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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 • Posted April 8, 2009

Knowledge by the Stack…

Column #310 for Release Saturday, April 4, 2009

Most folks have spent significant time in books, but determination of a consensus favorite after the Holy Bible might be hard to come by.

For me, the choice is easy. My parents bought a set of books in 1943, signing on for their first-ever purchase strung out with monthly payments. But Dad defended straying from his usual “cash on the barrel head” practice because he was plumb caught up in advertising. The Compton Encyclopedias, ads claimed, contained all the information known in the world. And he was sure that’s all we’d ever need to know.

Mom may have voted “yes” to the purchase out of enlightened self-interest. Hair-cutting was one of her many talents, and with three encyclopedias stacked on a chair, no longer did she have to bend over to “whack away” with her hand shears. As a six-year-old who learned the importance of “sitting right still” during hair-cutting sessions, I knew that there’d also be drills about “Compton book-learnin’.” Within months, questions about names of states and capitals—all of them—were fair game….

  • * * * *

I didn’t get a “store-bought” haircut until college years. Mom had gotten some electric shears a few years earlier, but she drew the line on cutting burrs and flat-tops, both of which I favored. I don’t remember her being openly critical of the then popular cuts for men, but the “standard cut” mastered by trial and error was as much as she cared to attempt.

Many’s the time relatives showed up for dinner, and before dishes were washed and dried, a granddad, uncle or cousin would trot out well-worn barbershop humor to ease into not-so-subtle requests for free haircuts.

Recollections include: “Reckon I could get my ears lowered? Could you remove this growth from my head? Is the ‘clip joint’ open?” Perhaps the most memorable came from an uncle who invariably asked her for a “hair-yank,” avowing that the hand clippers yanked out as much hair as they cut….

  • * * * *

Her barbering really got crackin’ at holiday time. Names were drawn first for gifts, and then for the men’s hair-cutting order. She’d call a name, and a relative would ask someone to “play his hand” at the “42” table while he got his hair cut. Sometimes a dozen were sheared in a single session.

Occasionally, requests were for “a simple trimming, just a little off around the ears.” (Typically, they came from relatives a couple of months late for haircuts.) Mom would protest, saying that if she didn’t give full cuts, “they’d do just as well wearing dog collars.”

She did what she could for loved ones, saving them 50 or 75 cents, then maybe $2 before she put the clippers away. A sincere “much obliged” from 30 or so kinfolks and neighbors was pay enough. (If they had 50 cents, they’d go to a “real” barber, she often laughed, and that if she took a dime, it would ruin her amateur status!)

Dad was particularly grateful. His death at age 83 in 1992 ended a marriage of more than 61 years, and I don’t think he ever visited a barber shop. She passed in 2000 at age 88, but some six decades of hair-cutting ended with Dad’s death.…

  • * * * *

Lots of styles have come and gone over the years. Mom had no use for what she called “extreme cuts,” whether shaved heads or unshorn locks. She was forever asking me to “tell that joke about the long-haired boy.” I always did so, even though she knew it, word for word.

The story goes that a youngster, a high school senior, refused to get a haircut. His dad told him that if he would do so and read the Bible in its entirety, he would buy him a car for graduation. A few weeks later, the senior, his hair still long, told his dad that he’d read the entire Bible, and was ready for the car.

“Son, you forgot to get your haircut,” his dad responded. “Dad, I’m glad you mentioned my hair. Jesus, the central figure of the Bible, wore long hair.” Then came his dad’s big moment: “You’re correct, son,” he said. “And Jesus walked everywhere he went.”…

  • * * * *

After Sunday school the other day, I chanced to see Larry Smith, a young man who distinguished himself as a student and football player during my presidential years at Howard Payne University. He’s continued the same pattern as a football coach and teacher at Everman High School.

I asked about his haircut, noting a two-inch square of hair in front that was spiked skyward. He said something about meeting the high school guys half way. “Some of them have Mohawks,” he explained, “And mine is a “faux-hawk.”

Mom would have laughed, and she would have loved Larry Smith. She, too, believed that life is about far more than hair, and even more than all that learnin’ in Compton Encyclopedias….

  • * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and writer in the Metroplex. Send inquiries and comments to newbury@speakerdoc.com. Call: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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