Through The Eyes Of Old Timers

Birdie Calvert, her daughter and Birdie’s mother file into the nursing home to visit Birdie’s father. He smiles politely, but his granddaughter complains that it seems like he doesn’t even recognize them. “Oh, your grandpa’s fine,” says Birdie’s mother as she looks into his face, smoothes his hair, and hugs him. “He just has a touch of Old Timer’s.” Birdie corrects her. “It’s Alzheimer’s, Mama.” Birdie’s mother smiles softly at the old man and whispers, “I know what I said.”

–From the 1998 movie Hope Floats

Three streets triangulate the center of downtown Berea, Ohio, thus the distinction of having a Town Triangle instead of a Town Square. Locals are proud of that unique trivia. In my youth, Schneider’s Drug Store, Whitey’s Army/Navy Store, Art’s Men’s Shop and other quaint shops adorned the Triangle, and on the “away” side, next to the hardware store and across the street from the pool hall sat Pappy and Uncle Mike’s Barber Shop. Pappy (my mom’s dad) learned the trade of barbering around age 40 when the country no longer needed men to haul chunks of ice or coal into a house; it was probably best because his shoulders were wearing out anyway.

A Regular Routine

On Saturday mornings, Pappy would take me to the shop, where he’d re-shave my “Princeton” haircut and I’d read comic books, sneak peeks at the girlie magazines he kept in the back, and just hang around until Dad whistled across the street for me to join him at the pool room.

One particular Saturday morning, Pappy sat in the barber chair reading the paper while I pushed a Hot Wheels car around the ledge of the chair rail. It was early yet, and no appointments were booked, but Pappy liked to sit in the chair so people could see from the window that he was available. He hated to be idle and not make money.

People walked by–old and young. It was the late 1960s, and students from the local college (Baldwin-Wallace) all looked like extras from the TV show Room 222. Beads, leather sandals, bell bottoms, a great deal of scruffy facial hair and headbands were standard issue for these kids, and though none of it was as severe as the tattoos and body piercings of today, the look made its own statement.

Generation Clash

Suddenly the bell clanged on the door, and Pappy and I were startled by a 20-something-year-old student with long, straggly hair and circular John Lennon-glasses resting low on his nose. He leaned in, “You open, Old Timer?” Pappy bristled at the reference, but a buck was a buck. “Yeah, you need a cut?” The kid nodded, plopping down in the chair just as Pappy vacated it. “Just a trim. Got an interview tomorrow for a job, and I wanna clean up a little.” Pappy stropped his blades on the leather and said, “You need this job?” The kid laughed, “Whaddya think, I’m going for my health? I’m broke, man.” Pappy was silent. I put the car in my pocket and sat down to watch. I knew what was coming.

Right from the start, Pappy lopped off long strands and began to shape the taper in the back of the young man’s head. About halfway through, the student noticed great piles of hair on the floor and jumped up. “What the heck are you doing, old man? I said a trim!” Pappy sighed, “You also said you needed the job!” The kid was incredulous. “I am not paying for this haircut. This is not what I asked for! I am leaving.” Pappy stayed calm and pointed to the chair. “Sit down. You don’t want to pay, don’t pay–but you can’t walk out of here looking like that. Let me finish.” The student unhappily flopped back into the chair, muttering to himself. I heard my dad whistle from across the street, but I went to the door and waved, signaling I would be along in a bit. I didn’t want to miss the end of this event.

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