By Tom Poland
My great uncle cut my hair when I was growing up in Lincolnton, Georgia. That would be Waymon Walker, Granddad’s brother. Walker’s Barbershop of white concrete blocks stood on the corner of Highway 378 and Main and stands still, though forest green now. To this day I see Uncle Waymon working his straight razor on a leather strop. I see, too, colorful and fragrant bottles of tonic lined against the mirror.
I was just a little shaver when Uncle Waymon put the shaver to me. I sat on a plank that rested across the arms of the red leather chair that looked like a throne for Santa Claus. As I outgrew that plank, working the foot pedal made the chair rise, bringing my little boy’s head within reach of electric clippers, scissors, and a straight razor. I sported a short, neat look. We all did until four guys from Liverpool sent their music across the Atlantic. After that, I attempted to grow my hair long but Dad took me to Uncle Waymon’s and issued a curt order. “Cut it all off.”
Cut it off he did. I ran my hand across the nape of my neck. Lord have Mersey. The stubble felt like sandpaper. Despite that experience, each time I stepped into that old barbershop reverence overtook me. Important people came there. You might see the mayor, a policeman, or a teacher or coach. It was a place of sacrifice. You parted ways with your self. The evidence lay upon the floor.
It was a place of indelible images. A man who worked alongside Uncle Waymon looked like a character straight out of the Andy Griffith Show, straight out of Mayberry. He had oily slicked-back hair, a Clark Gable-like moustache, and was lean, wiry, and rodent-like. Harold was his name. Seems there was a third chair but its barber failed to impress me. Speaks volumes for what we fail to recall is as important as what we remember.
Walker’s Barbershop didn’t have a barber’s pole. The pole, you know, carries over from the days when barbers performed medical procedures. The white and red stripes represent bandages and blood. The blue stripe represents veins. Get your ears lowered and a wart removed in one fell swoop.
Things sure did change. Hard to find a genuine barbershop these days, though some linger in small towns. Here in the city, I went to a place that promised haircuts like in the old days. Once was enough. The women dressed like Hooters’ girls and TVs flashed hockey games wherever I looked. No thanks. I’m from the South.
These days a woman cuts my hair as I sit amid puffy-lipped women stationed beneath noisy contraptions. They read People magazine and some have foil plastered across their heads with strands of hair poking out holes. I never saw a woman in one of Uncle Waymon’s chairs. Not once. Something I never see today? Straight razors. Regulated away. Too risky thanks to the rise of blood-borne diseases.
No one oils or powders my hair these days, but there was a time when hair tonics, powder, and such had me smelling like some dandy who had just stepped out of a big city cathouse. Well, once more I’d love to step through the shop’s white-framed door and smell hair tonic. And I’d love to see Uncle Waymon working that razor on that strop … a whispery “slap, slap, slap” it went, but then it, and I, went for good, and there’s no hope for a reunion for I find myself in a gilded age of electrolysis, purple hair, and lips that look as if a swarm of yellowjackets stung them. Without doubt, these things would shock Uncle Waymon and his patrons in that elusive, vanished place of few frills I call yesteryear.
Tom’s work appears in publications throughout the South. His books include South Carolina Country Roads, Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II. He writes about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and culture. He’s member of the SC Humanities Speaker’s Bureau. Governor Henry McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon Tom for his body of work on South Carolina. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Georgia. He lives in Irmo, South Carolina.