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THE IDES OF MARCH

March 15, 2017

In his play Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2), William Shakespeare depicts a prophetic encounter. The ominous dialogue is an exchange between the Emperor and a soothsayer in the crowd.

Sensing a threat, Caesar pauses to challenge, “Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music cry ‘Caesar!’  Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.”

“Beware the Ides of March.”

“What man is that?” inquires Caesar.

Brutus identifies the voice. “A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.”

Shakespeare borrowed this scene, along with other details of Caesar’s death, from the Life of Julius Caesar by the first century scholar Plutarch, a Greek historian and biographer.

Tradition alleges that Julius Caesar was a superstitious man. He wasn’t likely to take a soothsayer lightly. Caesar might have heeded numerous harbingers of impending danger – the chilling warning, a violent thunderstorm, and his wife’s nightmares. Even so, he ventured forth to the Senate and to his doom on the Ides of March. The Roman Emperor was assassinated by a group of political conspirators, including Brutus and Cassius.

The soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar has forever shadowed the day with a sense of foreboding.

In early Rome, the Ides of March did not necessarily evoke a dark mood. It was simply the standard way of saying March 15.

Notable people other than Julius Caesar have also died on March 15. Among them are Abe Saperstein, founder of the Harlem Globetrotters; Aristotle Onassis, Greek shipping magnate; Rebecca West, historian and writer; Tom Harmon, football player and sports broadcaster; Benjamin Spock, pediatrician and writer; and Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of Baseball.

March 15 begins the last official week of winter. I can remember very cold weather during the month of March here in the Upstate.  One March, when I was a teenager, snow fell on three consecutive Wednesdays.  Just a few years ago, the temperature plummeted to fourteen degrees on a night in mid-March, nipping the blooms on many of our plants. It is the time of year when peach farmers pay close attention to the buds on their trees and to the weather forecasts.

Spring usually comes to the Upstate a little early.  Our most avid vegetable gardeners plant sugar snap peas and red Irish potatoes by Valentine’s Day.

On a recent afternoon, I walked through my garden.  Rain has revived the pansies and the violas.  Crocuses are blooming bright, daffodils are nodding in the breeze, and Lenten roses are peeking out from their cover of evergreen foliage.  A mockingbird and a Carolina wren are singing.  The robins and the bluebirds have returned and are preparing for their nesting.  The waterfall is flowing freely, and the wind chimes ring to a gentle breeze. From the looks of things, spring is close at hand.

In my neck of the woods, the Ides of March is not a reason to beware. Rather it is a time to be aware and to be glad.

THE WIND

March 5, 2017

Here in the Upstate of South Carolina the month of February was unusually mild and often pleasant. As March approached, I wondered if the old adage, “in like a lion and out like a lamb” would be a realistic description of March this year. But on the first day of March a cold air mass collided with the warm air over the Piedmont.

Meteorologists warned that the weather could get rough, and sure enough, it did. As the colder air moved in the turbulence became severe, especially across North Carolina. Rain and hail were accompanied by strong northwest winds with gusts as high as sixty miles per hour.

March came in like a lion or some other roaring beast.

On Wednesday afternoon, before the worst of the storms arrived, I sat on my backporch enjoying the warm weather, sipping a cup of coffee, listening to the wind blow, and thinking about times when I had experienced strong winds.

I recalled a time when I was a boy. I was preparing for a camping trip with my scout troop. I had just come home from school to prepare for the outing. I was assigned the task of bringing ice for the cooler in which we would store our food. I finished packing my gear, when a sudden storm with strong winds and quarter-sized hail broke loose. Our chicken house was blown face-down off the concrete blocks that served as a foundation. Chicken feathers flew everywhere. The hail pelted down and piled up fast. As soon as the storm blew over, Mama phoned my dad at the lumberyard to report the damage. Read more…

MARCH, ASH WEDNESDAY, AND LENT

March 1, 2017

March is a tumultuous month, a restless time.  Many of our familiar clichés and quotes about March confirm the unsettled nature of this, the third month on our calendars.   The time-honored adage, “in like a lion, and out like a lamb,” describes the dramatic changes we expect.  “As wild as a March hare” implies that even rabbits are more impetuous during these thirty-one days.

In his play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare depicts a prophetic encounter. The ominous dialogue is an exchange between the Emperor and a soothsayer in the crowd.

Sensing a threat, Caesar pauses to challenge, “Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music cry ‘Caesar!’  Speak! Caesar is turn’d to hear.”

