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February 9, 2017

When I saw former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara wheeled to the fifty yard line for the coin toss just before the kickoff of the Super Bowl last Sunday night, I, along with many others, were amazed. They had both recently been hospitalized. But there they were, cheered on by the thousands of fans in attendance as well as by many others watching on television. It brought to mind something that occurred twenty years ago in Spartanburg.

Stay with me here. This is a good story.

When Clare and I lived in Winston-Salem, I won a drawing at a Boy Scout fundraiser. The door prize was a styling at a local hair salon, Delilah’s Den. Though I had always gone to a regular barbershop, I decided to try it out since it was free.  The resulting haircut was just fine, but Clare quickly informed me that Delilah’s Den was forevermore on the black list of places to get a haircut. Delilah, the stylist, struck her as matching too closely the description of the Biblical Delilah, the one responsible for the downfall of Samson.

Samson had the most expensive haircut on record!

Contrary to the familiar refrain, “Shave and a haircut, two bits,” I have never paid less than fifty cents for a haircut.

When I was a freshman at Furman in 1962, one of the seniors worked as a barber out of his dormitory room. He charged half a dollar per customer for a haircut that conformed to Army standards.

My dad used to give similar haircuts to my three brothers and me.  In our garage, using neither comb nor scissors, his only tool was an electric trimmer with a buzz attachment. The resulting hairstyle was just short of bald, allowing our mother to spot a black-legged deer tick at twenty paces.

My first flattop came from Bob Martin when I was in junior high. I used a product called Butch Hair Wax to make the unnatural arrangement stand up. Its effect didn’t last long. A flattop and a baseball cap are incompatible.

Nowadays, barbershops are diminishing in number.  Salons are replacing many. The folks who actually cut hair are no longer named Bubba or Sarge.  They refer to themselves as stylists rather than barbers. They may be people who speak with a foreign accent or women named Delilah.

I remember the barbershop as a house of mirrors. Opposing mirrors in front of and behind the row of chairs created a series of reflections extending to infinity. The barbershop was a place filled with clouds of cigar smoke mingling with the fragrance of talcum powder and shaving lotion. A barber from my teenage years chewed Redman Tobacco. His brass spittoon would now be considered an antique, a disgusting relic from a bygone era.

The local barbershop is among the last of the all-male institutions to fade from the American scene. A barber pole and the cigar store Indian were, for years, symbols of welcome refuge for the American male. No more.

The first time I remember a woman entering a barbershop, the intrusion brought a pall of silence settling over the establishment. It was as if we had experienced a close encounter of the third kind.

She was a mama who wanted to be sure the barber treated her none-to-happy son gently and, at the same time, cut the child’s hair to suit her.

While she was in the shop, there were no jokes and no fishing stories. There was no banter and no barbershop quarterbacking. The lady did most of the talking.

After the mother and her child departed, a whole lot was said!

Now, if I enter a barbershop where I am known, I am often greeted with, “Hey, Preacher!” followed by the same awkward silence.

After fifty plus years as a pastor, I recognize the alarm when it is sounded. Barbers and patrons alike are immediately on guard. Language is sanitized. The best barbershop jokes are censored. It is too high a price to pay for a haircut!

Once I decided to dash into an unfamiliar barbershop for a quick trim while Clare did some shopping.

When I next saw her, she was horrified. “What happened to your hair? It looks like a lawnmower ran across your head!”

That was the day I finally lost the privilege of choosing my own barber.

I used to get a haircut at least once every three months whether I needed it or not.

Since Clare started making the decisions about where I am allowed to get my trim, I have a standing appointment with the same stylist who does her hair. Jeff is a great friend. He gives an excellent haircut. His price is more than fair. Best of all, Jeff is a Green Bay Packers fan who enjoys talking football.

He comes from a long line of Georgia barbers. His fine heritage is evidenced by a pair of his great uncle’s straight razors framed in a shadowbox on the wall of his shop. When I visit his place of business, the magazines are Vogue and Cosmopolitan. There is not a Field and Stream or Sports Illustrated in sight. That is a high price to pay while waiting for a haircut.

Several years ago, while Clare was shopping in historic downtown Inman, I strolled into a barbershop around the corner. The customer in the only barber chair had an Elvis-sized head of hair. The barber worked on the shiny black ducktail while exchanging turkey-hunting stories with the next fellow in line, a man who was almost completely bald.

As the first man paid the usual amount for his haircut, the bald man took his seat in the chair. “Surely, you’re not going to charge me the same thing you charged him?  I should get a discount!”

The barber responded with a line he must have used many times before. “Yes, you’ll get a discount for the haircut, but I’ll have to charge you a finder’s fee.”

Sometimes the price of a haircut is just too high!

The truth is, nobody wants a bad hair day.

The salon where I get my hair cut and where Clare has her hair styled, are one and the same. Their telephones ring constantly. Making appointments, changing appointments, doing whatever must be done to accommodate the clientele is the nature of the business.

Here is the story about George and Barbara Bush.

One October day in 1997, Pam returned a phone call. A regular customer wanted to make an appointment, but this time it was not for herself.

“Pam, former President and First Lady, George and Barbara Bush, are in Spartanburg. Could you do Barbara Bush’s hair tomorrow?”

Pam agreed. After the call, she blurted out to everyone in the shop, “Y’all, I’m doing Barbara Bush’s hair tomorrow!”

For the rest of the day, the shop was buzzing. Everyone who came in had a comment about the former First Lady.

“I just loved her book about her dog, Millie’s Book.”

“You know, she’s a grandmother. In fact, she’s everybody’s grandmother.”

“The thing I like about her is she speaks her mind. She’s just a plain person like all of us.”

I teased Pam about her opportunity to trim the Bushes.

Later in the day, the telephone rang. Pam heard the same voice again. This time she answered immediately.

“Pam, since you’re coming to fix Barbara Bush’s hair, would you have time to give the former President a trim, too?”

No chance that Pam would be speechless!  “Oh my gosh! I would be honored!”

When Pam arrived at the Milliken Guest House, she was nervous. The Secret Service Agents didn’t ease her discomfort.

Pam had on a new outfit. Barbara Bush wore a terrycloth bathrobe.  As Pam styled Mrs. Bush’s lovely snow-white hair, they talked about their children, just as any two mothers would do.

Pam had almost completed Barbara’s hairdo when the former President came to the door wearing a matching white terrycloth robe.

Pam said the former president put her at ease. “As I cut his hair, I remember thinking, these are just ordinary people.  There was no air of superiority about them.”

George Bush offered to pay Pam. Pam declined, saying it was her honor. The former President insisted, paying the usual fee for both Barbara’s styling and for his haircut.

In that case, the price of a haircut was just right.

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