As I sat, waiting my turn at the “Family Unisex Salon“, my thoughts turned to the barber shops of long ago. You know, the place with a striped pole in front? The universal sign of a gentleman’s tonsorial parlor? Ah, yes, those!
The place with the magic chair that went up and down, spun around as if controlled by the barber’s thoughts.
My F/I/L had such a barber shop. He cut my hair, even from my Jr. High school days, and even after I had married his wonderful and gracious daughter. As time passed, he looked forward to Saturday afternoons, when he would cut and trim the hair of his three grandsons. A wonderful gentleman, Fred.
He had been a West Virginia coal miner, but was hurt in an explosion, and quit the mines. It being depression time, no work, so he made some!
He and a brother, also a mine casualty, started barbering together, moved to Lexington, Ky and opened a barber college.
After his brother died, Fred, opened a three chair shop of his own.
I remember having my hair cut, sitting in that magic chair, the Cincinnati Reds baseball game blaring so the whole neighborhood could keep up with the game. I remember rooting for Ernie, ”The Schnoz” Lombardi, Reds catcher. How many remember him! Some of the players called him, “The Snooze,” because fans would fall asleep while he was running bases.
I recall Fred using a straight razor and lather, to trim my neck. A practice no longer followed, it seems. A federal offense, or perhaps another OSHA thing. Then too, the term “straight razor,” scares the bewillikers out of most folks. It’s proper use is another lost art. Anyway, straight razors have gone the way of gaiters, spats, and of course those sleeve garters Fred wore, to keep his shirt cuffs clean.
Fred would ask paying customers if they wanted tonic or not. If so, he would adjust his sleeve garters, take a fancy bottle filled with a colored liquid off the shelf, splash a squirt or two on the patron’s head, then with nimble fingers, massage the scalp to accent the tonic. Of course there was a small charge for this service. Not only did this routine make you feel good, it smelled wonderful.
I learned much later that the tonic was a “home made” mixture of alcohol for the sting, rose water for the smell, add a little food color, red, green, yellow, your choice, for that expensive “Cincinnati” look, perhaps a dash of glycerin and presto, “FRED‘S IMPORTED SCALP TONIC!”
Off comes the cloth, a quick shake with a whisk broom, and you are on your way across the room, to Albert, for a two-bit shoeshine. “Bert” could really pop that rag! Another lost art, making music with a shine rag!
There’s my call. It’s my turn in the chair, the barber is waiting to do my do!
New rules, regulations, guidelines for barbers, and of course the union.
No razor trim, no tonic, no ball game blaring out, but at least we still have a reasonable facsimile of that magic chair.