The gentle barber on Main Street


My wife, Brenda, and I were traveling to Gettysburg, Pa., and had been driving for two hours without a break. Our electronic dashboard kept flashing to remind us it was time to take a breather.

We decided the small, picturesque Maryland town situated along the Potomac River and C & O Canal would be an ideal place to rest and have a picnic.

The exit from the interstate was sharp, short and steep, thrusting us unexpectedly into the heart of the quaint downtown. We found ourselves on Main Street near a grocery, which was located right off the exit in a brick shopping center.

Two elderly ladies, one sitting in a scooter, were conversing outside the grocery as we walked toward the front doors. “I bought some corn here last week, and it was oh, so sweet,” the lady in the scooter remarked to her friend.

“I like their corn, but I always seem to get bad potatoes,” her friend replied.

A man with his name on his shirt stopped to talk with the ladies. “I wouldn’t recommend grabbing any meats from here. If you do, make sure to cook it the same day, and check the dates on everything,” he said.

“What would you like to eat for our picnic?” Brenda asked.

“How about some ham, potato chips, strawberries, angel food cake and root beer?” I responded.

Three or four stores down from the grocery was a small barber shop. I needed a haircut, so I decided to do a bit of reconnaissance of the shop before returning after our picnic.

There were two barber chairs in the shop, although only one barber was cutting hair. I sat down to the side, quietly observing.

“Would you like a cigarette?” asked an older gentleman sitting next to me.

“No, thank you. I don’t smoke,” I replied.

I watched as the female barber cut and shaved the hair of a young man, leaving a round puff of longer hair in the middle of his head close to a large tattoo of a tribal design running along his hairline.

The barber used her scissors to cut the hair around his temples, and using an electric clipper, moved up the side of his head to a patch of thick hair sticking straight out above his right ear.

“What’d think?” she asked, as she held up a large mirror and showed the young man his cut. He nodded with approval.

She then brushed his hair with a soft brush laden with talcum powder, slowly moving it back and forth across his forehead, as little wisps of powder rose in the air and began to mix with the smoke from the man’s cigarette.

Opening a drawer behind her, the barber then reached inside and took out a straight razor. She began shaving his face and neck, scraping lightly, as she carefully removed the lather and soft whiskers.

She moved with the grain of his face, before lifting his nose and carefully placing the blade under his right nostril and smoothing his face as she worked the razor downward. When the ritual ended, she placed a warm towel on his face and let it soak.

“Would you like some after shave lotion?” she asked. He nodded. She sprinkled a few drops in her hands, rubbed them together rapidly, and applied it to the young man’s face.

“How about some Redken mousse?” she asked. Again, he nodded. She poured the gel into her hands, rubbing it on his head. He closed his eyes. She was almost finished.

Then, she held up a tiny, green bottle and asked, “Would you like some of this?” His eyes narrowed and a smile stole across his face. She carefully, but briskly, stroked it onto his scalp.

After she finished rubbing his head, he got up from the chair, paid her, and was gone.

When I arrived back at the barber shop after our picnic, the man who offered me the cigarette was still there. I made a comment to him how kindheartedly the barber had worked with the young man who was there earlier.

“He suffers with emotional problems from time-to-time,” the man said, “and the barber likes to help him relax during their time together. She normally doesn’t shave everyone or offer the ointments, but she told him once she had some ‘special’ lotion that would relax him and make him feel better. She massaged the balm into his head. It’s just hair oil, a placebo, but he believes it helps him.”

The young man and the barber both knew, in the end, it isn’t really about the lotions. It’s about the man seeking peace.

Sometimes we find peace in unusual places, such as the wind in the trees or the sound of a stream as it ripples across the rocks.

Or sometimes, in a barber chair on Main Street in a small town in Maryland.

Pat Haley is former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.

Pat Haley Contributing columnist Haley Contributing columnist

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