ST. LOUIS, Missouri, September 8, 2016 – The barber shop of the early 1900s was far more than a place to get your hair cut.
The barbershop during world war two was the gathering place for conversations and in particular, those conversations concerning the war and its impact. Men congregated at the barber shop to talk about all the news of the day, including speculation about their relatives serving overseas. The men guessed where their relatives were stationed and what they were doing. In those days, government secrecy meant you didn’t really know where anyone was stationed.
The men talked about rationing back home and how everyone was coping.
The barber was the listener, the Chaplin and a person of true understanding. They were an ear for listening to whatever troubles ailed you. The barber didn’t offer advice or try to tell you what to do. Instead, he provided an outlet to get things off your chest or to work through a problem on your own.
Barbers didn’t charge clients anything extra for the privilege of listening. They just had the customer sit up straight in the chair and let them talk while the barber did the rest of the job. Today we call this multi-tasking.
The barbershop was the place to put your cards for the turkey shoot, or Boy Scout and Girl Scout drives. Schools would ask permission to put their ads in the window.
The barbershop was a center of communication for the small towns, and in large cities, it gave a neighborhood hub. Everyone belonged at the barbershop.
The barber was also sort of like our Google of the time. They had amazing memories. They knew all the athletes on the High School teams. They remembered your name and how you wanted to have your hair cut; mostly they were crew cuts. People would say, “Hey Joe, remember that guy who…?” or “What was the score of the game?” or any number of questions, and the barber would know the answer.
Oh, and you never met a barber who couldn’t sing.
Today, those traditional barber shops are disappearing. You can sometimes find an old-school barber shop, although the barbers are getting a little grayer and are slowly disappearing. Some exist still, much like they used to. Russ’s Barber Shop feels like home, with people helping seniors go from walker to barber chair, always saying, “Have a nice day.”
But even those are not the same as they used to be. There’s no shoeshine boy collecting tips, no group of men sitting around talking about baseball and family, no barber listening while you tell them your woes.
Sometimes I miss those places and those days, and the warmth and community they brought.
However, that’s from a time and place I am from-