I just made an appointment to get my nails done. Not because I take great pride in my nails. I’m a writer, not a hand model. But because of Patty, the manicurist, who is my back-door neighbor. To give you a taste of what I love about Patty, let me back up.
One summer night not long after we moved to suburbia, Scott and I and the kids were enjoying a quiet spring evening on the deck when we heard a boisterous voice cut through the cool air like an ax… “Miya! Miya! Get the #&%% back here!” In that same moment we saw a chubby little black and white Boston Terrier round the corner of her yard and disappear faster than lightening between our fence and our next-door neighbor’s. Clearly, the escapee was Miya. It was through that and many future acts of escape artistry that we were first introduced to Miya’s owner, the woman with that big voice.
Patty is the kind of character every good movie should have… and certainly every suburban neighborhood. She has never met a stranger and everyone on the block knows her name. She adds color and personality to the patch of beige houses around her, not to mention an extremely “vivid” vocabulary – one that secretly cracks me up but I don’t want my children repeating.
I had often heard her out in her garden or talking to her daughter from the patio, but I rarely saw her because there are several trees that block the view between our deck and her patio. It seemed, judging from her voice, that this woman was one tough mama. She didn’t seem to feel the need to impress anyone. She was just Patty. Take it or leave it.
My next-door neighbor, Jodi, happened to mention to me one day that she had made an appointment for Patty to do her nails… and I stopped her mid-conversation to say, “Hold on, wait a second. Patty? Back-door neighbor Patty? Does nails?!”
“Yep!” Jodi replied. And Jodi would know. Her dog, Shadow, and Patty’s dog, Miya, played together often and the ladies talked over the fence while the dogs ran around in Jodi’s fenced-in yard.
I had always pictured manicurists being more… dainty. Not that I would know. I hadn’t had much experience getting my nails done. But I would’ve guessed Patty to be someone who would think manicured nails was for sissies. Or maybe it was just me who thought that. Regardless, I was really intrigued by this side of Patty I wouldn’t have imagined.
Not not long after the conversation about the manicure, Jodi had to put Shadow down. It was an extremely difficult decision that Jodi took very hard, and she asked me to tell Patty because she didn’t think she could do it. I met Patty at the corner where her yard meets the corner of mine and I informed her that Miya’s playmate, Shadow, had to be put down. Patty’s reaction floored me. She immediately burst into tears and grabbed her face as if I had just informed her that her own child was gone. She was heartbroken. Immediately she began to fire questions about what happened. I knew at that moment why Jodi didn’t want to be the one who broke this news to Patty.
After being the bearer of bad news about Shadow, I wanted to cheer Patty up and get to know her better, so I made an appointment to get my nails done. Her price is far better than any of the shops or salons around, and I admired her for wanting to own her own business. Plus my nails were horrendous. They usually are. So it was a win-win to get my nails done by someone whose business I wanted to support.
When I made the appointment, she made a point of inviting my daughter to come, too. She had seen Riley around the neighborhood and thought she was sweet, so she offered to do her nails for practically nothing. The following Saturday, Riley and I crossed the backyards for our appointment.
When we walked into Patty’s house, she surprised us once again. Her home was spotless, organized, and beautifully decorated with soft colors and flowers. Her nail studio was the perfect blend of professional, feminine and comfortable. We were also greeted by Patty’s daughter, Talia, who was in a wheelchair. I would guess Talia suffers from severe cerebral palsy but I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter. She had difficulty speaking or controlling her movements, but Patty could understand every word she said. We all enjoyed non-stop conversation and had a completely enjoyable time together. Patty had a special knack for including Talia in the conversations while helping us know what she was trying to communicate, so the young woman never once had reason to feel left out just because conversation took more effort for her. I could see that taking care of this 20-something-year-old child would not be possible for Patty if she didn’t have this business in her home where she could stay close and attend to her daughter’s many needs. I was, at that moment, more glad than ever to give Patty some business.
While my nails were drying, Patty’s phone rang. She picked it up, laughed, and proceeded to carry on the rest of the conversation in fluent Italian. My jaw almost physically dropped. My heart sank, too. A few obscenities over the fence and had her pigeonholed as something she wasn’t. This woman is a smart, responsible, artistic and multi-faceted woman with a powerful survivor spirit… who happens to also speak fluent Italian.
On the short walk back home, Riley told me… “You know, Patty acts all tough… but she is really nice when you get to know her.” Riley has a very special way of seeing a person’s heart. And I took that opportunity to tell Riley how true that was, and how important it is not to make assumptions about people. But really, I was talking to myself, too.
I can’t wait ‘til this Tuesday at 5:00. That’s my next appointment. Riley and I will get our nails looking nice for spring, support a locally owned business and perhaps even uncover a few more of the mysteries residing in Patty’s strong but tender heart. Whenever I look at my nicely polished nails I want to remember to look at the people around me without the self-righteous filter that keeps people at an arms-length. I want to see people in full color, and experience the detail and complexity that makes them unique. For once, I didn’t miss that chance with Patty… thanks to Shadow.