Posted on August 16, 2023

A Little Off The Top - Gebo's

So, my hair is starting to go.

It’s expected but no less surprising when big handfuls started coming out in the shower yesterday morning.

No pics. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

I continue to marvel at the treatment process. It’s a demonstrable sign the chemo-immunotherapy is doing what it’s supposed to do.

And we are very grateful.

The oncologist says this will likely be the worst of the side effects. We take things one day at a time, of course, and - for today - this isn’t so bad.

Bad was that time back in second grade when I went to get a haircut and Old Man Dunn misheard me.

In the small world of my childhood, it was perfectly safe for a seven year old to walk the town square alone. Most of the people who saw me knew me or certainly knew my parents and grandparents. It was nothing to walk the six blocks from my house to the barber shop all by myself. (The previous year I began walking home from elementary school on days my grandfather couldn’t pick me up.) It was safe and I felt all grown up as I passed stores and crossed streets on my own.

I opened the barber shop door. The smell of hair tonic and cigarettes grabbed me and pulled me inside.

The waiting area was almost full. I took an empty seat near the magazine rack, saw the “Big Book of Children’s Bible Stories” on a lower shelf near some old issues of “Popular Mechanics”, and began thumbing through some familiar Old Testament tales. I liked the pictures.

Three barbers in a row - Bobby Back, Leonard Newberry, and Jack Dunn - kept the chairs turning as they plied their craft on the heads of businessmen, ranchers, and the odd schoolboy.

It was a busy place and, like most barber shops in those days, all sorts of side business was being conducted amid the tall tales and profanity.

As I waited, I watched the men talking. Their easy camaraderie and free flowing conversations were almost as interesting as the three pairs of perfectly aligned mirrors that faced each other on opposite walls of the shop.

Way off in the distance I saw a small image of myself trapped in their infinite reflection.

I waved a little wave to myself and smiled when I waved back.

My turn finally. Each of the barbers had cut my hair at one time or another but Mr. Dunn’s chair came empty first. He heaved the kiddie bench into place across the chair’s arms and said, “Your turn, Jim.”

I put the Bible stories back in the rack and walked to the chair. He helped me scramble up onto the bench seat that awaited me.

Each day, Mr. Dunn patiently - and single mindedly - processed head after head while jokes and laughter swirled all around him. Our families went to church together so we knew each other well enough outside of hair cutting. He and his wife Ruby Dunn were solid, loving fixtures at First Baptist Church. He seemed ancient to me, but as a child, anyone over fifty seemed like a contemporary of Methuselah.

“What are we doing today?,” he asked.

My customary cut was called the “Long Burr”. It was a short cut that was easy for my mother to wash and manage but it still left me the dignity of having something to run a comb through. “Long Burr '' were two of the few words I spoke confidently to adults in those days. Otherwise, I usually stayed pretty quiet.

I said the words aloud to Mr. Dunn.

In the din and utter confusion of a barber shop full of men, apparently Mr. Dunn only heard the word: “Burr”.

And he started to work.

It was a quick job. Armed only with an electric trimmer, he started at the back of my collar and made several sweeping movements up and over the top of my head. Thick clumps of hair began landing in my lap.

It was over in minutes.

He took out a hand mirror and asked if the cut was okay. Polite as I was, I’m sure I mumbled something appreciative and quietly slipped down from the chair. I walked to the door and left.

My dad would settle up with him the next time he came in to get a cut. 

I slowly retraced my steps on the long walk back home. Every store window showed me the reflection of a nearly bald little boy.

They were gonna make so much fun of me at school the next day.

Today, I’m long past caring what other people think of my appearance or me in general, as it happens. You don’t like it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

But my second grade inner child still runs fingers through the place where my hair used to be and remembers that silly knit cap I wore to school the next day to cover my bare head. My teacher, dear Mrs. Theresa Spivey, came to my desk, put her hand on my back, and quietly said “We can’t wear hats inside the building, Jim.”

Oh, man.

The second round of treatment starts later this week.

The adventure continues.


By: James Hamilton

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