The soothsayer warns, “Beware the Ides of March.”

Basketball has the sports spotlight for the month of March.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association showcases conference tournaments, closely followed by the Big Dance, the NCAA basketball tournament.   The top sixty-eight teams in the country compete for the national championship.  All of this basketball has surely exceeded the wildest imagination of Dr. James Naismith, the man who invented the game by attaching a peach basket to the wall of a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.   The roundball frenzy has become, indeed, March Madness.

In March, cabin fever gives way to spring fever.  Usually, the winter has kept us more confined than we like.  Much of January and February are spent on the inside looking out.  Winter has not been nearly as harsh this year as in the past. All around are signs of the hope of spring.  Flowers and trees are blooming earlier than expected. School children fly kites in open fields. Golf courses are busy with activity.

Early-blooming Lenten roses nod in the cool March breeze. New shoots and sprouts pierce the earth.  Early bulbs of jonquils, daffodils, and crocus join pansies and violas to add bright colors to an otherwise drab landscape.  Yoshino cherries, crabapples, cup and saucer magnolias, Bradford pears, redbuds, and dogwoods, each in turn, are breaking forth into bloom.  Birds of every feather pair and prepare for spring nesting: robins in a honeysuckle vine, mockingbirds in a pyracantha bush, wrens in a hanging basket, and brilliant bluebirds in a cedar box.  In March, all of creation yearns for new life.

Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her sonnets,

A little Madness in the Spring

Is wholesome even for a King.

Spring-cleaning is wholesome madness.  Most homemakers have a moment, often in the spring, when they are seized by an impulse to clean.  Spring-cleaning goes much deeper than ordinary routine cleaning.

There is, however, another perspective. This year, Ash Wednesday is March 1 and marks the beginning of the season of Lent.

When I was a boy and a member of a Baptist church, the observance of Ash Wednesday was a strange custom to me. I though it must be the day to clean out the fireplace after the winter. When friends came to school with a cross of ashes on their foreheads I was curious, but thought asking would be rude.

The season of Lent was also an unknown concept to me. Because I was unfamiliar with the word, I thought it was the season of lint, maybe a time to clean out the vent on the clothes dryer. I heard my friends talking about giving up something for Lent. Boy, was I confused!

In our sophomore year of college, Clare and I started dating each other. She was a Methodist. I had a lot to learn, and she had a lot to teach me. She tried to teach me how to dance, but, alas, I was dancing impaired. She did teach me about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. I warmed to these ancient Christian practices that were so new to me.

Eventually, I joined other Christians at the altar on Ash Wednesday for the imposition of ashes. I began to see Lent as a time for spiritual renewal. The practice of giving something up for Lent was a challenging concept. It is based on the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism, a time of prayer and fasting.

One year I gave up nothing at all for Lent. Then, almost as an afterthought, I decided that I needed a post-Lenten fast. I went on a media fast – – no television, no radio, no newspapers, no magazines. This occurred before the introduction of cell phones and home computers. Clare would want me to add that this was not only after Lent, but it was also after the NCAA basketball tournament.

When the media fast was over and I turned the television and radio back on and started reading news again, almost nothing had changed in the world. Other than the Stanley Cup champions of the National Hockey League, a few robberies, and traffic problems, I had missed very little. I had gained immensely from my reading.

Several years ago, I decided to give up Facebook for Lent. Good decision! Though I enjoy hearing news about friends, I really don’t care what you had for breakfast. I realized what a poor substitute for actually human interaction Facebook has become.

Over the years I have heard the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” many times. The answers are sometimes astounding. I have known people who gave up chocolate, coffee, all desserts, and other good things to eat. One man even said he had decided to give up watermelon for Lent. We all know how good watermelon is in March!

By observing Lent, the individual imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days at the beginning of His ministry. It is a time of spiritual discipline.

The idea of giving up something for Lent is derived from the customary practice of abstaining from meat.  It is not a time of physical starvation or dehydration.  It is rather a time of self-denial and self-emptying.

Giving up something for Lent has sometimes been trivialized. Is deciding not to eat calves’ liver or brussel sprouts really a sacrifice?  Will giving up coffee or chocolate help you become a better person?

Lent seems to always come just in the nick of time to restore hope to a world in despair, to restore peace to the turbulent earth, to restore saneness to the madness of March, and to bring healing to the fevered, frantic pace of spring. As we greet March, we celebrate Lent!

