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It was 1969 when Audrey Prince Humby and Sheila Pitts Esty last saw their cosmetology classmate Theresa LeGrow, and the pair are the first to arrive at a special luncheon Wednesday.
As Humby and Esty walked into the foyer of India Gate in downtown St. John’s on the anniversary of the graduation, they checked their perfectly styled hair in a mirror.
“Fifty years is a long time,” Humby said, emphasizing the “50,” as the two waited at their table with a Telegram reporter for the arrival of classmates Joan Reddigan and LeGrow.
“You know, we’re touching on 70.”
Humby — who has been in steady touch with Esty ever since they met on the steps of the then trade school and now the Prince Philip Drive campus of the College of the North Atlantic — has brought along their old textbook. The cover of “Standard Textbook of Cosmetology” depicts a woman with really big hair — teased about four inches in height above her scalp and featuring giant flip curls on each side.
“Where’s Theresa?” Humby and Esty say after Reddigan arrives.
Soon enough they spot LeGrow through the window, being dropped off by her husband, and they’re all glowing.
“Hello, hello,” sings Humby, clapping her hands.
“Joan, oh my goodness,” said LeGrow, hugging Reddigan.
“You haven’t changed at all,” Esty said.
“It’s so good to see you. It’s wonderful,” LeGrow replies.
After the round of hugs, it’s catchup time — who married their college boyfriend, who’s got kids and grandkids, who lived out of the province for years and came back.
“It’s a lifetime and it’s also nothing,” Reddigan said of the years that have buzzed by.
Reddigan is the only one still working in hairdressing, though Esty and Humby did for years. LeGrow worked at it only six months and eventually went into accounting and the provincial civil service.
“I don’t even know how to do my own hair now,” Humby jokes.
They reminisce about long-ago lessons and difficult dos — the finger wave being tough to master back in school.
“Oh my God,” Humby said, recalling standing in front of the class when she was teaching cosmetology in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where her husband, who was in the military, was stationed for a couple of years.
“Those finger waves are going to get me fired.”
“My finger was so crooked, I could never do it,” said LeGrow.
She did, however, often wave out the classroom window at her then boyfriend and now longtime husband, Doug.
Back then, the course was better known as beauty school and the girls wore white coats, which made them stand out among others on the campus.
Humby was teased for spraying hairspray up under her classmates’ uniforms.
“It would make you jump,” Reddigan said of the prank.
“I got blamed for everything,” Humby laughed.
Reddigan worked on the Argentia base for a year and then was recruited by Austin Ryan’s Mr. Ryan salon in Churchill Square, as did many other cosmetologists to meet the demand for cutting men’s long hair.
Many barbers couldn’t do it — being used to clippers and buzz cuts of the clean-cut 1950s and early ’60s. — and so lost customers in the hippy era, Reddigan explained.
She recalled cutting a man’s long hair and it was full of lice.
“I dropped the scissors and screamed,” she said. “We had to shut down the shop (to clean up).”
They’ve seen a lot of hairstyles come and go, and the worst was the tight-curl permanents of the late 1970s that swept both sexes but is now looked upon with some embarrassment.
LeGrow recalled giving her husband one just before a family portrait was taken — causing visitors to their home years later to jump back with surprise at the dated image.
They all worked for the Capri salons run by John Grubb, a chain of several popular shops in metro in the early 1970s and ’80s.
“Hairdressing (then) was like a cult. You knew everyone. Now I don’t know anyone,” Reddigan said.