“High and tight, Pops; give that boy a man’s haircut.”
A couple of months ago I heard my father’s voice echo in my head. I was sitting in a barber’s chair in downtown Doniphan. Now for years my wife has taken care of my haircuts but on this particular day her electric razor she used for these occasions had stopped working and I was forced to visit the local barber.
The shop was one of those modern affairs that pass for barber shops these days. Bright lighting, a couple of cheap landscape paintings, plastic chairs and a light green, soft color scheme. The barber was a thirty-something young man with a wide rather commercial smile…a bit too friendly and he flashed it at me as he motioned me from where I sat, hopelessly perusing back issues of Modern Architecture.
I got wearily to my feet, wanting to just get the chore done and get back to the ranch…I hate going to town. As I took my seat in the chair, the barber draped his large barber-apron over me and tied it off behind my neck.
“So how would you like your hair cut today sir?”
“High and tight.” I said with a small, wistful smile. “High and tight.”
I got the expected chuckle from the young man. “Yeah, I figured as much.” He said cheerfully. “I get a lot of you old-timers in here with the same request.”
I successfully resisted the urge to get out of the chair and knock the young smart ass out of his loafers. Instead I merely nodded. “Yeah, I bet you do.”
It was then, while he was running his razor over my scalp and regaling me with his observations of how hot the Summer was, that I once again heard my father’s voice.
“High and tight, Pops. Give that boy a man’s haircut.”
In a flash I was transported back over a half-century of time to the small Texas town where I was raised. Once again I was sitting in another barber’s chair only this one had a board across the arms of chair for me to sit on a sort of homemade booster seat for small boys, and my feet dangled in the air.
My father sat in the next chair getting his own hair cut by Pop’s assistant. Pops had asked dad how he wanted him to cut my hair. My dad’s voice, so powerful yet pitched so low carried across the intervening space.
In that moment, when I remembered his voice, I also remembered that shop. It was an old storefront facing main street. Barely ten feet wide, one side lined with a crude wooden bench that ran the length of the building. The bench was always full on Saturday’s, full of old farmers in faded overalls and straw hats and sitting along side them were usually at least one of the town’s bankers or lawyers dressed in suits and ties. The building was dark with wood and red leather backings and the smell of cigar and cigarette smoke hanging in the air. To my small eyes and young brain this was a “Man’s Place” and my father bringing me here was like a rite of passage. I stared wide-eyed at the deer heads adorning the walls along with a couple of pinup calendars. I tried to look at faces of the men waiting their turn without seeming to stare to much. Dad always said it was impolite to stare.
Thus it was that so long ago, in that faraway place, sitting next to my father, I was introduced into a man’s world. It was never spoken of, but I knew that from that day forward, I was expected to no longer act like a baby. I was becoming a man with this very first step and I had a responsibility to act the part.
Over the intervening years I went through similar rites, similar firsts, that ushered me into yet another level of adulthood, but that first haircut was special because it was the First. So when Pops finished with my haircut and brushed the back of my now bare neck with his small brush to remove loose hair and took the apron from around my neck with a flourish, I stood and walked over to a place on the bench with a bit of a swagger. The other old men waiting their turn smiled. My father smiled. Now I know why, having had sons of my own.
All of this came to me in that moment as I sat in another barber’s chair in a barber’s shop in Doniphan, Missouri a shop so unlike that very first place. I could not help but consider all those other rites of passage that had brought me to this place.
High and tight. Close cropped and simple. Little did I know it then but I would end up living my entire life in that same manner. High and tight, dad. Just like you wanted and I hope I did alright all during all those years.