I took a deep breath and entered no man’s land, a hair salon. Dolly’s Salon, however, I would discover is not your ordinary salon. My muse, Memory, led me to write about this unusual salon in Edgefield. A classmate who did my mother’s hair for many years died. Each Thursday, Mom would go to Judy’s Salon and then she’d go to the grocery store. It was a ritual as reliable as the rising sun. Mom died March 26, 2015, and her hairdresser, Judy Banks Harris, died Oct. 30, 2018. They and the ritual are no more, but other mothers and hairdressers carry on for no small town is complete without its hair salons.

That’s right as rain, yet something about salons makes men uncomfortable. I can count on one hand the times I’ve been inside a small town hair salon. As soon as I step in, one nerve tingles, my throat tightens and a knot forms in my stomach. The women sitting under those big noisy hairdryers give me the evil eye. I cringe. Then there’s that smell, a mixture of burning sulfur, singed hair and ammonia. And gossip? Cover your ears lest you hear some dead man’s talk. Turn your feet backward like Buckwheat and run like Forrest Gump. Men, never linger in a women’s salon, unless it’s Dolly’s.

Dolly’s is different. I visited her salon just off the square in Edgefield, Valentine’s Day. Fittingly, heart wreathes hung on the front door. In a big picture window, beautiful dolls in wedding dresses stood lovingly, waiting to walk the aisle to Mr. Perfect. Through a side window, I saw Dolly holding a baby doll. “Now there’s a gentle soul,” I thought. Into Dolly’s Salon I went.

Celebrities watched as I entered. Shirley Temple, Ken and Barbie. GI Joe stood at attention. High above two dryers resembling astronaut helmets stretched two long shelves laden with Barbie dolls in pink packages. Lots of pink. Just about everywhere I looked I saw dolls, and why shouldn’t I? After all, it is Dolly’s Salon, and if you love Barbie dolls, this salon’s for you. Barbara Millicent Roberts is there in great numbers, and Ken — Kenneth Sean Carson — is, too, though not as numerous.

And what might Dolly’s full name be? Well, she’s Dolly McGee Padgett, an Edgefield institution. I hear she writes a column for the Edgefield Advertiser, South Carolina’s oldest newspaper. Said one lady of Dolly, “She loves Edgefield and the people who live there.” I believe it. Those Valentine wreathes on her door? I bet they hang there year-round.

Every small town has a Southern institution, hair salons. And every salon has a keeper of secrets, its owner-stylist. I’ll go back, but not to avail myself of Dolly’s services. (I asked her to color my white hair black. “You don’t want to do that,” she said, and she’s right. Been there, done that.) No, I’ll go back just to see how Dolly’s doing. I like Edgefield and often visit the square’s Billiard Parlor, Tompkins Memorial Library, General Store and Carolina Moon Distillery. I’ll add Dolly’s Salon to the list. Something about seeing Dolly amidst all her dolls calmed me. Even though I was slap dab in no man’s land, a beauty shop, I felt good about it, and that’s a welcome change.

Tom Poland is the author of 12 books and more than 1,000 magazine features. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia, “Georgialina.” Visit Poland’s website at tompoland.net or email him at tompol@earthlink.net.