By John R. Greenwood
As my father’s health declined in the last years of his life, it became more and more difficult for him to get around. He always took great pride in keeping up his appearance. He shaved every morning regardless of how poorly he felt. Even during his many stays in the hospital his toiletry kit was his first request. He hated to go more than a couple weeks without a haircut. One day he suggested I purchase a pair of electric hair trimmers so I could trim his hair at home. His long time barber had also found himself with failing health and finally retired his scissors for good. I found my father’s request to be a vote of confidence on my ability in helping him through that difficult period of his life. Of course he would rather get out of the apartment, go to a real barber, and get a professional haircut, but he was realistic about the situation. He knew how difficult it was for me to juggle my work schedule, our biweekly visits to see mom in the respiratory hospital, shopping, cleaning, and all the other necessary responsibilities associated with his care. If he was brave enough, I was game. Besides, dad was a generous tipper. If I didn’t draw blood or take off any body parts I might just earn a five spot.
|My father Ralph Greenwood|
I have to admit our bimonthly hair appointments did cause me a little stress. I wasn’t the most coordinated amateur barber. It looks easy, but when it’s a sometimes judgmental father in his 80’s, the task takes on a elevated feeling of fear. He pretended to be brave and unconcerned about the outcome. I knew better. I knew him too well. I wanted him to be pleased with the result more than I let on. I knew even in his 80’s he wanted to look good.
Here’s how the haircut went. Dad would set up an old metal stool in the miniature bathroom of his apartment hours before I got there. To add interest to the scene visualize a tangle of oxygen hose, a father and son set of two hundred pounders, a floor covered in cheap slippery linoleum, dad in his boxers with one of mom’s 30 year-old blue faded and frayed Montgomery Ward bath towels draped around his shoulders, and me wishing I was home having dinner with my heaven sent and patient wife. I’d tell you it was hell, but I’d be lying because I smile every time I think of it. Once we were all set up I would try to visualize the training video that came with the Wahl Home Hair Trimmer set. It looks so easy when the pros do it!
When I was a kid growing up in the 60’s I would get my haircuts from a bus driver. Let me explain. There was a bus driver/barber who lived a few doors up the road from our house. He had a fully stocked and furnished barber shop set up on the front porch of his house. He delivered kids to school during the day and cut their hair and their father’s hair after school, summers and on Saturday’s. He was a meticulously groomed and polite man. His name was Jack. My mother would send me up the street after dinner and I would knock on the front door of Jack and Tessie’s house. Tessie would come to the door and welcome me in. She would politely explain that Jack was finishing his dinner and that if I wanted to wait in the barber chair he would be in shortly. I would shake my head, “Okay” and wait five or ten minutes for Jack to come in. During that time I always tried to muster the courage to ask if I could buy a 10 cent comb with the change from the dollar mom gave me for a 90 cent haircut. One day I think I actually did follow through. When I got home I think mom smiled lovingly and said, “That’s fine dear.”
Jack was a talker and if he got on a roll you never knew how short your hair might end up. The best course of action was to stay quiet, sit statue-still, and not ask any unnecessary questions. I remember coming home a few times with my mother assuring me the bare spots would fill in, in a few days.
That memory kept tapping me on the shoulder as I buzzed up the back of dad’s neck. Every once in a while I would stub my toe on the stool and catch a little clump of hair follicles that I didn’t plan on. Dad teased me and labeled me “Jack The Pipe Cutter” the endearing name our old barber earned from his occasional misguided sheers. We would laugh and reminisce, it was a simple Hallmark moment for a tired son and his failing father. It was probably one of the most lovingly memories I have of dad during that difficult time. Although he sometimes walked away a little lopsided on top he never once complained about my inadequacies as a wanna-be barber. I miss dad. I miss our free haircuts. I guess that’s not really true, they weren’t free, they were priceless.