A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting A Haircut

One of the most iconic traditions of small-town life was the monthly visit to the barber shop. The barber shop was a lively place, full of animated conversation that was often above the level of a little kid, but nevertheless fascinating to listen to. You could witness the full spectrum of Scott County life in any of the various barber shops scattered around town.

Daddy did my haircuts at home at the beginning; I remember a pink plastic cover draped around me and a pair of spring-operated clippers that sometimes had a tendency to pinch. I favored the classic crew-cut in those days, a style I gave up but then returned to later in elementary school. The reason for my initial style change was my desire to have a part in my hair, which is impossible with a crew cut. Evidently, my exact preference was to have a “road in my hair like Pat Boone,” who had a popular TV show on Channel 5 at that time.

So, I was deemed ready for an outside barber, specifically, Herman Atchley, who was a distant relative of Mama’s. Herman had a shop downtown, by the theater. This was within walking distance of home, so I could go by myself. So, I was a regular patron of Herman, and later Cagle, who took over the shop. The first time Cagle cut my hair, he asked me my name and when I told him, he said, “Oh, are you kin to that Yates guy…” and I just figured he must be thinking of Daddy, so I said “Albert?” Cagle said, “No, I’m talking about that Yates guy on TV…Oh yeah, Rowdy!” For those of you who don’t remember, the great Clint Eastwood got his start playing Rowdy Yates on Wagon Train Rawhide. I never actually knew Cagle’s first name, but it was Cagle who expressed enough confidence in me one time to send me unaccompanied down to the Seamons Store to buy him a package of Camels. I completed the mission as discretely as possible, fearful that I would be spotted by a Sunday School teacher or school official, traipsing along Main Street sporting a package of Camels. But, no one spotted me and Robert Craig, the store owner, didn’t seem to be suspicious of me.

About this time my brother Phil was working for Herman Atchley as a shoeshine boy. Waiting to get a haircut was a good opportunity to get a shoeshine; so many shops offered local teenagers that employment opportunity. Although Phil didn’t exactly get rich, he did learn a lot about life. I remember one particular customer he has mentioned, who always wore white socks with his black shoes, and took great offence if any black shoe polish ended up on his white socks.

At some point, I switched over and became a customer of King’s Barber Shop. Ernest King and Bill Slagle had their shop on the north-facing side of the block that contained the library and the side entrance to B&B Drug; they later moved over to Main Street. King was often fondly referred to as “Windy.” King’s Barber Shop was truly the kind of place, just like Floyd’s Barber Shop on The Andy Griffith Show, where not everybody that stopped by came for a haircut. Sometimes people just came by to visit or to hear the latest. One lively topic of conversation that I remember centered around a belief that a colony of hippies had settled in Boles, and they just happened to live near Bill Slagle’s place. There was a lot of curiosity about the new people, and folks were always asking Bill if he’d seen anything unusual going on.

King always used to have a little fun when he asked my about how I wanted my hair to be cut. He would usually ask a series of questions, like, “Block it off in the back?” and “Short on the sides?” and then he would usually throw in “Leave a light sideburn?” and occasionally “Trim the moustache?” And, when he was finished and would be brushing the stray hairs off my shoulders, he would finish by twirling the brush in his hand and gently tapping the end of my nose with the handle.

Of course, the best part of any haircut was the finishing trim with a straight razor. It was nice because it included the application of gently warmed shaving cream that felt really good on your neck and behind your ears. The barber would sharpen the straight razor by drawing it back and forth on the razor strop, a long piece of leather that was attached to the side of the chair. A good barber had his own technique and rhythm, and could polish and straighten the razor on the strop in just a few seconds. Then, the delicate work of finishing off the haircut with the straight razor would begin.

So, nowadays, I still go to a barber shop. Oh, there were a few years there, during the ‘70’s, when longer hair was in fashion, that I went to a hair stylist, but I got past it. And once, my wife made me go to her beautician to get my hair cut. But I couldn’t go back; it just didn’t seem natural. You just get a better caliber of story in a barber shop.