For 60 years Philomena O’Malley operated a hair salon on the west side of Saratoga Springs. “I know lots of secrets, but I’m not telling,” the petite, curly-haired woman said.
O’Malley turned 101 on June 27, and if she’s kept her secrets this long, chances are good that she’ll never tell.
What she does like to talk about are her memories of the old days and her husband, William, who used to call her Mame. “We were together 74 years. He was a good man. Quiet. He let me do all the talking,” O’Malley remembered.
Her husband passed away several years ago, exactly when O’Malley doesn’t remember. Instead, she remembers the good times.
Boy next door
The couple were childhood sweethearts. William was the “boy next door” on Congress Street, where she lived. “He was Irish. I was Italian. No one thought the marriage would last,” she said. But it did.
William was an electrical contractor and his wife ran a beauty shop on Van Dam Street and later Clinton Street.
Even at 101, O’Malley still takes pride in her appearance. “How’s my lipstick?” she asked as a photographer got ready to take pictures. “Do I have enough color on my cheeks.? You’d tell me, right?” she asked.
Keeping up appearances
Looking good was part of her lifestyle as the owner of a beauty shop. And it is still important to her today.
“I try to look my best,” she said. Years ago she had “five girls working for her and we were the biggest salon in Saratoga,” she added.
In its heyday, the beauty shop drew wealthy New York ladies who would step off the train downtown and walk to her shop before heading to the race course.
“They were beautiful,” O’Malley said, and good tippers. The gentlemen who picked them up would bring bottles of whiskey for the hairdressers and tip them $50. “That’s one tip, $50. Pretty good,” O’Malley remembered, adding that she had more whiskey than she knew what to do with.
While they got their hair done, “the rich ladies would talk about their husbands or their boyfriends. I knew who had a fight with her husband. I knew about their troubles. Hairdressers know everything,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley added that some of the men were gamblers. “Gambling was everywhere back then,” she said. Did she ever gamble herself? “No, only fools do that. I worked hard,” O’Malley responded.
She spent the majority of her time overseeing operations at the beauty shop. In time, she and William earned enough money to buy a home.
“I bought the house at 19 Clinton St. for $3,000. What do you think it’s worth now?” she asked.
They had one son, Robert, who now lives in Philadelphia. She also has three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
These days, O’Malley likes to go to Wal-Mart on Tuesdays with other residents of the Home of the Good Shepherd at Highpointe in Malta, where she has lived since 2007. She gets pleasure going out for lunch and enjoys a scenic ride in the country. This July she went to the county fair in Ballston Spa.
At parties, she is known for her rendition of the chicken dance. “I’m getting old, but I still do it,” she said. She dances from her wheelchair.
What’s her secret for living so well and so long? “I did a hell of a lot of laughing,” she said. Being the boss also helped. “I got to tell others what to do,” she said.
O’Malley is charming and quick with a smile. Her hearing is no longer sharp, but she doesn’t miss much and is eager to engage.
Born in Saratoga Springs, she is the last of her eight siblings to survive. “I was the homely one. My sisters and brothers had the good looks. I got what was left, and it wasn’t much,” she teased.
Her William, she said, was a handsome Irishman. “That’s why they thought it wouldn’t last. He was the one all the girls looked at,” she said. “But it did last. And he’s waiting for me still.”