I am patriotic. I am a veteran and I know my experience as such was eclipsed by the experience of so many others who served. That is part of the fun being a barber, being able to serve those who have served and every now and then getting a glimpse into their experience through their own perspectives.
When I have time I prefer to cut older gentlemen’s the old way, shears, comb and razor. No clippers, even though the electric clipper was invented by Leo Wahl in 1919. I am not sure why, but it seems to connect me to a time before I was and I like the way that feels.
I was snip-snipping away at one of those pates of billowy white hair. Little bits of white hair slowly drifted down to finally rest on the cape covered shoulders, shoulders seemingly bowed underneath the weight of history. I recognize the history as the foundation of my own, but not mine. They bare it alone but in the company of others who walked their way all at once.
Noticing some of my wall paraphernalia, most likely my dress blue jumper hung alongside my white dixie cup cover, he asked simply, “You serve?” I told him I had and asked if he had. “Yep” was all he said. I was interested. I asked what he did and He told me he was a nose gunner on the B-17 during WWII.
Heroes are heroes and I honor them all, but most really don’t think that they are. I had, right here, in my chair and under my care, a piece of living history. I wanted to know more, but the baggage these guys and gals carry around is sometimes best left alone. I simply said, “That must have been scary.” He said, “No, not really.” I couldn’t imagine being in the front of all the action looking out at a deadly enemy and it not being scary and I told him so. He said, “Naw. We got shot down 4 times.” Then it went silent. Not wanting to stir things up but wanting to hear more, I said”Well being shot down had to be a little bit scary/” I persisted. He said, “No, not really. Well, there was that time we were shot down behind the lines. Seemed like everyone in the world wanted to kill us, but it all worked out.” More silence. I finished the cut and the nape shave. I used my very best bay rum after shave and dusted his neck as though I were handling a priceless and fragile treasure, and thanked him.
Only in the barber shop…