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I was determined this year to find another nail salon more conveniently placed, after one more trip to Salem.

A long time ago, when I was young at 59 years old, I was watching Oprah when she asked the audience: "What is one thing you could do right now that would make you happier with who you are?"

I knew the answer immediately. I wanted nice fingernails. My natural nails are brittle, prone to splitting and peeling, maybe due to hard use without gloves, but I have no memory of them ever being any better than that. Just ugly. And I see them all the time, right in front of me. I had tried using E oils daily, taking gelatin internally, and even had a weekly manicure for about eight weeks. I tried the stick-on ones too. Nothing made much difference.

On that Oprah day in 2003 I went to the phone and made an appointment for "fake nails," that is, acrylic nails. I have had a "fill" every three weeks since then, and twice totally started over from their ugly natural state. I began with a delightful young lady, a single mother with a little daughter, just barely making a living. Over the years I heard about her dates, that mostly didn't work out, her parents and sister and how that part of her life went. I shared with her what was happening in my life too, trips I took, about my work, my husband and relatives too. During those years I tried several other manicurists, but their work was never as satisfactory. She is so meticulous that I have never had a nail infection. I smashed several, and she watched them grow out with me.

About five years ago she married again, a fireman, who lived in Salem. For several years she traveled 40 miles back to my city to use a station here for her work, and then she found a place to work in Salem! Thus began my trips to Salem every three weeks, to get my nails done. The outlet stores in Woodburn and the large Walmart along the way were convenient stops. Bad weather never stopped me.

That probably adds up to roughly 330 visits to the salon, to my favorite nail person, a lot of expense not counting gas. I was determined this year to find another nail salon more conveniently placed, after one more trip to Salem. I visited four local salons, got their prices, visited personnel there, and made an appointment. I considered just giving up my fake nail fetish. I no longer have a professional look to maintain anyway.

This spring I made my "last trip" to Salem. She and I chatted over our lives, children, families, dogs, as her old dog died recently also, and she struggles with a new puppy, same as I do.

Then I made a new appointment, for three weeks from then, the day after my 78th Birthday. I am keeping her! She is a continuing present to me, plus lovely fingernails.

Mary Jean Rivera is a member of the Jottings writing group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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