Growing up, haircuts were pretty basic – just a simple burr. But it did save on shampoo and towels, and there sure wasn’t a need for a comb.
There is one particular hair cut growing up that I’ve tried to forget, and I know Mama did too. It all started the day before I was supposed to begin the second grade. We were all gathered around the kitchen table the night before supper and Mama said to Paw, “Wash, them boys need a haircut before school starts.” Now back then town-bought haircuts cost a dollar a piece and when you multiply that by 3 well that is three whole dollars that could be spent on groceries or other more important things.
First of all, we didn’t look like a bunch of hippies, but you know how mothers are, she wanted us to look our best, even if we wore patched jeans and boots with holes in them.
My dad was a farrier on the side, and that particularly day he had put on more shoes than a woman at a BOGO sale at Sears and Roebucks. He was plumb tired by supper and the suggestion of being a barber was a surprise to him. But after a lecture from Mama he was guilt-balled into submission.
“One of y’all go to the barn and get the horse clippers, get a stool and let’s go to the porch,” he said. Did he say horse clippers?! We ain’t never had a hair cut with them before, usually it’s that little pair under the sink. But Paw’s reasoning for the big ones was he would be done in half the time and besides… he just had the blades sharpened.
Randy was the oldest so he got to sit on the stool first. I remember looking at him and appeared like how a feller might look after being led to the electric chair. When those clippers came on it sounded like a helicopter with too many blades. It clattered more than our push lawnmower. But with one steady hand on the clippers and the other massive hand holding on to Randy’s shoulder, it was over in the blink of any eye. I remember Randy running for the barn like a chicken with his head cut off, sort of wobbling and hollering, “I’m glad that is over, my head is still vibrating!”
Dale was next on the stool. Once again those things clattered and smoked and I heard the words, “You better sit still or this is going to hurt!” When Dale came around the corner of the house he looked a little dazed and his head was slightly notched. I ran directly in the house and begged Mama to let me go to school without a hair cut, but she insisted and she told Paw be easy on me because my head wasn’t very big.
Being the youngest in the family I was used to the leftovers and being last in line. I was the last to take a bath and the water was always cold, the last at the supper table, the last to get the hand-me-down britches, but this was the first time that being last really did hurt!
“Sit down Tudor (that was his nickname for me), and let’s get this over with I’m getting tired of holding these things up,” Paw mumbled.
When he turned that ancient torture device back on the clank of metal thrashing against metal sounded like someone had put a toaster in the washing machine. I remember the smell too. It smelled like branding yearlings and burning oil. Paw kept saying, “Best be still or I’m going to gouge your hide or maybe even an ear.” Surely he was kidding right?
After several licks to my head I finally cried out and Mama came running. I could tell by her look something was up. He blamed it on me for squirming and Mama put the haircut to a halt. “I can’t believe you would do that to him.” She said. “Awe it don’t look too bad and besides it just school, it aint a beauty contest,” he replied.
When I came around the house Dale and Randy were both laughing. I rubbed my head just to see if I had any hair or hide left and it sorta felt lumpy and sore. I ran in the house to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Surely Mama wouldn’t let me go to school looking like this! Suddenly I thought this could turn out in my favor. Who would be laughing in the morning when Dale and Randy had to go to school and I got to stay home eating ice cream until my hair grew back? Unfortunately, that idea backfired when the next morning we all loaded in the car headed for school. I felt like a sheered sheep being led to slaughter.
I got me some looks, laughs and pointing fingers. I just wanted to get in my chair and get the day over. But just as school got started the teacher called me up to her desk and said, “You better come with me.” She escorted me to the office and sat me down in a cold plastic chair as she headed into the principal’s office.
I couldn’t hear for sure what they were saying, but just a minute later she came out and handed me a note. “Go home and give this to your mother,” she insisted.
Alright! I thought. I’m going to get out of school after all. During my walk back to the house I was sure there would be iced tea and cookies waiting for me. I remember clear as day coming up to the house and Mama was hanging clothes out on the line. When she saw me coming up from the pasture she came running asking if I was hurt. “No Mama I’m fine they just told me to come home and give you this letter.”
She began to read it and I hadn’t even had time to make it to the door when I heard her scream my name… and I mean all three names, “Rodney Kent Rollins you get in that car right now!” As a kid you know when they use all your names it is not going to be good.
“We are we going back to that schoolhouse and they’re going to get an earful!” she said. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I think someone else was in trouble, instead of just me.
When we pulled up to the school Mama yanked me up to the office and told me to sit down and be quiet she was going to handle it. By this time, if I had had any hair in would have been standing on end, ‘cause I had never seen my mother this stirred up before. This was even worse than the time she found the centipede inside the ironing board leg.
I could hear loud noises coming from behind the closed door, and then just like that it was over. She came out, looked at me and said, “I will see you after school,” and she walked out.
The principal escorted me back to my classroom and told me, “I’m sure sorry son this was a case of mistaken identity.”
I thought about that for the rest of the day and wondered what exactly happened- and what would happen when I got home?
Paw came by and got us from school and he didn’t know a thing about this mistaken identity feller or what I was talking about. When we walked in the door Mama lit into him just like a hen protecting her chick from a cat. I could tell he was surprised because he had that deer in the headlight look. She threw that letter at him and said, “Read this and tell me then how proud you are of your handy work?” So he begin to read:
Dear Mrs. Rollins,
It is with our best interest and the interest of the other students and their safety that we take this action. We cannot tolerate or overlook this type of exposure to the other students in the school system as well as the staff here at Sallie Gillentine Elementary School. That is why feel we should take this action now instead of after school to prevent the spread and possibly an outbreak of your child’s condition. We have made the conclusion that your son, Rodney Kent, RINGWORMS and should be isolated from the other students until this matter has been resolved.
Grade School Principal
Paw just looked up and said matter of fact like, “They ain’t got a clue- them ain’t ringworms those are clipper burns. They’re two totally different things. Those folks we got teaching down there ain’t got no common sense at all.” At that point Mama coolly told us kids to go outside and play and not to come back in until she hollered.
To this day I never knew what she told Paw, but one thing I know for sure it was town-bought haircuts from then on! I guess if I learned anything from this it would be that looks can be deceiving at first glance, and never ask your farrier to do a barber’s job!