I have thought about the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

I have a suggestion that is not original. In fact, it comes straight from the writing of the Apostle Paul. In this particular year, in this specific season of Lent, all who are Christians need to relinquish these things as instructed by scripture.

“Give up all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)

This is what I intend to give up for Lent. I hope you will consider joining me. Even if you do not observe Lent, even if you are not a Christian, we all would do well to give up bitterness, hate, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice. As Paul points out, these must be replaced by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) If we can be disciplined enough to make that change for forty days, we might do it longer, even for a lifetime. And if we do that, the world will certainly be a better place for all of God’s children.

THE WAY TO WISDOM– PROVERBS 9:10

February 20, 2017

 

  1. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom:

and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (KJV)

 

  1. The reverent fear of the Lord, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome, is the beginning and the preeminent part of wisdom.

And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding and spiritual insight. (AMP)

 

  1. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (NIV)

 

  1. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (NRSV)

 

  1. To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord.

If you know the Holy One, you have understanding. (GNT)

 

  1. For the reverence and fear of God are basic to all wisdom.

Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding. (TLB)

 

  1. Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.

Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. (NLT)

 

  1. Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God,

insight into life from knowing a Holy God. (The Message)

SPRING TRAINING

February 19, 2017

The college baseball season is under way. Major League Baseball’s spring training is about to begin. As a new season begins this week for the Boys of Summer, I have fond memories of a trip I took with my grandfather in 1960.

When I was in the tenth grade, Pappy drove his green Oldsmobile to Spartanburg High School. He blew the car horn repeatedly until Dr. Spencer Rice, the principal, came out to see what all the fuss was about. Of course, Dr. Rice knew my grandfather.

“Mr. Neely, is anything wrong?”

“Nothing wrong.  Send that boy out here.”

“Which boy?” asked Dr. Rice.

“My grandson, Kirk.”

Dr. Rice paged me.  “Please send Kirk Neely to the office.”

That’s the announcement every tenth grader dreads.  I walked slowly to the principal’s office wondering what I had done wrong.

Dr. Rice explained, “Kirk, your grandfather is here.” I was both relieved and worried. I went outside.  Dr. Rice followed.

Pappy had moved over into the passenger’s seat. “Get in here, boy, and drive me.” I got behind the wheel.

“Mr. Neely, are you taking Kirk out of school?” Dr. Rice asked.

“No, I’m not taking him out of school. He needs his education.”

“When can we expect him back?”

“In about a week.”

“Do you have an excuse?”

“No! No excuse. We’re going fishing!”

Pappy turned to me, “Take Highway 56 south toward Augusta.”

In the rearview mirror, I could see that Dr. Rice was stunned. Pappy stunned a lot of people. My mother told me later that she thought that being with Pappy for a week was an educational experience, more valuable than a week of school. She was right.

We did not talk much. We drove to Daytona Beach, Florida, and we fished for a week.

Because he had already suffered two heart attacks and a stroke, Pappy didn’t drive well. In fact, he had relearned to drive using his right foot on the brake pedal and his walking cane on the accelerator. Needless to say, his driving was erratic. When other drivers saw him coming they gave him a wide berth.

I earned my South Carolina motor vehicle license when I was fourteen. After that I became Pappy’s designated driver.

Pappy’s doctor had told him that he could fish only every other day and rest on the days in between.  Pappy chartered a boat for fishing. On the off days, we drove all over Florida, going to spring training camps for major league baseball teams, probably not exactly the rest days Pappy’s doctor had in mind.

Pappy especially wanted to visit Art Fowler, a native of Converse, South Carolina, a regular customer at the lumberyard, and who, at that time, was pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their training camp was in Vero Beach, Florida.

We were able to find Holman Stadium near historic Dodgertown. Art, then nearly thirty-eight years old and nearing the end of his career as a player greeted us. After a brief conversation, Pappy and I headed back to Daytona Beach.

Pappy was a true baseball fan. Because he grew up in middle Tennessee, his favorite team was the St. Louis Cardinals. He had never seen a major league game except on a black-and-white television. Pappy talked about the old time baseball players. Cardinal players like Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy and Paul Dean, Red Schoendienst, Grover Alexander, and Walter Allston who, at the time of our trip, was the manager of the Dodgers. There were other players as well. The Georgia peach, Ty Cobb, who had the sharpest spikes in Major League Baseball, was on Pappy’s list. So, too, were the great Yankee players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

One player on Pappy’s list that surprised me was a shortstop known as The Flying Dutchman. Honus Wagner played in the National League from 1897 to 1917. Though he was noticeably bowlegged, he possessed superior speed on the base paths. Playing in what is referred to as the dead ball era, Wagner was an outstanding hitter. Perhaps his fielding, especially at shortstop, was the reason Ty Cobb called Honus Wagner, “the greatest star ever to take the diamond.”

