Ann McKenna Fromm

WRITER:  Books, Essays, Ghostwriting

What Happened in Santa Barbara

What Happened in Santa Barbara What Happened in Santa Barbara

As always, I came here to meet other writers and agents. I came to see my son, who teaches literature at UCSB. I came for this particular spot on the globe, lying low between sharp-etched mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the sweet, moist air of the marine layer pervasive in the mornings.

I found it all. And more.

The hairdresser positioned my head back over the white ceramic sink.

“Where are you from?” she asked.


“I grew up in Pittsburgh,” said a disembodied voice to my side. Awkwardly, I turned my neck in the sink. The voice came from a head next to me, hung backwards over its own white sink. I saw pretty blue eyes lined with kohl.


“I lived in Mt. Lebanon,” she said. “I went to Mt. Mercy High School.”

“Wow. So did I.”

“Really? I live here now, in Santa Barbara. We bought a ranch and I’m fixing it up.”

We danced around our graduation years. Complicit, we did not ask, ‘What year did you graduate?’

Finally, Karen said, ‘Is the name Marie Louise _______ familiar to you?”

“She was my year.”

“She was my year too!”

Circuitously we had learned that we graduated in the very same class. We exchanged maiden names. Back then, we learned, we both had long dark hair.

“How funny that you’re both blond now,” my hairdresser said. She towel-dried my hair and led me to her station for drying.

Karen and I did not remember each other. We knew our class president, and both of us remembered a colorful redhead named Liz.

At age 17, Karen had been admitted to Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital with acute appendicitis and, two years later, married the intern who admitted her. He is a neurosurgeon now and they are still married. They have children and love dogs, as I do.

I watched as Karen’s hairdresser across the aisle blow-dried her hair. She had creamy, unlined skin. When the drier roars abated and we could talk, we agreed to meet for lunch the next day.

My hairdresser looked from one of us to the other.

“Pittsburgh grows good hair,” she said.