Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A rite of passage

Francie, who blogs at North End Journal, mentioned haircuts the other day, which brought back some childhood memories.

At some point, Dad decides that Son needs to graduate from Mom's trims in the 1940s farmhouse kitchen, and takes Son into town for the professional treatment. For Son, whose circle has mostly contained other children and women, this is an introduction to the world of men.

A room full of gents awaits, everyone seems to know each other, and greetings are exchanged all around. Seats are found, and the new arrivals note who is ahead of them for the barber's services. Standing up out of turn would be a mildly embarrassing breach of etiquette, and would result in some good-natured banter.

Son admires the big, ornate, leather-upholstered chair with footrest, headrest, lever and pedal, as it rises, swivels, and reclines, providing optimum angles for scissors, clippers, and razor work. Tall glass jars containing colourful liquids are reflected in the wall-to-wall mirror. Calendars with illustrations of comely young ladies advertising motor oil hang on the walls. Pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke fill the air, and the talk is about the smelt run, the spring weather, local politics, and Charlie's new Allis-Chalmers tractor.

While Dad's in the chair, Son peruses the reading material provided for patrons --- True Crime, Police Gazette, Field and Stream, as well as several well-thumbed publications aimed at students of the female form. All quite educational.

The barber gives the straight razor a few quick strokes on the heavy leather strop before finishing Dad's trim with a neck shave.

Dad gets a splash of bay rum, and now it's Son's turn. He feels very grown up, even as the barber whips out a padded board, places it over the arms of the chair, and hoists him up to a comfortable height.

"First haircut," says Dad, and the barber says something about Son being a big fellow now as he drapes him with a cloth and wraps his neck with a paper tape to catch the cuttings.

Electric clippers are suddenly buzzing at the back of the neck, scissors are snipping around the ears and above the eyes, and falling hair is tickling the nose.

Then, with a few flicks of a soft whisk to remove any stray bits from the face, it's done.

A milestone passed.


  1. Do any barbershops like that still exist? I wonder if a kid's first experience at "SuperCuts" is really a similar milestone these days?

  2. Sure is nice to see that you are back! I have to say, and this is just between the two of us, I really miss those days when men went to barber shops and women went to beauty parlors. Not exactly the aboriginal spirit quest as an initiation into the world of grown up people - but pretty darn close. :)

  3. I remember going to the barber shop sometimes with my dad when he got his haircuts. I was very young at the time, and it was a real treat hanging around there with him.