Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Shave and a haircut, 4 bits

Dad learned to shave and cut hair his last years in the Navy. He was good at it and enjoyed it. His new bride made him promise they would live their lives in Florida. That promise was only good for about a year and Dad was itching to be back in Harrold, with family and friends that had also returned from the war. He set up a small shop in a rickety old wooden building that promptly burned down. The tools were saved but the chair was burned up. This happened when Dad was deciding to go to college at Colorado A&M. He had been out of school for eight years and struggled through the math and science classes he was thrown into. He struggled through two years of trying to be a forest ranger, working his way by barbering in Estes Park in the summers. He finally threw in the towel and got a job on the Evans Ranch across the valley from Mt. Evans. It was what he loved, working with horses and hunting, guiding tenderfeet from the East who came at the invitation of the Evans family. This was our life until I was old enough to go to school, and we were far from any school and the folks didn’t want to board a 5 year out for a school year. They were looking to go back to Harrold and barber if it was possible. It was.

The town doctor bought the deserted bank building in the middle of the east block of main street Harrold, contacting Dad about barbering in a new shop. Doc Martin would set the shop up just as Dad wanted it. Dad jumped at the chance. Mom and I traveled to Florida by train, visiting family while Dad moved to Harrold and supervised the shop setup. It was the perfect size and the back of the building made into a large apartment. Dad came and got us, excited to show us our new home.

Back in the fifties, barbershops were still the congregating place for men to gather and once in awhile get their haircut or a shave. Days were fairly slow, and the men would sit out on the concrete bench in front of the shop to talk or would come into the shop and sit in folding chairs along the wall with Charlie Russell prints framed and hung about eight feet high.

Shaves were still common in shops and Dad kept several razors exceptionally sharp. The steel would ring as it cut the whiskers of a three-day growth on a farmer’s face. One day a teenager was waiting for a haircut and was wandering around the shop, looking at Dad’s clippers and tools. Dad wasn’t paying much attention to him until he heard him say “wow this if really sharp”! Dad turned around to see the boy trimming his fingernails with one of the straight edge razors he worked so hard to keep in perfect shape. I don’t think the boy got his haircut that day.

Another shave turned out quite differently. Boots Gregg was in the chair and Dad had just started to shave him when the city fire whistle blew. Dad was captain on the fire crew, so he had to leave Boots partially shaved while he went to the fire call. Boots said “don’t worry, I’ll finish it up.” When Dad got back to the shop, Boots had left 50 cents on the counter.

Dad’s biggest haircuts were little kids. They were squirmy, whinny and always ducking. It didn’t help when the mother stood next to the chair and tried to tell him how to cut little Jimmy’s hair. After about fifteen minutes of this foolishness, Dad would clamp his 14 sized ring fingers on the tot’s head like a vice and finish up the haircut, neat and even, not always to the mother’s satisfaction. Dad didn’t like Elvis Presly and long sideburns, especially on a kid. He always said he should have charged double for kids’ haircuts.

There was a family of six boys and their dad brought them in every two weeks for haircuts. When the youngest one got into the chair, the dad would buy a pint of peppermint schnapps off the liquor counter, take a drink and put the bottle in the freezer in the back room. He took another swig with each kids’ haircut until it was his turn. The remains of the schnapps was getting syrupy and he cradled it in his hands while Dad cut his hair, finishing it off just as the haircut was done.

Summer Saturday nights were hard on Dad. The shop got extremely hot with him working under the lights. The customers sat outside, waiting their turn. Dad kept wiping sweat from his arms, hands and face, trying to keep a firm grip on the clippers. This went on usually until after midnight.

Basketball season usually started with a buzz cut for all the players except me. He wouldn’t do that for me, so my hair was short but parted. Got a lot of flak about that each year,

One night when the players were sitting in the windowsill of the bar where dad had set up a chair, he was shaving Darrell Lehrkamp’s neck with that straight razor in his right hand. A cowboy who had been drinking all day was giving Dad a rough time. He finally staggered over to Dad, bumping the hand holding the razor over Darrell’s ear, and said something to Dad. Dad hit him on the jaw with his left fist, his right never letting go of the razor. The cowboy slid across the floor, coming to rest with his head on the foot rail. Dad grabbed his collar, still holding the razor and drug him out the front door, leaving him on the sidewalk. He told the remaining cowboys to get him home. We ball players were quiet the rest of the night, listening to that blade slide down our necks as he cleaned us up.

Dad sold insurance and barbered one day a week in Blunt and later in Highmore. I can honestly say I never paid for a haircut until I moved to Pierre, and then only because Dad had suffered a major heart attack. I still have his tools stored in the wooden box he carried them in.


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