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Antique Barber Chair Brings Back Memories

For whatever reason, I’ve decided to trust women with my hair. But I don’t think I’d ever go for a haircut at a salon called “Delilah’s.” That’s advice I once heard from a man named Samson.

Recently, my dad came for a visit. He was intrigued by the chair and spent about 30 minutes looking deep into its inner-working parts trying to discover an identifying number that might give a clue as to the year it was made. He didn’t find any numbers—only hair. The ridges of the metal components were lined with hair! <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
“It’s authentic, hair and all,” I said. I’m glad I wasn’t interested in an antique toilet. 
Looking at cut hair with my father brought back memories—some good, some not so good. One of the good memories was my first haircut. No, I cannot remember it. But I’ve seen the pictures my dad took while I sat in Fred Sanders’ barber chair. Fred wasn’t the greatest barber in town.  He was the only barber in town. His barbershop was housed in the same building as the gas station, one of two in town.  
I remember my dad coming home on occasions fuming about the haircut Fred had given him. Once, he sat down in Fred’s barber chair and told him, “I want you to cut one sideburn and leave the other one long.” Fred said, “I can’t let you leave here looking like that.” Dad replied, “You did the last time I was here.”

As I grew older, I learned that the women went to beauty shops to get their hair done. Mom carried my sister and me along with her and that’s when I experienced getting my hair cut by a woman. I noticed quickly that it takes women a lot longer to get their hair done than men. I don’t know if that’s because they have more hair or if it’s because they have more to talk about. I can’t prove this, but I believe that before the Internet, barbers and beauticians were the “information superhighway.”  
At the beauty shop, I learned to tolerate the choking smells of hair spray and the humming noise of cone-head hair dryers. It wouldn’t surprise me if quite a few stories have been slightly altered by the noise of one of those machines. The beautician says, “Did you hear that Norma Sue lost her aunt last week while the family was at the beach?” But instead of hearing “lost her aunt,” the customer hears “lost her pants.” Before the day is over, half the town has heard that Norma Sue was cheating on her husband while the family was at the beach. 
Now for the bad memory.
As I aged I graduated to the worst barber chair I’ve ever occupied: the commode, with the lid down, of course. My father purchased some hair-cutting scissors and a “trim-comb,” and for the next few years he became my barber. I’d sit on the commode lid and he’d sit on the edge of the old claw-feet bathtub.   
Perhaps it was a money saving venture; it certainly wasn’t pleasurable for either of us. I avoided haircuts like cats avoid water. Sitting close enough that his breath announced what he’d eaten for supper, my dad firmly gripped my head with one hand while he snipped with the other. It was the equivalent of Chinese water torture.  
Part of my resistance to having my hair cut was my fear that it would be cut too short, revealing the birthmark on the left side of my head. It wasn’t a discolored mark. The doctor called it a doubling of the skin tissue. It looked like a series of warts, which became embarrassing only as I moved into my teenage years. I kept my hair long to keep it covered. When I was a senior in high school, Dr. Emfinger, our family physician, cut it out.  
Now at age 40, my hair is almost completely gray. I prefer it short. “Better to turn gray than turn loose” is my motto. I use a beautician instead of a barber. I’m not sure why. It could be that between Fred and my father, I lost trust in men who carry scissors and a razor.  
If you think about it, you place a fair amount of trust in the person who cuts your hair. With a snip-snip here and a snip-snip there, a barber or beautician can make you the laughing stock of the community.  
For whatever reason, I’ve decided to trust women with my hair. But I don’t think I’d ever go for a haircut at a salon called “Delilah’s.” That’s advice I once heard from a man named Samson. 
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.