His barber shop, her beauty salon and 50 years of marriage
Splashes of morning sunlight spill onto the beige carpet as Lyle Prather pushes open the salon’s door. But for his purposes, it’s the barbershop door.
“There he is!” Gordon Stewart says, rising from the barber chair at the far end of the salon where he’d been sitting, relaxed and legs crossed. “How’re you doing, Lyle?”
“Well, I’m doing alright,” he replies, settling on the barber chair. Gordon unfurls a white drape printed with black, old-timey barber designs over Lyle’s chest and snaps it around his neck.
At the other end of the room, in the salon, Gordon’s wife, Ruby Stewart, is rolling pink permanent rods and papers around Mildred Young’s short hair.
“You been doing a lot of substituting lately?” Ruby asks the longtime teacher, who now substitutes at District 51 schools.
“Sure have. Though not today. They called me, but I said, today I’m getting my hair done. It’s been too long.”
Ruby smiles and keeps methodically rolling, while Gordon efficiently snips at Lyle’s white hair.
‘WE JUST LIKE BEING TOGETHER’
This used to be just Ruby’s Beauty Salon, and Gordon’s Barber Shop was downtown in Palisade. But after he retired — or “retired,” rather — last year, and realized he needed to stay busy, and thought about his longtime customers, they figured, well, why not?
Why not try moving Gordon’s Barber Shop into Ruby’s Beauty Salon?
After all, “we just like being together,” Ruby says. “I’ve never understood this new thing of girls’ night out or boys’ night out. We like spending our time together.” They’ve been married for 50 years, just celebrated their anniversary Feb. 7 with a trip to Laguna Beach, Calif. And they’ve known each other since they were kids growing up in Palisade.
“We met in an alley,” Gordon says.
“Oh, we did not!” Ruby corrects, laughing, then explains, “We grew up across the street from each other.”
Gordon just smiles.
“You used to drive up and down that alley trying to get a look at me,” she jokes.
“I was trying to get a look in your window.”
Ruby laughs. “He was a hood, what we called a hood back then, he wore his hair in a ducktail. And I was a little bit younger, I always had all my friends over and we’d dance and listen to music. So, he didn’t pay much attention to me.”
Oh, he probably did, and she knew of him from school because he was good at sports, so he made the leap that spring morning in 1961 at the Glenwood Springs Pool. He sidled up to her, they started talking “and I went to your graduation that night and you gave your carnation to me,” Ruby reminds him.
It didn’t take long for him to give her his heart. They soon became engaged, and three years later, in an evening service at First Baptist Church in Palisade, Feb. 7, 1964, they were married. Ruby was 17 and Gordon was 21, and she graduated high school several months later.
They moved to Denver, into a little place on Columbine Street, and Gordon attended barber college while Ruby went to beauty school. Returning to the Grand Valley, Gordon began cutting hair at a barbershop on Main Street in Grand Junction and Ruby took a chair at the salon Gordon’s mother, Zella Stewart, owned on Sixth Street in Palisade.
“Back then,” Gordon explains, “you had to apprentice for two years and then get re-tested before you could open your own shop.”
So in 1968, Gordon and Ruby bought the barber shop on Third Street in Palisade, the one at which Gordon had gotten his hair cut most of his life. In 1977, in the midst of raising son, Jack, and daughter Julie, Ruby opened a salon in the home they’d bought 11 years before.
‘YOU REALLY GET TO KNOW PEOPLE’
It was a busy time, kids, work, peaches on the three acres behind their G 4/10 Road home. There weren’t a lot of big vacations, a few visits out to California to see Gordon’s sister and go to Disneyland, mostly road trips around the region. There were hard times and good, and Gordon and Ruby look back with joy.
And there was the hair — cuts and shaves for the men downtown, sets and perms and color for the ladies out at Ruby’s Beauty Salon. Over years and decades, the roster of regular customers grew.
“You really get to know people when they’ve been coming to you for that long,” Ruby said. “You know about their families, what’s going on in their lives.”
It’s true that some customers like to come in, settle into the chair and enjoy a span of closed eyes and blissful silence, but most talk. Some talk a lot. Husbands planting the onions too soon, grandkids coming for a visit, so-and-so in the hospital, here’s what’s new with the woodworking, sold all the cattle, remember when?
“Remember the drugstore when Crawfords had it?” Ruby asks Gordon and Duna Stephens, her customer for decades, on a recent Wednesday morning. “You could buy anything in there. I bought Christmas presents in there.”
“Used to be you could survive in Palisade,” Gordon adds. “There was the shoe store, clothing store, two grocery stores, two car dealerships, the drugstores. And the lumberyard, that was a big loss when it closed.”
“What about the theater?” Duna asks. “The old Elberta Theater.”
