Baby Boomer Memory Lane: The Small Town Barber Shop
One definition of 'Barber' that I read was: A person who cuts hair, especially men's, and shaves or trims beard's as an occupation.
Well, that's true I guess...as far as it goes. But growing up just a mile outside of a small town (OK, a very small town), the barber and his barbershop was a lot more than that.
Now, this wasn't a big barber shop, not by the longest stretch of the wildest imagination. It only had the one chair, and only the one barber.
And no, his name wasn't Floyd. It was Gerrit. I don't rightly know how many years Gerrit cut hair in that small town. I do know he cut hair there for years before I arrived on the planet, all the years I was around there, and I 'spect some years after I left, too.
The shop was not much bigger than the average tool shed I suppose. Four seats or so on the right when you walked in, old magazines hanging in a rack up there on the wall. The one barber chair was towards the back a bit, middle of the floor, just in front of a large mirror. A small desk by that mirror held Gerrit's tools of the trade: Clippers, scissors, combs and the like.
The shop set out on the front lawn of Gerrit's house, up close by main street. It was a house that he and his family lived in for, well, as long as he had cut hair I guess. But that little barber shop?
It was more than a barber's shop. It was a gathering spot.
How many Saturday nights did my Dad and I walk into that little shed of a building? (And it was always Saturday night) I'm not sure, not sure at all. Suffice to say it was a lot, and then a lot more after that as well. Two, three, maybe four other people there, one in the chair with Gerrit clipping away, the others in the chairs along the wall. The words hung in the air in that small building like bees around a hive.
Crops and politics, sports and crime waves, religion and those darn hippies so far away in some big city. Np problem went unsolved by the end of the night, at least inside those four walls.
Oh and the smells! Those wonderful, warm smells of a small town barber shop. Those memories may be the strongest of all. Hair oil and after shave, talc and cigarette smoke, all mixed and mingle together just right, just heavy enough. It was beautiful then and it's beautiful now. And Vitalis. We all loved Vitalis.
There was a light hanging alongside the front door and yes, of course there was a barber pole, red and whiter and twirling and whirling and swirling like a candy cane. In my memory now, it dances still, inviting all to come on in, but please...only four or five at a time thank you. Have a seat, visit, get a cut.
Gerrit never asked how you wanted your hair cut, and you never wondered. Short, above the ears and a piece of hard candy when you stepped down from the chair.
Gerrit's gone now, gone for years and years. I never did go back and tell him about those memories, memories of that shop, those people, those smells. I never told him how that candy cane barber pole twisted so nicely in my memory and how comforting that whirring sound of the clippers was around my little boy ears while the 'ol boys complained about the weather or talked about one of the local boys in Viet Nam.
I guess I'm hoping he's reading them now somehow.