My Life in Hair

It’s interesting to think of how my hair started out, light and fair, and to consider that in my later years of life it’s gradually been returning to a lighter tint. The grey has begun to force out the brown, like the weeds taking over an uncared for lawn. Of course, I don’t really have a say in the accumulating grey population, unless I want to use one of those products that try to fool people about your hair color.

My life could easily be separated into several hair chapters that tell my story. In going through old family photo albums I can see the progression, or regression in some cases. It begins with a little boy who has been a barber’s dream cut. The electric razor has simply mowed down the hair like our lawnmower at home going back and forth, one row at a time. Five minutes tops and I took a seat beside my older brother who sported the same style, no comb necessary.

Short defined me in my early years: short in height, shorted in prized possessions because, being the youngest, I always received the hand-me-downs, and my short hair. A picture I discovered recently of my South Zanesville Junior High 8th Grade basketball team has me sitting on the end of the front row, noticeably shorter than everyone else, wearing unfashionable geeky glasses and…with short hair. Growing my hair out like 95% of my classmates was not a choice. Mom and Dad had decided the matter, and besides, it saved a lot of unnecessary time being wasted at the barbershop getting all “handsomed-up”!

The hair was permitted to be grown out some– but nothing wild– about the time I hit sixteen. When I say “grown out”, I mean it became necessary to carry a comb with me. It was as close as I came to living on the wild side back in my high school days. It wasn’t necessary for my dad to wait on me at the barber anymore, which may have opened the gates to freedom just a crack. Morris Barber Shop in Ironton, Ohio was right across the street from J.C. Penney’s where my mom worked as the bookkeeper. That meant I could spend as much time as I wanted over there.

My brother had joined the Army just about the time his hair was getting long and been roughly reunited with the buzz. Some other boys in my class were beginning to walk on the wild hair side, growing it out long and parting it in the middle. Vietnam was still going on and the unrest over our country’s involvement was filtering down into sit-ins, protest marches, and long out-of-control hair kept in place with headbands. Not me, though. I was Baptist and clean-cut, like the friends I hung around with.

And then I went to college. I remember coming home on Christmas break during my last year at Judson College. Our basketball team had played in a tournament at Spring Arbor College in Michigan, and then I had taken a bus to Columbus from somewhere close to Spring Arbor. I had grown my hair long, parted it in the middle, and felt like it made my 5’8″ frame look more muscular and imposing. My mom was not impressed. In fact, she was more depressed. Her first words upon seeing me at the Columbus Bus Depot were “Lord, have mercy!” The next day Morris Barber Shop was open I had the “hair nonsense” cut away and was quickly brought back to normal-looking. I’m pretty sure Mom used the word “hippie” in describing me.

A couple of years after that tightrope hair-style walking over a chasm of foolishness, I grew it out to an acceptable length that wouldn’t cause the elderly crowd in any church I worked in to shudder and call a special deacon’s meeting. I tried to find a length with a side part that made me look like I could still relate to young people, while “pastorally” enough for those in the church who paid my salary.

Carol had entered the picture by then. We both wore eyeglass frames that were so big they could have doubled as windshields for our car. Her hair was long, down to her waist when we said our “I do’s”, so mine just needed to be long enough for her to be able to run her fingers through…or, at least, that’s what I hope I’m remembering.

On three different occasions since those years I’ve gotten buzzed for a cause or as a result of a lost bet. The first time was to show my support for a man named Dave Buffmack, who had a brain tumor. Dave was a great guy. I can still hear his laugh, which resembled a sly snicker. The next time I got buzzed was as a result of our VBS kids raising $1,800 for missions. The stipulation was that I would get a mohawk, but if they raised over a thousand dollars I’d get a blue mohawk. I believe one mom wrote a check for $1,000 to make help create the final vivid picture. I went to my barber right after the close of that VBS to get the blue mohawk shaved off. Like my mom’s words from years before, I can still remember Phil Hanson’s words when I walked into his shop: “What bet did you lose?”

The last time I got buzzed was at the end of a basketball season when I lost a bet with one of my players– perhaps the worst free throw shooter of all time. He couldn’t make a free throw in practice so I told him that if he shot 90% for the season I’d shave my head. In the 14th game of the season he shot two free throws and made them both. Those free throws ended up being the only two he shot the whole season in our games. In fact, I’m pretty sure he tried to stay away as far away from the basketball as possible in our final five games. At the conclusion of our team banquet, I was buzzed clean.

It was almost like coming full-circle back to my childhood days. Five-minute haircuts, Morris Barber Shop, no comb necessary. In some ways, those were golden days.

Now I’m into the silver and grey days, signs of wisdom and experience. One of my students recently asked me how old I was. I turned the question back to him. “How old do you think I am?” He put a hand on his chin and considered what the answer could be. “Well, I know that wrinkles and grey hair can be signs of stress and age…so…I think you’re probably somewhere between…30 and 45!”

Sold! The “A” he received for the quarter, however, was earned, not a payoff! I’d bet my hair on it!

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