Aurora and the Prime Cuts Hair Salon

“That’s the whole point of life, you know? To meet new people.”

             ―Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I met Aurora by accident.

I was up in the Arizona White Mountains looking for someone to cut my hair over the summer season. To be exact, I was in the small town of Pinetop which sits on the edge of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Reservation, one of 19 tribes in Arizona.

It’s hard to go anywhere without crossing Reservation land.

There are not many employment opportunities on The Rez, except for their casino, so it’s common to see Apache or Navajo Natives working everywhere in this tourist town.

I’m there, in a way, against my will. My two Moms are up in Pinetop for four months to escape the unbearable triple-digit Phoenix heat. The White Mountains are cool, with beautiful forestry, wildlife, and frequent thunderstorms.

I am glad to leave the Phoenix heat, but not so glad to make the three-hour trek up north every other weekend. While I’m there, I clean, do laundry, change sheets, grocery shop, put gas in their car, pay bills, and attempt to balance their unruly check books. Close enough has become my bank motto. I leave exhausted. But they’re my job. I adore them and all of their old age quirkiness unless they’re driving me crazy…then, not so much. For example, the daily discussion of what day and date it is. I’ll spare you the details.

 “But God has a way of making things even out, I guess.”

      ―Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

A reward I indulge myself in for these tasks is getting my hair done over the summer. One fine summer day I set out to find just the right person. Someone nice. Someone compatible with me. Someone who understood how I hated my strange, short hair and that I was just killing time until it grew out. Not unlike watching paint dry.

The Moms eat breakfast at Bobbi Jo’s every morning, a coffee shop owned by a local Navajo Native. Nearly everyone who works for Bobbi Jo is Native. I cornered our server one morning and quizzed her about which she thought were the best hair salons in town.

I knew she’d know a few. And she did. Her top recommendation was located just after the fire station. She didn’t know the name of the salon.

On the other side of the fire station was good enough for me.

Later that day, after I left The Moms, one reading the paper and one playing Farm Heroes, I went out to find this great hair salon. I was excited.

It’s an awful feeling when you know your hair looks like your mom cut your bangs.

I found the highly recommended salon. I walked in and was told by a very young girl with badly streaked hair that she was not taking new clients. I thanked her and left thinking, thank the Lord. As I pulled back out onto the main street, I noticed another hair salon on the other side of the fire station. Good landmark, this fire station was. I do love small town America.

The building on the other side was an old, rustic cabin painted bright red with a hand-lettered sign out front that read:
Prime Cuts Hair Salon.

I knew, I just KNEW, I had found my hair salon.

I walked up some rickety steps onto a porch that had three sliding glass doors. A woman came out of one sparing me the embarrassment of walking through the wrong door. She walked me over to a 40-something woman who was unloading boxes through the farthest sliding door.

The woman introduced herself to me as Aurora.

“She shook my hand, loosely, like Indians do, using only her fingers. Not like those tight grips that white people use to prove something. She touched my hand like she was glad to see me, not like she wanted to break bones.”

         ―Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Later I would learn that she and her sister Posey, both Apache Natives, owned and operated the salon. Aurora’s daughter was the part-time receptionist. Sometimes she was there. Sometimes she was not. There was no calendar. Appointments were really not made in advance, they were just jotted down on a piece of paper.

I fell in love with Aurora and the Prime Cuts Hair Salon.

I met her on a Friday and asked if, by any chance, did she have any openings the next day on Saturday? I fully expected her to tell me no, but she said,

“What time would you like to come in?”

“Any chance of around 9:00 am?” I asked her,  knowing that I had a full day of chores for The Moms that day. Early would be great.

“Sure. 9:00 am is fine.” Aurora answered,

Excited I was. Happy Dance. I left and got back in my car, and wrote the time down on my calendar. Puzzled, I thought wow, she must have a really good memory because she hadn’t written down the time. Later I learned that conventional time was suspended at the Prime Cuts Hair Salon. Now, maybe back in Phoenix, most definitely when I lived in California, this would have annoyed me. But here, in small town northern Arizona with Aurora, it felt just fine.

The next morning at 9:00 am Aurora was there bright and early to greet me and her sister Posey was already busy working at the station next to her.

Back home in Phoenix, I had been hip-hopping to different stylists, never finding one I connected with. The last one refused to put blonde highlights in my hair and I would leave with a 1960s bubble style that I would have to go home and wash out. I’m a straight hair person that just wants my grey covered (I know, hard to believe) and some blonde highlights on my brown hair.

I weakly explained what I wanted to Aurora and she cheerfully started doing everything I asked for. She completely got it. She got ME. She was damn good and when I left–my hair looked damn good. Oh, major Happy Dance. And she was affordable. Pinch me–I’m dreaming.

