Saturday, January 20, 2007

My new barber

Saturday morning, I went the 2 blocks into town to drop off some shirts for dry cleaning. Since Alexe was hard at work on her next column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get a haircut. (My last Mississippi haircutting experience was terrible, so I've been putting it off, but with a conference in San Fran next week, my shaggy, uneven head really needed attention.)

I just got back.

There is a little barber shop in downtown Water Valley, on Main Street. It is a little 12 ft wide shop that leads far back into the row of buildings, and has a single barber's chair in it. The place was empty, except for an older man reading a paper on the wall. I walked in, not fully committed since my last haircut had been in a rustic barber's shop, and I had escaped with hair that varied by three inches, with no transition.

But this kindly gentleman with huge hearing aides got right up, and started preparing to cut my hair. (I'm a sucker for old barbers, and in DC kept returning for the same mediocre cut just for the stories and the hot lather and straight razor neck shave.)

So I sat down, and proceeded to hear some of the most wonderful stories.

This gentleman was born in 1924. He is a World War II veteran, though he doesn't look it. He's chatty, in good health, and has retained the baby face that made it not so easy for him in the service.

The middle of three children, the only boy, he grew up in a little cabin in the Delta, after his parents moved from the Ozarks where there wasn't any schooling for their children. They lived in a small cabin, and his father, who was a WWI veteran, had returned from the war with injuries, and was never able to earn much of a living.

My barber was drafted when he was a junior in high school, and was at all 5 of Patton's major battles. (I don't know if there were only 5 major Patton battles, but that was how he phrased it.)

He never killed a man. The closest he got: He was riding with some Belgium soldiers, and they saw a German soldier who had somehow survived the advance troops. He and the Belgians decided to clean up, so they left their jeep and climbed up a hill to get a shot at the German, who was a hundred yards away, trying to hide. My barber drew a bead on the back of his head, (it was all that was visible), and couldn't pull the trigger. He handed his gun to the Belgians, and turned away, but the Belgians, who spoke German pretty well, said, "We make prisoner?" They all agreed, so they yelled to the German, who quickly got up with his hands int he air.

My barber then explained how they had divied up the German's belongings. My barber took the watch, binoculars, and pistol, (a P-38) because he was only allowed to take military things, while the Belgians took all the money and whatever else was there. The German was an officer, his equipment was very nice, and he had lots of money.

My barber traded away the watch because he was worried it wasn't actually military property, and he might get in trouble.
He was the only soldier in his group that had such nice binoculars. He was very proud of them, and then his commanding officer put out an order that all German binoculars had to be turned in. It wasn't until after he had followed orders that my barber realized he had been duped.
The P-38 came back to the states, and he used it to shoot snakes up near where Lake Enid is now, before the created the reservoir.

He told me about selling rugers that he found in the houses they passed through.
About staying near a beautiful campus, where he said Hitler was breeding his master race.
He told me about how beautiful the girls on that campus were, and how he would sneak down by the river, where they would be on the benches, and try to take their pictures. (They never let him take a picture of their faces, so he has lots of pictures of their backs.)

He told me about what he learned in the 15 years he spent in Chicago, working in a barber shop he and some friends opened. About how I should never use terms like kike, wop, limey, or the n-word, because jews, irish, english, and african americans don't like it.

All of this without any sense of self-consciousness. Just telling stories.

He has a son and a daughter. His older sister dies last year at 86. He is getting scared of driving near big cities like Memphis. He visited the WWII memorial in DC, and got to chatting with another veteran. The veteran was telling him stories from the war, and when my barber started telling his own, the other vet didn't believe he was old enough to have actually fought, and he walked away. He shaved a doctor 6 days a week in Chicago, staying open until 10:30 on Sat. nights so the second shave of the day would be fresh for church the next morning. He smiled and said that doctor probably had to start shaving himself when he left, in '52.

I really like him.

He charged me $8.

And shaved my neck with hot lather and a straight razor.

This town is great.

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