Picking cotton--how many careers were begun with an idea born in those North Texas cotton fields of the thirties and forties?
Beauty school appeared to be the way out of the fields for Lenna Belle Compton Barr of Celeste, whose forty-five years as a proprietor of a Celeste beauty shop, Lenna's, makes her the oldest business in that town, with the exception of the bank.
She was honored on Saturday, August 18, 1990, with a surprise party celebrating her forty-fifth year in the business.
Thirty-one long-time and new friends and customers crowded into her shop on Highway 69, just a few doors down from City Hall, on Saturday morning, to wish the woman who has always been a good-natured friend and beautician to them, forty-five more years of good work. This shop is the only one left from those lively days of the forties and fifties when Celeste boasted a movie theater, drug stores, groceries, dry goods stores, and various other enterprises filling the now vacant spaces lining the curve in Highway 69 as it passes through Celeste between Greenville and Leonard. Other businesses are in the places of some of the spots, but only Lenna's has seen the changes wrought by World War II which spurred mobility in America.
After the celebration of cake, punch, and pictures, Lenna made herself comfortable in a chair by the shop's fireplace, facing the wide glass windows filled with plants and interesting items, and reminisced.
"I started picking cotton when I was nine or ten years old, with a tow sack. My brothers, sister, cousins and I--we'd pick our farm, our uncles', brother's, and my other brothers' farms. That way we didn't have to hire hands."
Lenna was the fifth of seven children born to Lum Compton and Belven Mulkey Compton; Lum was one of seven children and he attended Celeste schools. Belven was originally from Georgia. The fourth generation of Celeste-area Comptons is now attending Celeste school.
Lenna's brothers are Herman Compton, Coy Compton, Tilman Compton, Norris Compton, and Earl Compton, and her sister is Frances Compton Woodruff. Coy and Tilman have passed away.
She remembers the day in the cotton field that she, her sister, and a friend started discussing the idea of going to beauty school, and the boys teased them that the Johnson grass was starting to curl up as the girls picked and planned.
"Daddy gave in for us to go," Lenna said, and she noted that he had earlier discouraged her from pursuing the life of what he thought would be a "starving artist." I used to love, and still do love, to sketch and paint," she said. Beauty work fulfills some of that desire."
(Another thing she loved to do was play basketball, though, she did not start. Frances also played and played first team. However, Lum forbid his girls to play basketball after one year since both were not being played equally. Lenna did not return to school again, but Frances went on to graduate.)
She and her sister attended Neilson Beauty College in Oak Cliff from December of 1944 to July of 1945.
"We stayed in an apartment in Oak Cliff. We had to catch a streetcar. This street car driver, he knew we were from the country. We would come down our street and go down a block and he would be coming up behind. We'd run as hard as we could run to catch him," she said, "and the driver really enjoyed that."
The girls finished school in July and Lenna's first train trip was the one she took from Dallas to Austin to take the state examinations. The train was full of soldiers who were given first priority to seats and the girls had to stand. Lenna and Frances passed their exams, but were not out of the fields yet.
"We came home and picked cotton and got our shop ready," Lenna said. Her daddy and oldest brother, Herman, helped. They made over the spot, which had been a variety store, into a beauty shop with a booth for Lenna and one of Frances. The equipment was purchased from a beautician in Dallas who was going out of business. Lenna still has the cast iron shampoo chair at her home.
From the beginning, Lenna has leased the building from Marleta Todd Chadwick, a former schoolmate of Lenna's, and granddaughter of G. D. Henslee who had a hardware store in Celeste at one time.
The shop opened on August 18, 1945, and, in the forties, Celeste was so busy one could not get down the sidewalks, recalled Lenna's sister-in-law, Ina Long Compton who is married to Earl.
Lenna describes herself as very "bashful and timid" in those days, and left it to her sister to answer the shop's telephone, reached by a ring of "69."
"We were the kind that were not to speak 'until spoken to,' " Lenna said. "You learn a lot when you get in business and maybe even speak when you shouldn't!" she commented.
