Yesterday, we found out that my barber of the last 20 plus years, had recently passed away. While I didn’t personally know Nick very well, his barber shop was somewhere my son and I had gone every 6 weeks or so for the last 7 of his 9 years.
When my son was much younger, we knew he was different than most children, displaying an unusual sensitivity to certain sounds, hair clippers being one of these sounds he didn’t really tolerate. In an effort to make the hair cut experience a little less stressful, my wife and I thought it should be something that I do with him. For both my son and I, rather than springing the news of that it was haircut day that morning, I would start to let him know about our upcoming schedule a few days beforehand, reminding him from that point daily. I wanted to make sure that we did it on a regular interval, so we settled on every 6 weeks. I would let him know that it was just him and I going out together, and we incorporated bringing breakfast the rest of our household after we were done.
I don’t know if it was because my son was getting older or if it was because we have started establish a routine (something we’ve later found out that my son really likes), but he started at first to not only tolerate the haircuts, but then I think he started to enjoy this time we spend together.
Yesterday, we set out as usual about 9:30 am after shoveling a pathway from the previous night’s snowfall and clearing the cars, we left for our ritual. We stopped at the ATM, grabbed some money, and head over to the Colonial Barber shop. Upon our arrival, I knew something was amiss. The spinning barber’s pole that was normally visible from down the road, wasn’t there. A while back, I was thankful when Nick had replaced this pole a few years back, it was now visible from down the road and I easily would easily know if he was open for business that day or if he was on vacation.
I pull into his normally immaculately plowed driveway, which wasn’t plowed this morning and see two orange traffic cones on the side of his house, blocking the path to the small parking lot behind his house. I pull into one of the handicapped spots in front, and see a handwritten note taped inside one of the front windows. The note read something like, Nick is resting peacefully now and the family was thanking us for the years of patronage and friendship.
It took me a few seconds to process this message. I had forgotten that Nick was ill. During visits over the last year or so he would often talk about how his dialysis treatments were wearing him out; we had also just seen him about 6 weeks, and although he was thinner and seemed tired, he looked like he was doing OK.
Then the message sunk in, he had died.
With my son sitting next to me in the car, I said out loud “The barber died”. My son said “What!?”. I said, “the barber died, you remember, he was sick.” I look over at my son, and his eyes are closed and there were tears coming from them. I sat there for a few seconds and thought about what this meant to my son. Although, he really didn’t have an understanding of Nick’s illness, he knew something that something would change in his routine. A routine that he found safe and predictable.
I really like going to this barber. First, it was never crowded. I could walk in with my son at 9:00 am on a Saturday, and be out the door by 9:30am. We never had wait for more than two customers to be finished before it was our time. Next, he was close to our house. It was a source of pride for me to be patronizing a local business, one of the small businesses that this country is built upon, and it took only a few minutes to drive to his shop from my house. It also made me happy that I was spending my money inside of our zip code. Finally, he was an old school barber, not a hair stylist. He had a small shop that looks like it was built in an attached two car garage, (although he later told me that was build as a barber shop from day one), that reminded me of a hunting lodge one of the type of places where men hung out. There were popular mechanics magazines on the racks, there was a deer head and an owl hunting trophies hung on the wall as well as pictures of his hunting cabin in the Poconos and old time ammunition ads. The country music station was always playing on a small radio and the ceiling was wood planks, and the obligatory barber tools that hung from hooks on hand made cabinets.
It was a comfortable place for my son and I and Nick was always friendly to us, many times complimenting my son on how much of a good kid he was, and offering the complimentary lollipop for him and his sister if she were to tag along that day. Nick has watched him grow from a small child who sat on the booster seat who squirmed and cried the entire time he was getting his hair cut, to a youth that would often engage in conversation with him while getting his hair cut. We also liked that Nick knew how we wanted to get our hair cut, not even asking how we wanted it over the last few years, like many good business owners, he knew what his customers wanted.
While I’m sure that Nick will be missed by his family and close friends, he’ll also be missed by some of his loyal customers who found his shop as local place they could get a haircut for a reasonable price by a friendly barber. For my son and I, he was a part of our Saturday routine for the last 7 years or so that we participated in every month and a half, something that will take time to re-establish.