Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Dad’s Big Left Hand
Coach Winckler made his usual first-day-of -basketball-practice speech while walking back and forth in front of the bench. The one item of the speech that got our attention was we all needed to get our hair cut short. We may have been Elvis fans but there was no place on the team for long greasy hair or sideburns. It just so happened I knew where we could get the job done.
Dad barbered in Pierre at the time, driving back and forth in our 1955 Studebaker. Every Wednesday he barbered in Harrold, having a chair set up in the corner of the pool hall, cutting hair all day long and into the night. That’s where many of the basketball players headed that day after school.
We walked into the pool hall, barely noticing the two cowboys standing at the bar, and sat down on the window ledge. We jostled and razzed each other while Dad cut Daryl Lehrkamp’s hair. One of the cowboys walked unsteadily over to Dad and whispered something to him, but we ball players didn’t pay much attention to what he said. I could tell Dad was impatient and frustrated with the tipsy cowhand, but he continued cutting hair. Back then, barbers finished by shaving your neck with a straight razor. Dad continually worked at keeping his razor gleaming and sharp. As he lathered up Daryl’s neck and began using the straight edge, the cowboy came back and started bumping Dad’s left arm. Dad, holding the razor in his right hand, stopped and faced the cowboy. That’s about the time we all started paying attention to what was going on in front of us.
“What did you say?” Dad said in a hard tone, one I had heard only a few times before. “Are you accusing me of stealing your coat?” Dad had reached the end of his rope with this guy. The cowboy only had time to shake his head once before Dad, razor in his right hand, hit him squarely on the chin with his left. It was like the old western movies, where the guy was punched and then slid across the barroom floor, his head ending up on the foot rail of the bar. Dad walked over, grabbed the cowhand’s collar, and drug him out the door, leaving him on the sidewalk. He came back in, the razor still in his hand, and, looking at the other cowboy, said in that hard voice, “don’t bring him back in here when I’m around.”
I was scared, not of my dad, but of the sudden violence that had taken place. He went back to work, the poolroom was so quiet you could hear the blade of the razor ring as it trimmed Daryl’s sideburns. I waited until Dad had cut everyone else’s hair before I got into the chair. Not a word had been spoken that whole time.
The next day the school was abuzz with what had happened at the poolroom. I wasn’t sure how to react, still shaken by seeing my dad be so violent, but also in some strange way proud of him. He had always been my hero, and still is today. The image of that big left hand sending the cowboy sprawling across the poolroom floor will always be mixed in with the memories of Dad’s big hands gently holding a grandchild, and his soft baritone voice singing “Danny Boy” when he didn’t think anyone was listening.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News