The Barber Shop

Lattimore, North  Carolina is a small town. Smaller than most with no stoplight and only a single stop sign at a single intersection. As you traveled on the Lattimore/New House road you passed by Lattimore Elementary School where I attended school from the first grade until the sixth grade. It was on the right. Beside the school, at the intersection was a house where an old bootlegger woman lived. Lattimore was in a dry county you see.

As you reached the intersection there was a filling station on the left and if you took a left turn just a little ways down the road was the pride and joy of the city of Lattimore. The Number 7 township volunteer fire department. It may have been (and still is) one of the finest volunteer fire departments in the whole state (or at least the county).

If you took a right you passed by Bell’s Antiques and Horne’s Supermarket. If you kept going you passed by the Lattimore Woman’s Club building and then the road took a sharp curve before you come to set of railroad tracks.

In that curve was an old two-story brick building that held both the  Martin Milling Company store and the Lattimore Barber Shop.

The barber shop was for the most part a one man operation run by a country barber named Don. He was a barrel chested man with sideburns, a ruddy complexion, and dark wavy hair that he combed back and cemented into place with a generous helping of Brylcreem. He always wore a white barber’s smock .

Before you get the idea that I’m borrowing a page from the Andy Griffith Show, let me reassure you I’m not. This was no Floyd’s Barber Shop where two or three regulars were sitting around reading the paper and drinking orange soda. For one thing, in those days the majority of the men were smokers and there was always a haze in the air as a result of someone puffing on a cigarette. Nowadays we know better than that and no one would dream of going to a barber shop where a bunch of men sat around and smoked.

The barber shop was a clearing house for news. Mostly the kind you could not read in the paper or see on the evening news. Mostly the “real story.” While the paper was reporting that a local county commisioner was stepping down to spend more time with his family, at the barber shop you could find out the truth, that he got caught with the chairman of the board of deacon’s wife from the local Baptist congregation and his wife made him quit the county commission or she would take him for everything he was worth in the divorce settlement. This was verified and certified to be true by someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew the wife.

There could be spirited debate at any given time. Nothing would stir the passion of the men sitting around waiting for a haircut more than the impending election of the high sheriff. The sheriff was always referred to by simply his first name. Sheriff Haywood Allen was the high sheriff when I was growing up, but everyone just referred to him as “Haywood.” No need  to say more. Everyone knew who “Haywood” was. The next county over had a legendary lawman, Sheriff Damon Huskey. Naturally he was known as simply “Damon.” A movie was once made about Damon entitled “Rutherford County Line.” It would be hard to say whether Haywood or Damon was the more frequent topic of conversation.

Talk could get a little bawdy at times, and I suspected that when young impressionable ears were not around that the talk could get downright filthy. I distinctly remember the subject of “Dolly” coming up more than once and the dopey grins the men had on their face as they shot each other knowing glances. Occasionally an argument would break out as to whether she should have left Porter Waggoner. I think history settled that one.

There were frequent times of levity there too. Once Barber Don hired another barber named Norman. He was something of a joker and he liked to repeat things he had heard on episodes of Hee Haw, especially if Archie Campbell had told it. More than once I got to hear the “Pie Are Square, Cornbread are Round” joke. He loved to tell the Archie Campbell rendition of “The Pee Little Thrigs.” Norman thought he was funny. To tell you the truth I never really thought Archie Campbell was that funny. Norman even less so, but I usually laughed anyway.

Of course Lattimore being a small town meant that the values didn’t change as time marched on, at least for the established townspeople. Long hair for men started in the early sixties with the Beatles. It took eight to ten years for the young boys in Lattimore to adopt that hairstyle, but adopt it they did. Naturally this was considered a threat to Barber Don. He made his living cutting hair, not watching it grow. He would rail on and on about how “if God had intended ol’ so and so to have a daughter, then they’d have been born a girl.” And “Ain’t no youngun’ a mine ever gonna wear that hippie hair as long as I’m breathing.” And, “Any boy who would wear his hair long like a girl, must be one of them queers you keep hearing about.” And “I tell you what would straighten him out. Take ’em out back and just beat the tar out of ’em until they get that crap cut off.”

Barber Don would proudly proclaim that he only knew how to give one kind of haircut, a short men’s haircut. Actually since he did a lot of flat tops that would make two styles of haircuts total.

As I got older I quit going to Barber Don and started going to Bernie’s Barber Shop in Shelby. Bernie actually had hair touching his ears so he was a man who had come to grips with societal and fashion changes. Bernie’s seemed to be a little more family friendly. A woman would never have set foot into Barber Don’s shop, but at Barber Bernies, it was common for mothers to bring their young sons for a trim.

Barber Don kept his shop open for many years. I think he only retired in the last few years. I have no idea if his shop changed from when I was a boy. I suspect it had.  Some change is inevitable. I don’t want to leave you with a bad impression of him. He was a good man and very much in step with the times and the values those times represented. He was the type of man who folks would say “I think a right smart of him!”

There are very few old-time country barber shops left where you can go and get not just a haircut, but a close shave too. Nowadays you have to go to fancy places like Sportsclips. You do get to watch ballgames on big screen TVs while you get a haircut, but the whole thing just feels like something a marketing executive cooked up. The girls that cut hair are just employees and just as likely as not to still be working there from one haircut to the next, They aren’t owners and they don’t get a chance to run a business with a personality all its own. It’s sort of like going to Applebees. No different from one town to the next. All of commerce has become  corporate and profit driven. The Mom and Pop stores are all pretty much out of business and Barber Don has retired his scissors. That’s too bad.

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5 Responses to “The Barber Shop”

  1. Kendell Jones Says:

    Knowing as much about Don as you do, I would like to let you know that there was one woman in Lattimore who went to Don’s to get her hair cut. You knew her and reverenced her a great deal. She always said that no one could cut her hair the way she wanted it done except Don. You probably know just who I am speaking of. Of cocurse, iti was our beloved Miss Nell Crowder.

  2. Granddaughter to Bell’s Antiques. Thanks for taking me back to a small town in a simpler time. The bootlegger- Lovie May S J ( The initials are protecting the long gone and not so innocent or so my grandmother said) My first kiss- the warehouse of Bell’s / Horne’s – sweet memories. Gone, but never forgotten.

  3. I’m one of the great-niece’s to Bell’s Antiques! I’m John Williamson’s granddaughter & he and Mary Bell were siblings. I loved going to Aunt Mary & Uncle John’s store….and of course, their house! Miss Nell…I can believe she was the one who’d go to the barber. No one like Miss Nell! I learned from her how to “properly display bridal shower gifts” among other things! What a treasure! I loved going to Jack Horne’s store as a kid. I’d go say hey to Roy in the meat dept. and talk to Annie at the register. I LOVED Lattimore School too!

  4. Paul Mauney Says:

    I am so glad I found this. I grew up in Shelby , however My grandparents lived on Towery Rd about a quarter mile from the fire station. I grew up getting haircuts in the place you describe and enjoying an RC and pork skins at Martins with my brother and grandpa, Paul Jones. He was part of what was once considered the Lattimore Mafia. These are some of the most influential and fondest memories of my life. Thank you.

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