In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Wagner as one of the first five members, with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.

Honus was one of nine children born to German immigrants in Pennsylvania. He dropped out of school when he was twelve to help his father and brothers in the coalmines. In their free time, he and his brothers played sandlot baseball. Four of them would go on to be professionals.

Honus trained to be a barber before becoming successful in baseball. Even after he was a baseball player, he would sometimes give haircuts to his teammates in the clubhouse.

Wagner began his career with the Louisville Colonels in 1897. Legend has it that Ed Barrow, who had watched him throw rocks across a creek, signed him to his first contract.

Honus was a solid hitter from the very beginning of his major league career, hitting .338 in 61 games in his rookie year. By his second season, Wagner was already one of the best hitters in the National League. After the 1899 season, the NL was reduced from twelve to eight teams. Owner Barney Dreyfuss took many of his top players with him to Pittsburgh. Wagner would play the remainder of his career for his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates, 21 seasons in all.

In 1900, Wagner won his first batting championship with a .381 mark and also led the league in doubles (45), triples (22), and slugging (.573). Wagner played several different positions to keep his potent bat and speed in the lineup. He would eventually play every position except catcher, even making two appearances as a pitcher. But as a shortstop he played his best.

Babe Ruth said, “At short stop there is only one candidate for the greatest player of all time, Honus Wagner. He was just head and shoulders above anyone else in that position. Honus could outplay any other shortstop. He was the greatest right-handed hitter of all time.”

His career totals include a .327 lifetime batting average, 640 doubles, 722 stolen bases, and a career total of 3,415 hits.

The Honus Wagner American Tobacco card is the most famous baseball card ever produced. Known as the Holy Grail and the Mona Lisa among collectors, it is by far the most valuable piece of cardboard in existence. In September of 2007, a private collector paid $2.8 million for a card with the likeness of the famous Pirate’s shortstop printed on it.

Very few of these cards are believed to be in existence. One theory for the card’s scarcity is that Wagner requested the production of this card be halted since it was being sold to market tobacco products. At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, one of the cards is on display. A plaque states that while Wagner was a smoker, he did not want children to buy tobacco products to get his card.

Though the steroid era has tainted the sport, baseball still has a place in the hearts of the American people. One of the reasons is our collective memory of players like Honus Wagner. No wonder Pappy had him on his list of great players.

Former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, told a story. “When I was a boy growing up in Kansas, a friend and I went fishing. As we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon, we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”

LOVE NEVER ENDS: A STORY FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

February 12, 2017

The two met as teenagers at church. Their first several dates were sitting together during Sunday evening worship services. Then he asked her to go to a movie, the picture show, as he called it. Their love for each other continued to grow into a long-term marriage. For me, the two would become Mama and Dad.

After high school Dad finished a two-year degree at a junior college. He returned to Spartanburg to work at the family lumberyard the summer before Mama enrolled at Winthrop College. Dad drove to Rock Hill, South Carolina, almost every weekend to visit his sweetheart.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered World War II. Because gasoline was rationed, Dad often siphoned fuel from a lumber truck to fill up his 1936 Ford before making the two-hour trip to Rock Hill.

Mama wanted to drop out of college and get married, but Dad insisted that she finish her degree. He had wanted to complete a four-year degree, too, but World War II made that dream impossible.

On June 10, 1943, two weeks after Mama graduated from Winthrop, she and Dad were married in the church where they first met. They moved into a four-room house that Dad built himself, and I came along fourteen months later.

During Mama and Dad’s fifty-eight years of marriage, they had eight children and forty-five grandchildren. Their home and their lives were filled with love.

Late one night in April 2001 Mama woke up with a terrible headache and took two aspirin, strong medicine for Mama. Dad helped her to the bathroom and suggested calling EMS, but Mama refused, instructing, “Just lie down by me, and help me get warm.”

With some hesitation, Dad did as Mama asked. From her extensive antique quilt collection, Dad chose one of her favorites and covered her. He hugged her close to him, wrapping his arms around her. They both drifted back to sleep.

