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Monday, July 22, 2024

The Timepiece: Shave and a Haircut

Arkansas River Valley Business Directory

By Dr. Curtis Varnell

Visiting the barbershops of my youth were a unique experience.  The barbershops of that age and time were meeting places that, not only cut your hair, but served as a “hang out” place for men and boys to hear local gossip, talk sports, catch up on local news, and visit with friends.  

My earliest recollections of visiting the barber was a journey to Whites barbershop in New Blaine.  A friendly and welcoming man, he knew you by your first name. He offered all the cuts of the day.  Those included the burr which left you with no hair, the butch which left you a spike in front, and the traditional sidewalls which left plenty of hair on top to be slicked back into a pompadour or ducktail.  My dad liked traditional so I had sidewalls, even when the style for boys became the long and stringy 70’s hippie looks. 

To promote that friendly and welcoming atmosphere, the barbershops were called by the first name of the proprietor.  In my area, we had Murray’s, Specs, Haskell, and O.J.’s.  I visited them all, none could quite control my unruly curly hair; although they tried with various concoctions ranging from brylcreem to tiger’s oil.   Minutes after application, I had hair sticking up in every direction.  They also offered the most enjoyable shaves applied with warm towels and some of the most wonderful smelling oils and scented liquids ever made. A truly relaxing and enjoyable experience awaited you as the barber waited on you head and foot (literally since they also did shoeshines) on each visit.  The charge for a haircut at that time was a dollar and you could throw in a shave for fifty cents more. You could walk out of the barbershop a new man; fresh haircut, shaved, a new shoeshine, and smelling like rosewater. 

Barbershops offered a social outlet to the people of the community.  You could walk away having heard the local news, latest jokes, great stories, or political debates.  Harold’s barbershop in Paris was one of my favorite places.  If I had a moment at noon, I would join the crew that flocked to his shop each day.  If he wasn’t otherwise occupied, Dr. James (Smith) would be there taking on all comers in checkers.  Not only an exceptional doctor, he also was an amateur engineer.  Often the mayor would drift by to seek Dr. Smith’s advice on repairing the most recent breakage of the water line or how to repair the city electrical grid.

Harold loved softball.  By this time, he had stopped doing shoeshines and that chair and booth were covered with trophies won by his ball team.  He was the league president and all business concerning the 16 area teams were conducted during lunch in his shop.  Woe be it to any gentleman who was actually there getting a haircut during softball discussion.  Harold was totally into discussing softball.  His eyes appeared almost glazed, his voice would rise, and he became completely animated moving his hands as he talked.  You had to watch his scissors every second as he nipped around your ears and eyebrows! As a testimony to his involvement, the local girls’ softball field is now named in his honor. 

People in the shop offered all kinds of advice to Governor Clinton, President Reagan, and other politicians.  Although most were Democrat, they loved John Paul Hammerschmidt.  Hammerschmidt would listen to his constituents and, from what I derived from the conversation, many of them called him on a regular basis to offer their help in running the country. 

The surroundings in the barbershops were classy.  Most had soft, sleek barber chairs, huge elaborate, decorated mirrors, and classy furnishings.  They were designed to serve much like todays man caves; places to relax, take your mind off of work, and visit with friends. 

Many of today’s barbershops are striving to return to that time and atmosphere.  Most of our barbers are still among the best-liked men in town and people still go there to visit and exchange news.  I still enjoy my trips, though I find I need them less and less often.  I am still in the hopes that one of those hair experts will be able to find a method to return some of that long, unruly hair that I used to find so worrisome. 

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