price?” He asked, like that mattered.
I waved my hand, agitated. “No-ooo, half price, I think. Something like that. But that’s not the point!”
“Better than nothing,” he said, shrugging.
I glared at him.
“What? What’s the problem with her charging? She has a business, you know.”
“I did her logo, for heaven’s sake! I’m her sister. I’m not a customer. I feel — ugh.” I made a face. “She did Sara’s sheitel, you think Sara paid her? Did we pay her to do the girls last year? Suddenly she has a salon and family doesn’t count anymore?”
Rafi shrugged. He didn’t get it. My heart twisted.
“Forget it,” I said, pulling out $100 from my wallet. It was my last bill. “Here, let’s put it in an envelope for Lakey.”
We went to her, of course. I couldn’t afford to do anything else, and besides, my daughters wouldn’t hear of having anyone but Aunty Lakey touch their hair. I sent them over with Rafi and came myself later on, so she could finish up my own sheitel on my head.
She did a beautiful job. But even when I pulled my lips into a smile and thanked her, I couldn’t meet her eyes.
If I could tell Lakey one thing, it would be: Family is about being there for each other — why can’t you help me out like we all helped you?
Salon equipment was so expensive.
I bit my lip as I went over the numbers. The basics I already had, but there was the sheitel stand, the mirrors, the swivel chair, new scissors, dye colors, a small-barrel curler, and dozens of clips and grips and pin curls and rollers.
“And that’s besides the money we shelled out doing up the back room. And the advertising,” I said gloomily one evening.
I had a few appointments for the next day, nothing major, but it was a start. Two were friends and the others must’ve been attracted by my starting price. At this rate, though, I’d be working months just to pay off the start-up bills.
“That’s how any good business starts,” Zev said reassuringly. “You’ve got a good name, people know you do sheitels well, and it’ll go by word of mouth. You’ll see.”
I sure hoped so. Until now, I’d done my own sheitel, and every so often, a friend’s or my sister’s, just as a favor. I never called myself a professional, but I had done a bunch of courses and I knew hair. We needed the money, and it was time to take this further. So we redid the room off the kitchen, sent off ads to all the local circulars, and voilà! Lakey’s Locks was ready to roll.
It took a couple of months until work was more or less steady, although there were still quieter days and busier ones. It was tempting to overbook my calendar when I did get more calls — I felt so much pressure to start making real profit already, to get past that hurdle of paying back the initial outlay. But I forced myself to go slow and give each customer time and concentration. It would pay in the long run, I knew.
My sister Sara called one evening. She’s a high school teacher and always gets her sheitel done overnight, picking it up before work the next morning. Her regular sheitelmacher wasn’t available, could I do the job?
“Sure!” I told her, happy to help out. I’d already finished blow-drying the wigs for tomorrow’s appointments and Sara’s an easy customer. I could wash and blow it for her while we had a schmooze.
“I can’t believe we haven’t even spoken since you started this, but it’s great that you’ve been busy!” Sara told me when she came in. “Wow, this place is gorgeous. Nicer than the pictures!”
I smiled as I led her to the sofa in the corner of the salon. “Now you sit and relax and keep me company,” I told her.
“Well, if you insist,” she winked, sinking into the seat with a blissful sigh. “Ahhh, I could fall asleep in here.”
“That’s not part of the deal,” I bantered back. She laughed.
It was great to spend time with my sister. I styled her wig with my hands on autopilot, while we talked about the best way to teach kids to help out at home. With her years of experience at home and in education, Sara had a lot to say on the subject. We were deep in conversation when I seated her on the swivel chair by the mirror to finish the job.
“It’s great, Lakey, thanks a million,” Sara said, twisting her head this way and that. “Wait, is it really almost midnight? That’s crazy, I haven’t prepared tomorrow’s lesson yet, I need to run! But really, great job, and great to catch up. Good night!”
She flew out the door, and I cleaned up slowly, suddenly feeling the day’s exhaustion hit. And tomorrow was a full day — which was good, but right now, I just needed to sleep.
I had two customers back-to-back the next morning, and the second one came early, and the phone kept on ringing. I took a deep breath and tried to prioritize.
“Tzippy, hi! Take a seat, I’ll be with you shortly.” I picked up the phone and wrapped some hair around the curler. “I’m just making the curls tighter, like you asked, Dina — hello, yes, this is Lakey — who’s calling?”
Someone wanted to drop off their wig and someone else was complaining that I did their part wrong. I told them to come over after two and turned my attention back to Dina.
“So, you wanted the front pieces swept more to the side?”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Tzippy offered. I looked at my watch; there was no one else scheduled this morning.
“Hi, Lakey!” a voice sang out. It was Sara. “Oh, wow, so busy in here! I love your wig,” she told Dina. Then, in a breathless rush: “Basically, you did it great last night, but I dunno, I just don’t like the curls on the left side, could you make it a little straighter? I have a free period so I ran over here, but I need to be back in like a half hour.”
