It seems to me that sometimes these little commentaries need an update. I figure if a number of readers kinda buttonhole me with, “Hey Bill, what’s going on with (fill in the blank)?” there are likely more who are interested so I’m taking the opportunity to revisit one of the subjects I’ve written about in the past.
Readers with good memories may recall my writing several columns about Mike the Barber. He was a rather unassuming man who made his mark hereabouts not because he was a politician or a “mover and shaker” but because, as he put it, “I’ve probably cut the hair of half the guys in this county.”
Getting a haircut from Mike became almost a tradition that was passed down from father to son to grandson. Oh, yes, Mike was truly a successful small businessman – you can’t get much smaller than a one chair, one barber business. We lost Mike a couple of years ago to prostate cancer and the story of his courageous battle with that nearly-ignored mass killer of men was truly inspirational.
About a year ago I wrote, “ On the east side [of Mike’s barbershop ], in the triangle formed between the parking lot and two sidewalks was a good-sized patch of sunflowers. I once asked Mike about them and he told me he thought they were beautiful – as have the hundreds of people who passed this busy intersection daily and admired Mike’s sunflower patch year after year … I would like to see Mike’s sunflower patch … become transformed into a memorial garden of sunflowers – a continuation of Mike’s long-time beautification effort. Now that would be a fitting tribute to this remarkable friend and neighbor.”
Folks, that’s exactly what’s happening. Yep, Mike’s family has planted a memorial patch of sunflowers next to building where Mike held sway for decades as the fastest barber in the county – and maybe in the state. His widow, Adele, told me it was moved to the south side to give better visibility but regardless of location, those sunflowers are now blooming in all their glory as a memorial to Mike.
The building that one housed Mike’s Barber Shop has undergone quite a change in appearance. The large mural featuring a huge rainbow reflecting “hope for the future” which was painted following the ‘74 tornado is still there, but the lighted rotating barber poles are gone, the exterior has been repainted and the outside sign has been replaced.
The inside has also been transformed. The aquarium, the old fashioned scales, the old oak church pew, Mike’s barber chair and the lighted barber poles have all been claimed by Mike’s family as mementos. I don’t know what happened to the table piled high with magazines that nobody ever read but it’s gone too.
Jim, the new occupant, is putting his own ideas to work including installing wooden flooring, repainting the interior, and furnishing cloth-covered armchairs for waiting customers. He has named his establishment the “City Barbershop and Shave Parlor” – an appropriate description of his services. Jim tells me that, in addition to devoting 20 minute or so to a haircut, he plans to revive the long dead custom of completing a haircut with a trim around the ears using a straight razor.
And as for the “Shave Parlor” Jim also is fixing to provide old fashioned shaves using hot towels, hot lather, and a straight razor. Remember that service?
I suppose some folks might think these changes are somehow disrespectful to Mike’s memory, but that’s simply not the case. Mike’s had an ambiance, a quality, what could be called a mystique that reflected who Mike was. There’s no way to recapture that essence built up over decades. Nope, there was only one Mike the Barber, but Mike is gone. We can honor his memory with the sunflower patch and that is both fitting and proper but life goes on and we cannot live in the past.
Jim, a Navy veteran, is starting on his own new venture into the world of small business – a dream he has had for some time. He has forsaken his former occupation and, having recently completed barber school, is embarked on a courageous and somewhat risky endeavor – one with the approval and support of Mike’s family. Time – and the community – will determine how well he succeeds.
Well, there you have it – an update on the story of “Mike the Barber” but I must caution that “Mike the Prostate Cancer Casualty” will likely reappear in this column when Prostate Cancer Awareness Month rolls around. That story is too powerful to be ignored. At least that’s how it seems to me.