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Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Tale of towheaded boys

Here we are, summer '71. Towheaded and buzzed within a hair of being scalped. That's with Granddaddy and Grandmaw Edge and Aunt Joan. Grandmaw was never without a smile.


Memorial Day was not the official start of summer for us growing up. We didn't get out of school until the first week of June usually. The official start was when Mr. Pearson announced free buzz cuts in his barber shop for summer. Dad would load us all in the car, even though it was less than a mile away, and head on up the road. I'm sure he figured that if we walked, someone was bound to disappear on the way. We didn't want a buzz cut. But, it was free and what parents of four boys are gonna pass that up. I think dad got one too.
Walking in was always an experience. His shop was once his back porch, all closed in. It was very long and narrow, with a door at one end and the door to his house in the middle. The big chair was at the far end. His shop was more than just a barber shop, it was also a minnow shop. Just as you walked in, on the left-hand side, behind the door, were sinks full of minnows. There were other fishing-related items and a pop machine next to that, and the chairs for waiting were on the right.
Each of us had to take our turn in the big chair while Mr. Pearson took the clippers from one side to the next. It didn't take long. This was not a salon. The only salon we had been to at that point was in the other direction and mom didn't take us too many times. She didn't like for us to hear all the stuff they talked about in there. It interested me a whole lot more than the fishing and hunting stories of the barber shop. She probably left us in the car most of the time. Crack the windows and we would be fine. You could do that back then, it was not considered child abuse I guess. But anyway, when he finished, he would take his big brush and sweep your neck with talc and we would jump down. Next!
When we were done, we looked like the smallest and most pitiful military regiment you could imagine. Towheaded and sorrowful. Everybody would say we were so cute. We didn't think it was so cute. I am not sure why he did this at the beginning of every summer. We didn't need another hair cut until it was time for school again in September. We were a cash cow for a barber shop. It was his community service I guess. He was a nice man. I can't fault him for his kindness. His marketing begged understanding.
Summer lasted forever. We only had someone watch us a couple of summers. Mom was home with us at first, but she started working when I started school. So when my oldest brother was a teenager, he was in charge. There were lots of kids in our neighborhood, so we ended up all over the place, but everyone knew who we were and everyone looked after everyone else. It was an easy way to grow up actually.
Evenings were spent outside until way past dark. We would get our big peanut butter jars ready for catching Lightning Bugs. Holes had to be punched in the top so they could breathe, but not so big that they could crawl out. A stick or two and some grass for a natural habitat was essential. The jars were glass and they were big and heavy. Just as it began to get dark, the front yard would light up. It seemed the Lightning Bugs were always just a few feet away and you had to chase them. But, when you caught one, you had to be very gentle with it and quickly throw it in the jar and slam the lid back down. It was hard to be gentle and forceful at the same time. That took some practice. Once you had a few in the jar, it was time to go in. We would get cleaned up and take our jars to bed. I would just lay there and stare at it, watching each one light up, and eventually I guess I would fall asleep. I don't remember them being there the next morning. Maybe mom set them free, back into the wild vastness of the front yard to live with the ones that evaded capture. Lightning Bugs still fascinate me today. Here in East TN, they call them Fireflies. I like that.
Chores were something else that meant it was summer. We had our regular chores to do all the time, but not many. But, when school was out, we had plenty to do. It did mean that on Saturday mom could take us to the pool though if we got them all done. She had to work lots of Saturdays but usually got home about 11 or noon. We would have everything done and she could just come in change and off to the pool, we would go. There was always a line to get in and next to that line, was another line. The second was full of kids that didn't have the money to get into the pool. Mom would always be suckered into paying for one. I remember one black kid in particular. It got to the point that he knew when we would get there and we would see him coming through the parking lot as we pulled in. Eventually, he just got in line with us and we all went in together. I want to say his name was Reggie, but I don't remember. I have no idea what ever happened to him. He went to school in the next town.
Mom always packed lunch and drinks for us, but occasionally we could buy something from the concession stand. Their french fries were the best in the world. I think it had to do with the combination of the chlorinated water, grease and salt. Most of the time, we would just pick at our lunch because of the one hour rule. We didn't want to have to stay out of the water for an hour after we ate, and we didn't want to drown either. It was a lot of pressure on a kid to weigh that decision out when you had a boat of french fries, let me just tell you. Sometimes the lifeguard would make the decision for us. They would blow the whistle and tell us it was time to clear the pool. Then they would open the pool for the adults to swim for a little bit. We would raid the cooler and fill up while mom was doing the backstroke.
The smells, sights, sounds and tastes of summer are still so vivid in my mind. The talc of the barber's brush, mixed with the minnows. The Lightning Bugs adding a glow to my bedroom at night. The lifeguard's whistle and the taste of those fries. We didn't have money for big vacations in the summer. Summer was our vacation and it was pretty cool.