“You sure got a pretty little girl, there,” complimented a passerby in the Penney’s parking lot.
“He’s a boy,” I tartly replied and immediately regretted. It wasn’t the well-meaning stranger’s fault Kitchie’s hair wisped angelic, framing a cherub face. Inwardly, I resolved to call my hair stylist to arrange a haircut for him. But for some reason I found myself stopping by a country barbershop in the small one street town where my baby sitter lived.
Little did I know as I entered that country barbershop that my two-year old and I were stepping into the closest thing you will ever get to Floyd’s Barbershop from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.
It was also like stepping into a forbidden world. The smells of masculine tonics permeated the room which contained fat leather chairs with skinny chrome arms and legs. Neatly stacked magazines were all hunting, car or sports oriented. There were no Playboy’s or even a Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I thus concluded that the barber was of sturdy moral character. An enormous calendar featuring pictures of every American President, from George to George, graced one wall and on another wall hung an equally large copy of the Constitution of the United States of America.
Eber Coplin (yes, his name really is Eber) was dressed in Western shirt, jeans, leather belt with big buckle and cowboy boots. In a great, magnificent barber’s chair, was a young man getting a short-on-top-long-in-back haircut. Kitchie and I took our seats next to a mature gentleman in mud-caked boots who sat patiently waiting his turn.
The barber finished the youth so the mature gentleman was next. As he took his seat in the great chair and was suitably draped, Eber immediately began trimming his hair. I marvelled that men don’t get a shampoo first. Shampoo’s must be sissy or something. As I watched, the man told Eber how his wife had really wanted him to get a new suit for the play they were going to see in L.A. and he had told her, “Heck no, but I’ll get a haircut.” They both laughed at the silliness of wives.
Quietly, I whispered into Kitchie’s ear about how handsome grown-up men look in suits … when suddenly, I was shocked by what happened next.
Eber put his long, long scissors into the man’s left ear and started snipping! He was trimming the man’s ear hairs! I was so embarrassed. Turning away, I realized all in an instant that maybe I shouldn’t be there. How would I like it if a man was watching me get unwanted facial hairs ripped off my face? (I don’t get unwanted facial hairs waxed but if I did, I wouldn’t want a man observing.)
Desperate for something to turn my attention to, I rose and walked over to the Constitution — the giant one on the wall — and began reading intently. At about Section 2 of Article 1, I peeked up and the barber was cutting the hair (on the man’s head) again. I snuggled my little boy pondering the incredible certainty that he, too, would someday have ear hair.
Then it happened. Eber put a comb to the guy’s bushy eyebrows and began trimming. This was too much. I was sure the poor man’s nose would be next. I don’t know if Eber did the man’s nose or not because I spent the next few minutes introducing my son to Grover Cleveland and his colleagues.
When Eber was finished, the mature gentleman cheerfully surrendered the chair to Kitchie wistfully saying, “I can still remember my first haircut as if it had happened yesterday.” I found it amazing to realize Kitchie might remember this day.
I firmly set Kitchie up in the booster Eber provided and as he whipped a plastic apron around my small son’s neck, the howling began. My son earnestly bawled for the next ten minutes or so, yet I admired how he didn’t try to escape the chair. He took it, not like a man perhaps, but like a little boy growing up to be a man. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
Eber asked me what kind of haircut I wanted. “A little boy’s haircut,” I replied.
“There are several kinds of little boy haircuts,” Eber patiently explained. The descriptions that followed were beyond my comprehension; you see, it seems that barbers use completely different terminology than other hair stylists. At a loss, I asked, “Whatever you do, just make sure it’s layered in the back.”
“Layering is a beauty shop term,” Eber gently chided, “we call it blending.”
“Okay, do that. Blending,” I replied, while thinking, and they say women are hard to understand.
I must say I was very impressed with the barber’s steadiness of hand and nerve as Kitchie furiously turned his head from one side to another. Eber went right with it never missing a stroke.
As Kitchie was being shorn of his angelic wisps, a friend of Eber’s stopped by. When the visitor saw Kitchie wailing away, he knowingly smiled and reminisced, “It took both my dad and my older brother to hold me down.” Then the visitor did a strange thing. He approached my sobbing little boy with his hand extended. “Gimme five, kid,” he gruffly said. Kitchie ceased his crying, and slapped the man’s hand returning the five. And then, with a wink and a smile to a bewildered mom, Eber’s friend left.
As Kitchie resumed letting me know he was still displeased, I marveled at the male ritual that had just taken place before my eyes. I didn’t know Kitchie knew about gimme fives!
I was fascinated to realize that most men remember their first barbershop haircuts even if they were very young at the time. (I certainly don’t remember my first beauty shop venture.) For some mysterious reason, first barbershop haircuts for boys has been a real rite of passage. I began to be very grateful that I didn’t take Kitchie to the salon. If we had gone to my regular hair stylist as I had first intended, Kitchie would have had his hair cut by a woman, mostly women would have been in the shop and there would have been virtually no distinction between his experience versus his sister’s.
The trip to the barbershop provided an opportunity for Kitchie to see what people of his own sex (besides dad) look, sound and act like when they have grown up.
At last, the haircut was finished. As I gathered my distressed son into my arms, Eber began doing the necessary paperwork. He asked for Kitchie’s full name.
“William Kitchener Andes, but we call him Kitchie. William is after my husband, Kitchener after my dad,” I offered.
Eber carefully entered my son’s name in a well-worn but neatly preserved steno notebook. “I keep the names of all the boys I do first haircuts of,” he explained.
Next, he put my son’s name on another, most important, document: A CERTIFICATE OF MANHOOD and presented it to me. I clutched the certificate as proudly as a diploma while Kitchie happily clutched a lollipop.
When I got home, I excitedly told my husband about Eber, brave little Kitchie, the ear hairs, the “gimme five” and the notebook. My husband patiently listened to me and then said, “Well, of course he cut the ear hairs, he probably did the guy’s nose hairs too.”
Tickled as I was to have experienced what is perhaps a last bastion of untampered male preserve, I felt that my husband should take my son next time. Barbershops are for men and I sense this will be a unique opportunity for father-son bonding. Since I probably won’t be going back myself, I feel lucky to have glimpsed a bit of the habitat my son will all too soon be a part of. My now soft baby will someday have tougher skin, strong muscles and hair all over. It is likely that he will laugh at the “silliness of wives” with other men.
Most of all, I realized that my son, unlike my daughter, will really be different than me.
My two-year old’s impending manhood and all that it entailed hit me hard that day in the country barbershop. I got a glimpse of my son’s future world. It was a world at once so close, so far and so mysterious.