Dina hopped off the chair and twisted her head from side to side, frowning a little. “It’s nice, I guess…”
I looked from my sister to my customer. “Wait, Dina, tell me what’s wrong, I want you to love your sheitel look or I’ll do it over.”
She sat down with a bump, relieved. “I dunno, I think it’s just the way it sort of goes out at the side, I want a sleeker look… maybe the curls should be starting lower? I’m not sure…”
Tzippy’s appointment should’ve started five minutes ago. And she’d take a while.
Sara was clearly anxious to get back to school for her next class. “Could you maybe squeeze me in, it’ll take literally a minute?” she begged.
“I really don’t mind, I’m not in a major rush,” Tzippy said magnanimously. She was scrolling through her phone and relaxing.
But I mind, I wanted to say. I had a reputation to keep up. I wanted to keep my customers’ appointments on schedule.
Sara beamed at her, and then at me. “Thanks a million, really. I appreciate it!”
She slid onto the chair as Dina left, finally satisfied, and I started to brush out the curls, wondering how I could stop this sort of thing from happening again.
And then Hadassah called. “Hi, how are you, how’s the salon, we have a chasunah coming up, remember?”
I remembered. And I knew exactly what she wanted. A while back, when her sister-in-law got married, I spent a day at her house doing up her kids’ hair. It was totally amateur, but they loved it, the braids and twists and curls and diamante tiaras. It took me hours.
I thought of the salon and the customers that were slowly building up and the bills and how we were still paying off the investment.
“Don’t tell me you’re already scheduled for that day,” Hadassah said.
I stammered something about needing to check my calendar.
“What should I do?” I asked Zev, urgently. “I know what this will be like… it’ll take all day. Even if I could take evening appointments that day, I’ll be exhausted after doing a whole bunch of updos… and Hadassah’s such a perfectionist, her sheitel will take forever.”
“So ask her to pay,” he said, matter-of-factly.
I blinked. “She should pay? But that’s so awkward, charging my sister… I mean, I always used to do it for free….”
“You never used to have a business. You have expenses, new supplies, other customers. Things have changed.”
Of course, he was right, but it still took me a whole day to muster up the courage to call.
“Lakey? I was waiting for your call.” Hadassah sounded hopeful. “You’ll be able to do it, right?”
Suddenly, I was angry. She expected this favor like it was her right, as if I didn’t have a job and a family to support. I took a deep breath and dived. “Yes, I can do it, but there’s one thing. I need to charge for my time, but I’m happy to do a half-price rate for family.”
The phone went silent.
“Hadassah?” I was unnerved. She had to understand me.
Her voice was frosty. “Oh. I see. I didn’t realize you charged at all for family.”
“I — I’m sorry. I thought it was obvious… I have a business. You don’t do people’s graphics for free, right?”
Bad mistake. She’d designed my logo. For free.
But, I remembered, that was a job of literally ten minutes. I had watched her do it, I knew. And if I could do her kids’ hair in ten minutes, of course I wouldn’t charge her either.
“Hadassah, this is an all-day job. I could make triple in that time. What if I had clients booked for those hours?”
“Do you?” she challenged.
I bit my lip. This conversation was going all wrong. “Uh… no. But it’s not the point.”
“Right. I get it.” Her tone said that she didn’t get it, not at all. “You know what, I’ll have to get back to you.”
She was angry. She was angry at me just for standing up for myself.
I was so hurt. I was still offering her a great price, cheaper than she’d get anywhere else. What did she expect, I should give up parnassah for her? I was struggling to make it with the salon, I couldn’t just give up a day’s work…
And because she helped me, I should help her? Is that how it went? Everything has to be paid back? It had been her choice to do my logo; I’d been willing to hire a graphic artist.
Zev just shrugged it off. “If she gets upset, it’s her problem, not yours. You’ve been totally reasonable, and it’s good idea to have a family rate. I mean, what happens next? Are you expected to do all your sisters and sisters-in-law for free, all the time? What about their kids’ haircuts and when there’s a family simchah? There are a lot of simchahs, and it could literally end up being once a week.”
It was true. Zev’s sister would be making a bar mitzvah soon, and then there was the niece in shidduchim. Five sisters for a l’chayim, and again for a vort — I had to set a standard here, a regular family discount so that I could help out without losing too much.
Hadassah finally called me back. “Okay, we’ll pay you.” She sounded brisk and businesslike. And so cold.
Worst of all, she sounded like she was doing me the favor. When I was barely scraping even for the hours this would take.
My nieces bounced in the morning of the chasunah, with sparkly hair accessories and sparkling eyes. I cleared the salon and seated them on the poufy couch. They were getting real salon service, feeling like pampered princesses. I didn’t have to feel bad to be paid. I didn’t have to feel bad.
But I did. I felt terrible. And so misunderstood.
If I could tell Hadassah one thing, it would be: I would love to do you a favor, but not one that will cost me parnassah I desperately need.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 794)