Life on the road leads to some interesting changes. You have to make do with certain things….coffee that’s not exactly how you want it, packing everything you have with you every morning (because you never know where you’ll be sleeping that night), meals from unlikely sources (years as a bachelor give you great latitude in expectations), and…..haircuts…..
As a child we simply did not go to the barber. Ever. I don’t recall my first haircut, but I recall lots of haircuts that my father gave us. The kitchen stool (which he built, and for decades was the sturdiest stool I had ever seen), was the barber chair. The shop was the back porch (or, for the years we lived in a house that had a screened porch between the kitchen and the garage), or, possibly even just a sidewalk. The only necessity was the stool, and electricity. Thank God for electricity. Had we been forced to use the old mechanical clippers (which he told us about, from his time in the military), I don’t know but what we might have chosen scalping instead.
(The stool bears special mention. It was constructed of wood…2X4s, 1x6s, and clearly was “home made”. But, like much of what Dad constructed…he took wood, discards really, and made them into something special. One of my most prized furniture pieces is a cabinet he made from discarded wood, literally out of the scrap pile at a shop, made for my old radio tubes. The stool had functional fold out steps, solid as rock, that you could stand on. Or, as in this case, rest your feet upon.)
Dad always said he learned to cut hair in the military. I call BS on that. I strongly suspect he learned it out on the farm. His father had long, dark hair until the very last days of his life. My guess is my father learned his barber skills right there. I also suspect that there were some rather sharp admonitions given along the way. But, I digress….
Dad had mechanical clippers in the military. Whether it was rebellion against paying $0.25 for a military haircut, or whether he was making a bit of coin on the side, I don’t know. But he had gotten to the point that he could give a credible haircut.
Naturally, Dad being a preacher, we had to look good for Sunday. So, part of the Saturday ritual was getting the haircut. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do it every Saturday. Just the Saturdays that he said so. Figure out for yourself just how often that was.
Part of the ritual was remaining stone still. I will never forget, as I was older, and had to (or was privileged to…) get haircuts in a regular barbershop, that the barber was able to actually cut your hair while you had a conversation with him. Not Dad. Sit Still. Do. Not. Move. At. All.
The secondary ritual was tormenting whoever was sitting in the chair. My brother and I would work at perfecting the ability to act totally innocent, and when Dad was busy cutting hair of the brother sitting in the chair, trying our best to distract, and make laugh, the
victim.., er, the recipient. Bonus points if you could distract Dad enough to make him laugh, as well.
All this went on for years, I’m sure as we went from toddlers to teens…but then the ritual changed. Dad decided that it was a good plan (to save money, I’m sure) for me to cut his hair. One of the “blessings” of being the oldest in a family, is *you* are going to be the first to do anything. I don’t recall if my brother ever cut Dad’s hair. I don’t remember it, but perhaps he did…..
Remember, Dad was a preacher. So, logically, he would get his first haircut from a rookie barber on, say a Monday, right? That way, if it was less than desirable, by Friday or Saturday a pro barber could rectify things…wouldn’t you think? Nope. In the confident manner of a man who is used to both being able to do just about anything he wanted, and also able to inspire his offspring to do the same, we (he) picked a Saturday for me to cut his hair for the first time.
I’ve given speeches to large crowds. I’ve treated massive hemorrhage. I’ve delivered thousands of babies, done Caesarean sections, intubated patients, and faced guns. I’ve flown loads of retardant down mountain passes. Nothing comes close to the terror I faced looking at the back of Dad’s head, with a set of electric clippers running in my hand. It’s Saturday. Tomorrow is Sunday. He is the preacher…remember?
As they age, some men develop a nice round bald spot (have one myself), some get a nice long frontal area of hair that can be combed back over their head which lends itself to an easy trim. Dad was given curly hair on the top of his head, and a thicker patch on the left side which has a tendency to point straight out, and a thinner area on the right. Yes, to this day, I can see the part, the area over his left ear that’s hard to get right, and the nape of his neck.
So, recently I needed a haircut. I got one in June, but now it was August. The hours at the base had grown long, and at each (small) town in which we were based there would be limited barber access…and their hours never coincided with when I was off duty. The hair got longer…to the point that it was painful to wear my helmet.
Thankfully, one day we got to come in later…0900. My driver had found a barbershop, and had checked out the barber. In we go….and meet Leo the barber.
Leo was a kind, older Hispanic gentleman. We discussed how I wanted it cut (short), and style (short), and taper (short). When you wear a helmet daily, your options for optimal cut become obvious. As he worked, I asked him about his building. He proudly told me how he built it in 1974, and had been here in this small Nevada town since. (By the way, it is “Ne-Va-Duh”, not “Ne-Vah-Duh”. You’ve been warned.)
Neat, clean, open with windows floor to ceiling in a southwestern style, it was well done. I got his life story, and hope he has a long successful career. Barbers come in different styles. I have had the garrulous ones, the gruff ones, but I always look for the old guy who looks like he could cut hair in his sleep. The smell, sights, and sounds of a *real* barbershop are a comfort to a man. It’s just not right to have your hair cut by a woman. A man will trim you up good, give you a shave on your neck, and put the ancient tonic on it. I don’t know where they get it, but it has smelled the same for 50 years. Somehow, it feels good.
I never get a haircut I don’t remember the haircuts my Dad gave me.
With mirrors, coaching, and courage Dad got me through giving his haircut. And, of course, it became a ritual. Even after going off to college, he would want me to trim his hair. Like many of the skills he taught me, even though it was done at the start to save a few bucks, it has given me a touch, a skill that has never left. I sometimes ponder, as I watch my hands move performing some task, how it would have been had he not taught me. I would happily sit on that stool again, and Sit. Still. just to have him cut my hair one more time.