When Dad woke up the following morning, Mama had died during the night. Death could not have come any more gently. Swaddled in a quilt at home in her bedroom, with the love of her life holding her, was the way she chose to die.

Dad’s grief following my mother’s death was profound. None of us realized how much she had become dependent on him.  In those last years of her life, Mama’s health was failing. Her eyesight had dimmed, and she developed congestive heart failure. Dad came home every morning from the lumberyard about nine o’clock to fix her breakfast. He stayed with her until she had showered, dressed, and gotten settled.

Mama died the Wednesday after Easter 2001.

As Christmas approached that year, Clare and I met Dad for supper at Wade’s Restaurant. During the meal we had a memorable conversation.

After the meal that December night, I told Dad that Clare and I had to go to Wal-Mart.

“You don’t have to hurry, you know,” he said. “They stay open all night.”

“Have you been shopping at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night?”

“Yes, I have. I don’t have much trouble going to sleep at night. When I wake up though and your Mama is not there, that bed is the loneliest place in the world. I get up, take my shower, dress, and go to Wal-Mart. That’s when I’ve done all of my Christmas shopping. I’ll tell you something else, Waffle House stays open all night, too.”

“You’ve been going to Waffle House in the middle of the night, too?”

“I sure have! If I wake up at two or three o’clock in the morning, missing your Mama so bad I can’t stand it, I shop a while at Wal-Mart. Then I stop by Waffle House for breakfast. I can still get to the lumberyard by five o’clock.”

“No wonder you don’t have any trouble going to sleep at night!”

“Nope. I read the Bible, say my prayers, and go right to sleep.”

When Mama died, Dad was eighty years old. Except for his gimpy left knee, he was in good health. But Dad was bereft, adrift, lonely, and vulnerable. Widows swarmed around him like gnats on a sweating horse. Some were unbelievably forward in their pursuit.

Dad made it clear that he had no intention of taking up with another woman. “I had the best wife any man could have. There will never be another woman for me. I’ll never get married again.”

And then there was Ruth.

Ruth and her husband, Ray, were members of the church I pastored.  Two months before they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Ray was diagnosed with cancer. For ten long months, Ruth lovingly tended her dying husband in their home.

Though Ruth almost always had a smile on her face during her vigil, strain and fatigue were evident. I saw in her expression her sorrow and her devotion to Ray.

In the early morning hours of May 11, 2002, he died.

After Ray’s funeral service a few days later, I walked with Ruth to the family car. Arching across the cloudy sky that afternoon was a full rainbow.

Dad, who attended the service, later said, “I saw Ruth with a broken heart. She was standing under that beautiful rainbow. I knew exactly how empty she felt because I still felt that same way. I just wanted to take Ruth in my arms and comfort her.  I knew then that I had feelings for her.”

As the months passed, I knew Dad and Ruth were falling in love. I saw them sitting together in church. Dad quit making rash promises about how he would never remarry.

A year later in May 2003 Dad and Ruth were married. I, along with the five other ministers in our family, officiated at their wedding.

Love the second time around is not easy. Two weeks after the wedding, Ruth’s daughter, Kathy, died after an extended illness.

“The more people you love, the more grief you must endure,” Dad said.

Ruth knows.She would also loose Dad.

Ruth recently said, “Though we were only married for seven years, sometimes I feel like we were married for a long time. It’s wonderful to be married to your best friend and your soul mate.”

To celebrate their third wedding anniversary, Dad and Ruth went to an inn in Tryon, North Carolina. At dinner, they held hands across a candlelit table to say the blessing.

The young waitress commented, “This must be a special occasion.”

“Yes, it’s our wedding anniversary.”

“Congratulations! How long have you been married?”

“We’ve been married one hundred and twelve years,” beamed Dad with that familiar twinkle in his eye.

“A hundred and twelve years?” the waitress asked.

“That’s right! I was married to my first wife for fifty-eight years.” Then nodding to Ruth, he explained, “She was married to her first husband for fifty-one years. And we’ve been married to each other for three years. That makes one hundred and twelve years.”

After seven years of marriage to Ruth Dad died on Sunday, April 3, 2011

This past December I officiated at Ruth’s third wedding. She and he husband, Bill, have a beautiful marriage. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “Love never ends.”

To verify the truth of that scripture, just ask Ruth.

THE PRICE OF A HAIRCUT

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.