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Reflections

Shoe Shine Part of Barber Shop Experience

Hello everyone, hope you‚re having a good week.  In the nearly seven years of writing this column I’m still amazed at where the idea for a new column can come from.  I was getting a haircut yesterday from Dee Brown who is a close friend of Lupe and two things came to mind.  The new location for the Herald and the fact that it will be where the Berry and Walker barber shop was located for so many years.  The second thing was the contrast to the haircuts back then and the ones today.  

Dee is a stylist which means her customers are male and female.  Berry and Walker and others back then were barbers plain and simple and they cut hair.  I don’t know the exact date but it was in the twenties when Ernest Berry and Arthur Walker opened for business.  The sign on the window said Berry and Walker long after Mr. Berry had opened a store in the Sylva Rena community on 32 highway and only came to work in the barber shop on Saturday.  It was a long building and one side was taken up by seats similar to the ones in the Grand Theatre next door.  In fact I believe when Shine Tyson remodeled the Grand in the early thirties, he gave some of his seats to the barber shop.  The new ones in the Grand were padded except for the last two rows next to the screen and the ones in the barber shop were not.  The opposite side was taken up with a mirror that ran the length of the barber chairs.  This served two purposes˜the barber could work on the hair in front and see how it shaped up with the hair in the back.  

The other purpose was it gave the customers something to look at while they were waiting and it gave the shop a warm comfortable look.  There were three barber chairs˜the last was Mr. Walker, the next Mr. Berry and the one nearest the front would be whatever barber employed at the time.  There was a reason for that set up as well.  Mr. Berry and Mr. Walker had their customers who would come to them regardless and it gave the new man a chance for the walk ins.  In the very frond was the shoe shine stand.  From the time I can remember it was operated by Joe Johnson.  He was a slight black man with an outgoing personality and he probably knew everybody in town.  He would speak cordially to them and he didn’t have to ask if they needed a shine.  They would tell him and if they had to wait they would sit in the tall chair and get their shine.  If they were next in line, Mr. Johnson would sometimes shine their shoes while they were getting their haircut.  

Some men would take their shoes off and hand them to him and he would shine them back at his stand.  My dad would always get him to shine his shoes and he knew just how particular dad was about his shoes.  When a customer got down from the barber chair Mr. Johnson would dust them off with a whisk broom and sometimes they would give him a tip–usually a nickel.  The barbers themselves would yell next when they finished one customer and that individual would take his place in the chair.  Berry and Walker wouldn’t have known what an appointment was and the system worked because I don’t ever remember anyone complaining that someone got his place. Over each chair hung the electric clippers and the strop for the razor hung on the right side of the chair.  The chairs could be raised or lowered and would recline for the customer wanting a shave.  I was always fascinated by the shaving routine. First, they would put a hot towel on his face, let it stay a few minutes and take a shaving brush from the shaving mug and create a lather from the round cake of shaving soap in the much and lather his face up.  Then they would wrap the towel so that only his nose would be showing and let it stay for a few minutes all the time stropping the razor.  Then they would commence the shave.  The old time barbers said that they could shave a person with only eleven strokes.  I asked Wade Doolin about that recently and he didn’t remember that part but he did say that they were taught to hold the razor a certain way when shaving or stropping.  I was afraid when I started this that I couldn’t complete it in one column so we’ll continue it in a future column.  I would like to thank Jack Gurner for the pictures and the excellent piece on Mr. Tom Myers. I had the privilege of knowing Mr. Tom and not long after I started this column I did a profile on him with personal knowledge and information supplied by his son, Wes Myers.  I didn’t have access to the pictures and information that you did, Jack and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Someone said once that Mr. Tom knew everybody in Water Valley and if a stranger showed up he would introduce himself and welcome him to Water Valley.  He also went to practically every funeral in town.  When we had Papa Badley‚s funeral, Mr. Tom came up and shook my hand and said that he was also at Nannie Badley’s funeral several years before.  Keep up the good work and for the rest of you, 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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