I’m a little afraid of barber shops

Steve and Peggy weddingAfter seeing this photo from my brother’s wedding (49 years ago today!) in which I was a flower girl, I realized that I was probably one of very few bridal attendants—ever—whose hair for the big day was styled by Frank the Barber, and that reminded me of a post that originally appeared on my old blog (http://harrietthespysblog.blogspot.com/) in March of 2009. Here’s an edited version:

For years now, when I go to get my hair cut, I’ve been saying things like, “Go ahead and cut it short,” and “Don’t worry, you can’t cut it too short for me!” I’ve had lots of haircuts where the hairdresser thought she was done, only to have me ask her to take a little more off.

It wasn’t always this way.

As a kid, I had a lengthy series of severely traumatizing haircuts from a large, well-muscled Italian man with a flat-top—Frank the Barber—in downtown Milford, Connecticut. At first, I was too young to realize that most little girls didn’t get their hair cut at barbershops, where they had to wait their turn sandwiched rather snugly between Pasquale from the pizza place, still in his sauce-covered apron, and a prematurely balding young salesman with a comb-over.

Even after I figured it out, when my mother told me that Frank’s haircuts were much cheaper than those from the salons where my friends went, I didn’t complain too much about it, although it was embarrassing to realize I was having my hair cut at the same place as some of the boys in my class.

Finally, though, after a particularly bad outcome—Frank, struggling to even up my bangs, took a little off one side, then a little off the other, then a little more in the middle, and ended up cutting them so short that Kevin Roman, the meanest boy in the third-grade church choir (I’ve changed his name, just in case he’s no longer mean, and regrets his past), said, “You look just like a baby!” when he saw me—I put my foot down.

After Kevin Roman told me I looked like a baby, I refused to go back to Frank’s Barbershop anymore, and my mother started taking me to the place where she got her hair done, “Mr. Sam, Coiffures” on the Boston Post Road. Her own hairdresser was not Mr. Sam, but the chatty, somewhat abrasive Vi, who had ongoing problems with her teenage children and her love life, but whom my mother liked because she could trust her not to tease her hair too much after she took out the rollers.

I got my hair cut by whoever happened to be available at the salon, occasionally even Mr. Sam himself. The haircuts I got at Mr. Sam, Coiffures were not much different from Frank’s, except that they probably cost three times as much, but at least I didn’t have to worry about running into any boys I knew there. (For all I knew, maybe even Kevin Roman got his hair cut at Frank’s, a possibility too terrible to contemplate.)

In middle school, when I finally decided to rebel, I just stopped getting my hair cut at all. Every girl I knew wore her hair long, straight, and parted in the middle, so that’s how I wore mine for the next few years, too, much to my mom’s dismay. For some reason, she really, really liked short hair, and she campaigned tirelessly for me to get mine cut. By high school graduation, I had caved and gotten it cut short again—more because a few of my friends were wearing their hair short than because it pleased my mother.

I kept my hair short and sensible throughout the late 70s and 80s. I was too busy getting married, working, building a house, having kids, moving to a new house, getting divorced, getting married again, and that sort of thing to want to mess with long hair.

Then I grew it long again. I was in my thirties, and my mother continued to bring up frequently how much cuter my hair had looked when it was short, and to make veiled references to my advancing age, and the inappropriateness of long hair after one is out of one’s teens. In fact, long after she had stopped sighing about my unfinished college degree and given up trying to get me to go to church, she still campaigned for short hair.

After my mom died, I cut my hair short again and realized that, along with all the other things she was right about, short hair probably does look better on me. I’ve kept it short ever since.

Score another one for you, Mom. But I’m still a little afraid of barber shops.

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