A barber lives his life well, despite disappointments and grief along the way.
A Life Well Lived
By Donna Lowich
He stopped at the entrance, and paused a moment before unlocking the door to his shop, his workplace for almost thirty years. He turned on the lights and flicked on the switch that turned the red, white and blue barber pole. Barber poles represent a history of primitive surgical techniques and blood-letting; this barber pole was a sign of welcome to the shop’s customers. The list of faithful customers was now into its second generation.
It was a "first-come, first-served" shop. That was part of its charm. Men and women, but mostly men, got their haircuts there. But the barber was not simply a hair-cutter. He was knowledgeable about many subjects and could trade jokes and barbs with the best of them. Men would sit in the green vinyl chairs and talk politics and exchange ideas on vacation spots and restaurants to try.
This had been his work life for more than half his life, right here in this one location. Each day, he always paused before going in to begin his day. If he had been born in the next generation, the opportunities would have been so much greater for him--he was certainly intelligent and gregarious, a man of character and strength. In a different time and under different circumstances, he would have made a magnificent lawyer; he certainly had the natural skills for it. But as with many who were born in the generation that grew up during the Depression and sacrificed so much during World War II, those opportunities were not available to him. But rather than be bitter, he was grateful for all that he had--his house, his yard, and the one thing of most importance to him, what he prized above all else, his family who adored him in return. If he was to be a barber, than he was going to be the best barber he could be. And he was. His customers all said so, and this was reflected most accurately in both his repeat and still-expanding business.
He built the business from the ground up, renting space in a new shopping center in a growing area. During the following thirty years, not much decorating had been done, but that was not important to the customers. The same green and white linoleum covered the floors, and humorous pictures of barber shops in the Old West still hung on the walls. A silver, very ornate cash register rung up every haircut. The one change was the area near the telephone. It had always boasted pictures of the barber’s children, and now proudly boasted those of his grandchildren. The surroundings were not as important to this shop’s customers, as were the barber’s always-interesting discussions and joke fests.
The barber was involved in the community. Although he lived ten miles away in another borough, the barber sponsored a Little League team in this town. For families that came in, the barber gave generous “family discounts”, even though his prices were already low. If he was on the road, and saw a car with a flat tire or stuck in a snowbank, the barber always stopped and helped. He never accepted any money in return, only asking the stranded person that his kindness be returned by helping others when they could.
Fifteen years later, tragedy struck. His young son died after battling cancer. His loss was immeasurable; his grief, profound. The barber never spoke of his loss, or of the pain that tore at him every day. But he never let the pain stop him from going to work. He and his wife made sure that they still celebrated holidays and birthdays for their two daughters.
Shortly after his own terrible loss, one of the barber's customers lost his wife to cancer, leaving him with four small children to raise by himself. Putting aside his own grief temporarily, the barber wrote a long letter to the man and his family, consoling them about their loss when his own heart was breaking. The barber’s family never knew of the letter until the barber’s death some twenty-three years later, when the man and his grown-up children traveled a distance to pay their respects to a man who had given of himself so many years earlier.
There are titles and honors bestowed on people all the time for various heroic acts and deeds. For this man, there were no awards or dinners for his many acts of kindness and heroism. But for those who knew him and who were recipients of his love, his kindness, and his assistance, that was not necessary in order to recognize him for the hero he was. Many knew him as “Lou, the Barber”, or maybe just “Lou.” To me, I am honored to call him, “Dad.”