The beautiful young lady that cuts my hair doesn’t listen to me. If I tell her not to take too much off the top, she clips and snips until it suits her. If I say leave my sideburns, I’m not into the quasi-modern shave ’em up past the top of your ears thing, she trims to her heart’s delight. When I remind her to thin out that thick, curly part that runs down the back of my neck, she just barely glazes it.
It’s deja vu all over again.
My haircut memory started out on our porch. Daddy would line us all up and do it in one sitting. He’d start with the oldest and work his way down. Our father was a truck driver. He could hear a big semi pull away from the red light out on 79 and tell you instantly whether it was a Cummings or a Detroit engine. He’d hear the first gear shift and know if it had a tri-plex transmission or the straight 10. He could tell if it was loaded or dead-headin’. By the fifth gear he’d have a pretty good idea it was a Kenworth, Peterbilt or an old International. He could turn one of those big rigs around on a dime, he could thump a tire and give you the pressure within a couple of pounds, he could talk engine compression, oil weight, gas octane and Twin I-Beam suspension 'til the cows came home. He knew every truck stop, eatery and scale location between Hoboken and Pagosa Springs. He could fill out two weeks worth of log books in 15 minutes. He could have backed that 18-wheeler blindfolded from our front door all the way to Birmingham if need be. But he didn’t know didley squat about cutting hair!
I watched in pure agony as he sheared Leon. He’d pull a dining room chair out to the porch, wrap a towel around Leon’s shoulders, admonish him to sit up straight and not move, and he’d go at it like we had a flashing red and white pole advertising our business. The plain truth was haircuts cost a quarter. And there were three of us. It was simple economics to Daddy. Plus, Mr. Brooks seemed proud to lend us his clippers.
Now, you are way too young to remember those side cutters. But let me tell you, a halfway dull set would pull your hair out more than cut it. And you had to be very experienced to come anywhere close to a level haircut…..unless you cut it all off! Daddy had us ready for basic training when we were 10, 5 and 4.
He’d finish with Leon, shake that towel out and say almost professionally, “Next.” The dining room chair was the least comfortable stick of furniture in the house. I never understood why that thing was the seating of choice for haircuts. It had a straight narrow back. And it was as hard as a brick bat. It was like he was punishing you at both ends! I would jerk my head instinctively when my hair caught in the clippers. “Hold still.” It was like taking castor oil or getting de-liced. “Daddy, could you leave just a little on top?”
The only thing that made it tolerable was when you got to school on Monday was that every boy in class had basically the same hair cut. Money was more important than style back in those days. And, of course, I didn’t realize it at the time but Daddy was probably enjoying the whole process even less than we were.
I can remember when Mr. Brooks bought an electric clipper. He was so proud of it. He’d even volunteer to cut our hair sometimes. The result was still the same. You could just get it over with in about one fourth of the time. Out on the rural route in the mid-50s you could get you hair cut anyway you liked it, as long as you liked it off!
By junior high, Elvis, Dion and Buddy Holly were giving us other ideas. Rollin Trull let his hair grow out. And so did Hollis Mayo. I went to work picking up paper at the swimming pool. I took my first earnings down to Gene’s Barber Shop on the corner of Union and Lee Avenue and got a real flat top. Gene shaved my neck and dashed me down with a shot of some kind of rose smelling liquid. I bought a can of Royal Crown hair dressing and bid adieu to my front porch trimmings forever.
The more Elvis sang the longer our hair got – up to a point! Daddy no longer cut it but he still reigned supreme. We had to pass inspection. And our high school principal would send you home if your locks got a little too long to suit him.
For a few years there hair was big business with all of us. I’ve seen guys stand in the mirror and comb out a cowlick for five minutes…..and then put a helmet on and go practice football. Wait a minute! I think I did that! If it was windy, I used a little extra Brylcream. If I couldn’t get it to lay just right, I’d wash it again. I put peroxide on it to lighten it. I was embarrassed beyond belief that mine curled a little as it lengthened. I’d mix Royal Crown with the Brylcream attempting to straighten it. I threatened Mr. Gene if he didn’t trim it just right. Billie Jean Barham gave me directions as to how she wanted it cut. I never thought to invite her over to the house and let her discuss it with Daddy.
What shining times! And ain’t that circle we call life amazing! I’m right back where I started. I just sit down and shut up. And accept the hair cut I get. I figure I’m going to walk into the shop any day now and Irene is going to have one of those dining room chairs ready for me…