A funny thing happened while I was there on this first visit. I was and continue to be, the only white person in the salon.

Who knows what they think of me? Somehow, we got on the topic of our kids, and for some reason, I mentioned my son was one-quarter Choctaw and that his grandfather had registered him in the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.

The sisters perked up at this little tidbit of my life. But they didn’t ask the questions I expected. They both started talking to me at once while I was lying back with my head in a shampoo bowl.

Aurora asked first, “Did you know his father?”

“Did you see him afterward?” Posey chimed in. “Was it a one-night thing?”

They were giggling like two schoolgirls, hungry for details about my son’s conception.

“No, no.” I told them. “Stop!”

“It was nothing like that. His father was my high school boyfriend.”

This information disappointed them greatly. There had been an expectation of something a bit more soap operaish. Aurora finished shampooing my hair and Posey returned to cutting her client’s hair.

 “Whites and Indians laughed at most of the same jokes, but they laughed for different reasons.”

           ―Sherman Alexie, The Toughest Indian in the World

Since I found Aurora and the Prime Cuts Hair Salon, my hair seems to have magically grown longer over the summer. Each appointment, she adds more blonde color, mixed with her secret elixir of a special hair conditioner. My hair is now blonde, just as I wanted, soft and natural. Something that I could not find in a number of Phoenix salons.

One more story.

One Saturday, Aurora had a young girl client right before me. She had long, luxurious jet black hair only Natives can claim as natural. Aurora had her long hair pinned up on top of her head. On the lower back side of her hair at her neck, Aurora had shaved it down with a razor on one of the lowest settings. You could almost see her scalp. A perfect rectangle. She then took another razor and shaved this amazing tribal design into the shaved area. It was intricately beautiful. I had never seen anything like it. Her client loved it, and the fact she could put her long hair down and it was hidden was even better.

Aurora. The hair whisperer.

“The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.”

            ―Sherman Alexie

Sadly, my last visit is going to be at the end of September when I drive The Moms back home to Phoenix. I have no idea where I will get my hair done back in Phoenix. But I do know I will be counting time until I can return to the camaraderie and warm environment of Aurora and the Prime Cuts Hair Salon next summer.

Perhaps my hair will be long enough for a tribal design. This will cause no end of laughter between the sisters. I miss them already.


“If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.”

          ―Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Photo Credit: Sierragoddess Flickr via Compfight cc

  1. Hi from the White Mountains, Love your story.
    OMG! GIRL, it’s me the CRAZY fun loving NAVAJO, AURORA.
    MY NUMBER IS 928- 242-7227

  2. You are my inspiration, Miss Nicole. There is nothing I write that I don’t think of you in some way…and smile. From pedantic to hubris, I am your humble friend. Love you! D.

  3. I’m so glad you read this, and I’m even more glad you enjoyed it. Small town Arizona fascinates me with all of the places and characters. I’m both enamored and in awe of the Native American culture here. For Aurora to allow me into her world was the highest of compliments and trust. One of my goals is to drive up to the Navajo Nation–the largest tribe in Arizona. So rich in culture and a growing political influence. How about a trip out west, Miss Jackie? xoD.

  4. Te adoro, Mamacita. You always know what I’m thinking! You can take the Latin World and I’ll take The Desert! And, where oh where will I get my hair done? Jajajaja xoD.

  5. Dori, thank you for the mystical, the vivid reality and the very rich detail of a summer’s crush. (Good hair is Everything…)
    Aurora sounds magical and you painted the story with such exquisite detail, I could almost hear the razor, picture the small town and feel your delight. Your writing always makes me cry and/ or smile, sometimes in tandem. The nostalgia, the moms and Indian heritage, familiar and yet, new and exciting.

  6. The only part I didn’t like about the story is the fact Aurora is far away from Phoenix. 🙁 It’s hard to find the right hair stylist and she seems like a miracle worker. As always, I love reading your column mama, the experience is always magical.

  7. Thank you so much, Nicole. Just knowing Aurora was rich in the details of my life, for sure! I saw her yesterday for my last appointment. It was bittersweet. I know she’s going to miss me, too. My only friend up here. She told me something very funny. She’s getting a divorce from a man she married only a few weeks ago. I told her, sister, you now have something in common with me! Love you–Dori

  8. Thank you, Mary. I drive The Moms back home to Phoenix today. I think I may be missing Aurora and the Prime Cuts Hair Salon most of all! xoDori

  9. Dori, I can’t say enough how much I love reading your work. You have such an amazing way of telling a story that when I read it it’s like I’m there with you. Everything that you write is so rich in detail, you really do have a gift. This is a beautiful story, and Aurora and her sisters sound lovely. I hope you can find a way to sneak up to see them before Spring.

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