Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

The Barber Shop
by James Glaser
September 4, 2009

It doesn't matter if you are up North or down South, the local barber shop is a place of information, entertainment, and yes, a place to get your hair cut.

When I first moved to Northome, Minnesota, Parker Corner was the barber. Parker also had a cedar fence plant, but being a barber was his passion. He was a member of our local VFW, and a WW II veteran. His shop was a meeting place for veterans, farmers, and loggers. Parker's barber chair was cream colored enamel, and it had red leather on the seat and back. He could pump it higher, swivel it around, and tilt it back and forth. If nobody was getting their hair cut, it became Parker's sitting chair.

Parker would get the conversation going, but only had to add a word or two to keep the stories flowing. Yes, there was a lot of gossip, but also there was news from north, east west, and south of town. If somebody was sick and needed help, all they had to do was get word to Parker, and he made sure their neighbors and friends were told.

Politics were on the discussion board every day, along with the weather, the best tractor, and how the high school basketball team was going to do. (Since basketball required only five members on the floor, Northome could compete with bigger schools) Even if you brought up a subject from left field, there was sure to be at least one "expert" in the shop that would tell you what they thought.

After Parker died, the barber shop closed down, and there was a vacuum for local information, but being a small town, people made do. Greta Grapevine had a beauty shop, but she let it be known that she also did hair cuts. Most of the farmers headed down to Blackduck to the barber there, but a good many of Parker's customers started getting their hair cut by Greta.

It really was never the same as there were more women than men at Greta's, but the local information was passed around like before, and Greta seemed to have the same knack as Parker for keeping people talking. Also, Greta was very good at getting people to help anyone who needed it.

When I moved down South, Wanda took over my hair cutting for about a year, but she kept telling me to find a barber. I don't know if she didn't like doing it, or if it didn't look that good. Guys usually don't care all that much about their hair cut, they just know when it is time to have it done again. In the heat down here, short seems to be a bit cooler, but as your hair thins, you have to worry about a sun burn up top.

I tried a few different barbers, but most of the places had six or more chairs, and your hair cuts were like an assembly line. They got you in and out of the chair as fast as possible with a minimum of talk. Well, a friend told me about the Magnolia Barber Shop. There are three chairs, but only one barber. The barber is a woman, and she is a talker, but she knows how to keep you in the conversation. When the waiting chairs start filling up, the conversation opens up to the whole place. I have talked guns and hunting there which now that I think about it was a favorite at Parker's shop, too—especially during deer hunting season. Down here is the South, in the city, it tends to be more about the right to bear arms and where to buy them. The locals here seem to think it is just fine to drive 200 miles to their favorite gun store, and there is a lot of price comparison going on. Wanda and I drive about 150 miles to a little gun shop out in the middle of a potato field to buy any fire arms we are interested in.

So, here is the South, about 1700 miles south of my barber shop in Minnesota, I have found a place that feels a little bit like home. I was there on Thursday, and the place was filled. This time the conversation was on wood working and where to buy local native hardwoods. This was great for me, as I am the new guy, and I really want to find local saw mills. I was told of several and will be checking them out.

When it was my time in the chair, a guy stuck his head in the door and said, like it was a national emergency, "Turn on the radio and listen to what Glen Beck is saying." It was almost like you expected to hear that Pearl Harbor had been attacked again or that the World Trade Center towers were burning.

The barber shop had no radio, but to my surprise, four guys jumped out of their seats and headed out to their cars to listen on their radios. I wouldn't even know where to find Glen Beck on the dial, but it was obvious that these guys did.

The rest of us in the barber shop talked about that, and I found out that all these people watch Beck's nightly TV show. They claim the man knows his facts and that he backs them up with video and audio clips. I don't know, but will have to join his growing audience and see for myself what got those guys out of their place in line for a hair cut to listen.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Tomorrow, I am heading up to Minnesota to see my mother who has just entered a Hospice Program. I'll also see all of my children, grandchildren, and my sisters. I am driving. Some people think that's crazy, but most guys I tell that to envy me. Driving cross country is so American to me. Out on the open road seeing things you will never see again, meeting people you would have no chance of meeting if you didn't take the trip.

I got a trip map from AAA, and they tell me it is 1,373.9 miles up there, and I should make it in twenty hours and two minutes. A long time ago, I would have driven straight through, but over the years I have come to realize that getting there is half the fun.

Wanda is staying here and will be getting is some quality time with her mother, too. I'll miss Wanda a lot, and that will make this tip shorter than it would have been in years past. However, this will be a special trip as I will get to: see a grandson (Mason) I have never met; see my son and his home that he bought in Saint Paul; and see my daughters, Nikky and Whitney, too—all of those are very good reasons to make the trip! I'm sure every day will, be filled with things to do, and when it is time to leave, I'll be ready for life in the South again.

I have a list in my head of a million things I want to get done down here. I have to build a studio, which will be so much fun; Wanda and I are going to landscape our property; we are still trying to finish unpacking; making changes to the hardware and fixtures to get the house the way we want it; then there is the vegetable garden, the fruit trees I want to plant, and all the things I want to make. Oh yeah, that novel, well maybe just a cook book.

So, I have places to go, things to do, and people to meet. Life is good. Thank You God!

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