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Reflections

Barber Shop Provided Services And Wisdom

Hello everyone hope you‚re having a good week.  George Burns  once said, “it’s too bad that the people that really know how to run the country are either cutting hair or driving taxis.”

If you grew up going to Arthur Walker’s or Claude Terry’s barber shop as I did, that line made a lot of sense.  There were three chairs in Arthur Walker’s with a shoe shine stand at the front facing the window.  

The sign read Berry & Walker, but in later years Mr. Berry only came in on Saturday.  Mr. Berry was a short, soft-spoken man and I guess that’s why mother had him give me my first haircut.  He had the second chair and  Mr. Walker the last chair.  The reason behind this arrangement was that the first chair was always given  to the newest barber thus giving him a chance to get a customer first.  

The other two had their regulars who would go to them anyway.  Joe Johnson, who had the shoe shine stand, had the opportunity to observe everyone’s shoes and perhaps get a customer.  I can remember how Mr. Johnson, who had a soft voice would say, “Shine ‘em up today?”

 I  believe that a shine was a dime and sometimes he would get a nickel tip.  My dad who preferred to shine his own shoes, always got Joe Johnson to shine his shoes when he got a haircut.  

In retrospect, it was like a well choreographed play.  The barber would exchange small talk while seating the customer in the chair.  Then he would put the apron on, and if the customer wore glasses, he would place them on the back bar.  

A mirror ran the entire length of the chairs, and this was that way for a purpose.  The barber could turn his customer around facing the mirror and while he was cutting the hair in the back he could observe how the front would look.  Each barber carried a small whisk broom in his back pocket and he would pull it out with a flourish – sprinkle some talcum on, and dust off the neck.  

Next, he would take a bottle of green hair tonic and sprinkle over the customer’s hair and comb  it into place.  Then he took off the apron, and popped it to clear the hair off and yelled, “Next.”

In those days they had never heard of an appointment and the customers had to keep up with his turn.  The barber left it strictly up to the customer to know when it was his time.  If the customer wore a coat, Joe Johnson would take it off the rack and help him into it, then take a larger whisk broom and dust him off.  Sometimes that earned him a tip.  

Looking back, Berry&Walker seemed to have most of the railroad men as customers.  No matter how sooty and dirty a railroad man was, when he got off his run he went home and took a bath. If he went downtown, you would mistake him for a banker in a three-piece suit with a watch chain across the vest.  

Berry & Walker had another service that most of the barber shops offered, a bathtub.  Most of the townspeople, and none of the country people had indoor plumbing in those days.  From the time indoor plumbing and bathtubs came in, many of the barber shops saw this as another source of income, and some even had it on a sign in front of their shops.  

My only memory of this was when Papa Badley’s younger brother, Will Badley, was visiting from Oklahoma.  I remember him saying, “Bud, go with me to town.  I‚m getting a bath at the barber shop.” A customer got a towel, bath cloth and a bar of soap for about 35 cents.  

I don’t think any of the other shops offered this service.  When a crowd of customers was up front waiting for a shave or haircut, the real gossip started.  I remember in the early days of World War II, every customer had his idea of what Eisenhower or MacArthur should be doing to defeat the enemy.  

I remember Mr. Edgar Carr saying, “I heard the Russians went out with a gun for every seventh man and when one fell another picked up his gun.”  He added, “They’re taking the cripples, and crazies and convicts.”      

Almost all of the barber shop customers didn’t like the Russians and thought Roosevelt shouldn’t be sending supplies to them.  It’s ironic, but they were more on target than Roosevelt as future events unfolded.  

Mr. Walker had a small radio on the back bar and they listened to all the news.  Many of the men there, including Mr. Walker were World War I veterans, and they had an idea of what the soldiers were facing.  

So George Burns was correct in his statement at least where Berry and Walker were concerned.  There are many other stories that I’ll try to cover in future columns.  Let me hear from you as your input is always appreciated.  My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal.net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week. 

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