Cindy Bee - Comer, Georgia
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, July 5, 2013
Cindy Bee

When Cindy Bee was a young girl, she spent some time with her great aunt who was a beautician in a small town. Sitting outside her aunt's beauty shop, Ms. Bee learned the power of paying a compliment.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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When I was young, I spent some memorable time with my Great Aunt Toots who lived with my great grandparents her whole life. They were born, lived, and worked in a small coal mining town in Southern Illinois.

Although my great aunt was the town beautician, she called herself a “beauty operator.” She always wore white shoes, a white uniform-type dress, and a white coat to work. I thought she was some kind of doctor who operated on people’s beauty. Sometimes I would wait across the street from her shop, sitting on the bench with the old men outside the grocery store who worried sticks into shavings with sharp pocket knives.

Ladies would go into my great aunt’s beauty shop often hooded and bedraggled, their heads bowed in shame or defeat. But soon exclamations would emanate from the other side of the large glass picture window that proclaimed “Lucille’s Beauty Shop” in golden, arched letters.

From my place nestled among the old men on the bench, I could hear the eruptive laughter, the loud chatter, or the high pitched squeals of disbelief at the latest gossip. Most of the old ladies were very hard of hearing and everyone spoke at top pitch above the dryers that blasted hot air across pinned curls. Great Aunt Toots would tease out their hair as much as she would tease out their stories. “Well I want you to hush!” someone might proclaim, which didn’t mean “hush” at all, and the delight would waft across the air like fresh baked bread on a winter’s day.

The ladies would emerge, light and fairy-like, with a new hairdo and primed with the latest small town news. The old men, their knives frozen in the air, would say loudly, “Mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm!” And the ladies would smile and pretend not to notice. But I could see that the compliments paid somehow drew everyone closer together. The whittling slowed for a bit after the ladies walked away, and the space was taken up with the wrinkled smiles of the old men. Everyone seemed a little better off.

I believe in giving compliments. Compliments are the very beginning of all good things. Where else can one get something so valuable that costs absolutely nothing to give?

When Great Aunt Toots finished for the day, we would walk home together. “The ladies looked pretty today,” I would say.

“I fluff ‘em, buff ‘em, and stuff ‘em!” my aunt would say with a glint of pride and a twist of pure laughter in her tired voice.

My Great Aunt Toots never learned to drive a car, never moved from the house in which she was born, never married, and never got a high school diploma. But looking back on her life’s work, I think she contributed far more than most to her community. Who can say how far-reaching her work was?

I observed at an early age the gift of giving a compliment. It’s like blowing a little air under a person and letting them rise up just a tiny bit even if only for a minute. There’s always something honestly good to say about everyone. I believe in finding that thing and then feeling good about saying it.

Cindy Bee has recently moved from Georgia to a small town in Maine. She is a master beekeeper by trade and holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.