Lenna's conversations and humorous stories are one of her charms now as she takes care of her loyal, long-time customers.
"I taught Lenna in the fourth grade," said Mildred Roach, former Celeste teacher who also recalled Lenna's early timidity. "She's done wonderfully well," Mrs. Roach added. She is now the only one who has been a customer since 1945.
The late Mrs. S. R. Granberry was Lenna's first cold-wave customer, and she returned every week for the rest of her life until Mrs. Granberry entered a nursing home. When Mrs. Granberry died, Lenna fixed her hair, as she has done at the request of family and Mr. Taylor of Taylor's Funeral Home in Leonard for others over the years.
Cleatis Green Hudson was Frances' first cold-wave customer. Frances worked at the shop for a year-and-a-half, until her marriage.
Johnnie Stapleton of Celeste, a good friend and ten-year customer of Lenna's, recalls her mother Nannie Lacy was one of Lenna's earliest customers, as was Gladys Lewis.
Actually, most of Lenna's customers now are faithful, long-time customers and friends, such as Alyne Van Hoosier Dever. To these ladies, the pictures of "The Poodle" and other fifties hair styles, and the collectables in the shop, such as the old photographs of Celeste, or packets of bobby pins, are the one-time commonplace fixtures and styles of their lives, not the curiosities they are to their children and grandchildren.
In the front of the shop is a "croquignole" machine, an early permanent wave invention. Many black electric cords dangled from underneath a hood--the cords are plugged into the hood, and clips are attached to the dangling ends. The name on the silver plate across the front of this machine, "which almost looks as if it would be a good prop for a Frankenstein movie) is Gabrieleen.
When the shop opened, Lenna, like other beauticians of the day, rolled hair on hair pins, the "wide" bobby pins. The long tresses were rolled up and the tresses lock by the two pins. In the fifties, hair was rolled on bobby pins and "clippies," and then rollers came into use. Lenna does not own nor advocate the use of a blow dryer, and allows her own hair to dry naturally. She only used a curling iron to do a "Marcel" as her beauty school textbook called it--putting waves in the hair. She also remembers doing "finger waving."
She said she'll retire the day she "reaches for a curler" and her hands are shaking.
"I just hope she makes forty more years," said Juanita McGee, long-time friend and customer. "I never see her flustered."
Lenna's even temper with her clients received favorable publishing from Lois Lewis, long-time writer for "The Leonard Graphic." She described Lenna in a past article, throwing a magazine at, and hitting, a chirping cricket one day, which Mrs. Lewis suspected, had heard enough about women's hair. However, there has been no reports of Lenna ever throwing a magazine at a customer. Lenna is no longer timid, having learned through experience that she cannot let a customer take advantage of her.
But Lenna's look at her business is always positive. "I just like my customers and enjoy being with people," she commented on her longevity as a self-employed beautician. "It's one way of making a living. It was easy going. I cater to senior citizens and I haven't raised my prices. I enjoyed all my customers as friends probably more than I enjoy the work," she said.
Not all of those friends were able to attend Saturday's celebration; those who did were Elzada Fugitt, Lucy Gibson, Isabel J. Smith, Johnnie Stapleton, Cheryl Malmgren, Sue Myers, Virginia Morton, Owana Weatherley, Jane McBride, Juanita McGee, Jo Willa Pierson, Ruby Miller, Dot Alexander, Alyne Dever, Lydia Thorp, Cinnamon R. Malmgren, Polly Rubarts, Michele Evans, Ina Mae Compton, Annie Mae Milton, Winnie Evans, Alyne Ruff, Sydne West, Marsha Engle-Rowbottom, Mildred Roach, Annette Horton, Frances Woodruff, Comer Barnard, and Carolyn Correa.
Hostesses were Lucy Gibson, Cheryl Malmgren, and Johnnie Stapleton. The cake was made by Carolyn Correa. Cinnamon and Tyler Malmgren made the cupcakes.
Lenna Belle wishes to sincerely thank all of her friends and customers for forty-five wonderful years and for a wonderful party.