It’s true, Palisade used to have a theater, in what now is Slice O’ Life Bakery. They remember, because it’s inevitable and an asset for the barber and the stylist to remember.
“I remember one time (Jack, Duna’s husband) told me he bought you a rake? A shovel?” Gordon says.
“A wheelbarrow,” Duna reminds him.
In fact, it was details like that, and people like Jack Stephens, that made Gordon pause when he retired from his downtown shop last year (Slice O’ Life since has expanded into the space).
“I got to thinking about Jack, and I’ve been cutting his hair for close to 50 years, every two weeks,” Gordon says. “What was he going to do?”
So, Ruby and Gordon had a thought: Maybe Gordon could set up a chair in Ruby’s salon.
“Though, I wasn’t going to let him have first chair,” Ruby says, laughing.
‘WELCOME TO THE MAN CAVE’
Gordon initially didn’t think the fellas would drive out to G 4/10 Road, and he wondered whether they’d hesitate to enter a beauty salon. Because, you know, ew. Girls have cooties.
But they had a shared sign printed — Ruby’s Beauty Salon and Gordon’s Barber Shop — and hung it near the road. And Gordon, who kept the barber pole from outside his longtime shop downtown, decided to hang it on the seven-foot wooden cross they erected behind the rose bushes in their driveway.
Ruby gave half a thought to possible sacrilege, “but he asked a customer of his who’s a pastor,” she says.
“And he said Jesus wouldn’t care,” Gordon finishes.
They secured Gordon’s old barber chair in the far corner of the salon, with Ruby still at first chair and her pink washing chair in between. Gordon hung “Welcome to the man cave” and his 1958 state champs letter on the wall by the barber chair, two old baseball gloves beside the doorway, and Elvis and James Dean loitering in a framed “Highway Fifty One” poster.
On Ruby’s side: angels perched on the mirror above her, Women’s World on the squat table between pink drying chairs, chocolate in a cut crystal dish. A mirror spans the long wall of the salon-barber shop, with 8 x 11 print-outs at each end:
Ruby’s Beauty Salon
Shampoo & Set…. $12
Perm w/ Cut…. $50
Foil Highlights…. $55
Gordon’s Barber Shop
Hair Cut…. $12
Beard Trim…. $3
They’ve been married for 50 years, but they did not enter into this shared space lightly. Would they drive each other crazy, spending so much time together? Would Ruby begrudge sharing her longtime space? Would it change the salon experience for the ladies, having men there? Would Gordon feel busy enough?
“It’s worked out pretty well so far,” Gordon says.
“He doesn’t always sweep up,” Ruby adds in an aside, “but I say I’m going to charge him $2 every time I have to sweep up after him.”
“I’m not as busy here as I was uptown, so I have to watch my finances.”
“He’s someone who needs to stay busy,” Ruby says.
“I don’t have a lot of hobbies,” he says, “I have the garden in summer, but I don’t woodwork, I don’t golf.”
“He tried bread making.”
“Oooh, that homemade bread. I love it. Warm out of the oven like that? I’d eat the whole thing.”
“So, his diabetes doctor said no more of that,” Ruby says.
And a lot of Gordon’s old customers came by, enough that he stays fairly busy with their Wednesday through Saturday schedule. In summer, when he’s out in the garden, he keeps an eye peeled on the driveway for customers “and he’d come in here covered in mud,” Ruby says, laughing.
‘IT’S THE RELATIONSHIPS’
On this day Gordon is tidy and reminiscing with Lyle Prather about the long-ago dance hall in De Beque.
“We used to have dances for the locals,” Lyle recalls, “and every so often you’d get these guys like Gordon show up.”
“Oh, man, I got tore to pieces one night,” Gordon says.
At her end of the room, and even though she tries to keep the beauty salon and barber shops as very distinct areas for the customers, Ruby laughs and squirts permanent solution onto Mildred Young’s hair.
Ruby figures she has about 25 ladies who comes to her every week to get their hair set, a passing generation of gentle manners for whom that ritual is a luxury and a necessity.
“I’ve lost so many customers, so many in the last few years,” she says. “And as I sit in the funerals it hits me that I see them more than their families do, some of them, the ones whose kids live out of town.”
“It’s more than just the money,” Gordon says. “It’s the relationships.”
So on another late winter afternoon, soon after Jack Stephens enters the barbershop and right away asks about their recent trip to Laguna Beach (Ruby shows him some sunset-through-palm-trees photos she’d had on the table between drying chairs), a lady named Roseanne bustles in.
“Hi, Roseanne!” Ruby greets her. “You’ve got some oxygen today.”
Roseanne nods and mentions that she’s recently been in the hospital and that “I rear-ended a truck so my car’s out of commission right now.”
Ruby nods sympathetically and motions to the chair, saying, “Well, sit down and let’s get started on your hair.”
Meanwhile, and for Jack, Gordon does the same.