My mother cut my hair with a hand-operated clipper that pulled like the dickens. Getting a haircut was in the same category as having a tooth filled. When she finished with her hair-pulling clippers, loose hair settled between my long underwear and my skin, and I itched until Saturday night, which was bath night.
On special occasions, Pa took me to the barber in Wild Rose. This usually was just before the school Christmas program and one or two other times during the year. Mr. Ehlert was the barber, a man of considerable reputation for his ability to talk nonstop.
The barbershop was in a little room behind the bank and right on the shore of the millpond. From the barbershop window, a person could see the water and sometimes spot a trout swimming there.
One cold day in mid-December, Pa dropped me off at the barbershop and said he’d come back in about an hour to pick me up. I soon learned that I’d be second for my haircut. I picked up a copy of Outdoor Life and began paging through it. What I really wanted was to hear some barbershop stories. But I suspect that because I was a kid, the men laid off on the good stuff I really wanted to hear.
Nothing seemed to quiet Mr. Ehlert. He went on about the millpond just freezing over, about how mean the winter was likely to be, and about the trouble Guy York was having with his horses. One topic to another, without a break, or even scarcely taking a breath. The electric clippers hummed, the shears clicked, and a pile of hair accumulated on the floor.
Soon the customer ahead of me was finished. He got up from the chair and looked in the mirror before putting on his cap and coat. He fished in his pocket for fifty cents to pay for his haircut, handed the coin to Mr. Ehlert and was out the door, with nary a word of goodbye, thank you or anything. He had the look of someone completely overwhelmed with the words that had spilled over him continually the whole time he sat for his haircut.
“Next,” said Mr. Ehlert, as he snapped the cloth he was about to hang around my neck. I crawled up in the chair and made myself comfortable.
“You’re Herman Apps’ kid aren’t you?”
“I am,” I answered.
“How do you want your hair cut?”
“So it looks good for the Christmas program,” I said.
“And it will,” said Mr. Ehlert as he grabbed his clipper and began buzzing around my ears. Mr. Ehlert keep on talking nonstop, I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about what I was supposed to do in the Christmas program.
When he finished, he asked, “Want some smelly stuff on your neck?”
“Sure ... sure,” I replied.
Soon Mr. Ehlert was rubbing lilac-smelling water on my neck. It smelled a little strong.
Pa hadn’t come back yet, so I sat down in an empty chair to wait.
“Next,” Mr. Ehlert said. He took the barber cloth and this time gave it a massive snap. A big, burly fellow stood up. He was huge, well over six feet and wide as an oak tree. I didn’t know him and couldn’t recall seeing him around town. He shuffled across the floor and sat down slowly in the barber chair. Mr. Ehlert flung the barber cloth around the man’s neck, fastening it in the back.
“And how would you like your hair cut?”
“In silence, please,” the big man said, with nary a smile on his big round face.
Well, you’d think a tree had fallen on Mr. Ehlert. He turned an odd shade of white and for a moment he said nothing. The other men in the barbershop began laughing, louder and louder. Mr. Ehlert pretended he didn’t hear them as he busied himself cutting the hair of the man who demanded silence. Just then Pa came by and we left. I couldn’t wait to tell him what I had just witnessed.
Small town barbershops, similar to the local taverns, gristmill, and country store, were fonts of storytelling — with sometimes unusual things occuring. I don’t recall the barbershop in Wild Rose being quieter than the day the big man sat down, and didn’t request, but demanded silence while his hair was cut.