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Field notes: I learned everything I needed to know about people at the barber shop

Slater, the small mill village where I grew up, had exactly one retail building. The large, brick two-story building housed Roy and Kate Whitmire’s grocery store, fire department and post office, as well as my father’s hair salon next to my mother’s beauty shop. I spent most of my formative years in their hair salons and beauty shops.

Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill once told me that my father reminded me of Floyd the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show.” I laughed in agreement and added that the barbershop itself was a suitable facsimile for where Andy and Barney hang out.

Slater’s Barber Shop
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When I was a kid, men waiting for haircuts would tell me great stories that usually started with “When I was your age…”. Life and Look magazines; and if I did not understand, they would tell me the meaning of the words. My first grade teacher told my parents that I was in second grade when she came to school. These fellows who come in for a haircut may not know that they are helping to fuel their passion for lifelong learning.

I remember when the astronauts landed on the moon, one of my dad’s customers claimed that everything that was shot at a dessert in Arizona was fake. She said she knew it was fake because her aunt had a friend who lived out West, and that aunt said her neighbor’s son worked on a film crew. In fact, I’ve known several people who believe the man-on-the-moon story is a hoax. These were mostly people who believed that Bigfoot was real. Some people seem naturally inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, hocus pocus, and surrealism.

Some people are naturally funny and like to joke around. When I was a Cub Scout I read something about how to make a “crystal radio”. It required a coil of copper wire wound from a roll of toilet paper into a cardboard tube, a nine-volt battery, a small speaker, and a galena crystal. Since I have a fairly extensive rock collection, I had the galena crystal and found all the other components easily. I put everything on my father’s table as the people waiting to get their haircuts were eagerly waiting.

Hairstylist Artis Chastain is waiting for her next customer.
Hairdresser Artis Chastain is waiting for her next customer.

Finally, I announced that I would hook up the wires and start the jury-rigged device. As I prepared to connect the wires to the battery, one of the men slipped behind a barber chair where a large RCA radio sat on a shelf among bottles of hair tonic. The moment I touched the bare copper wires of the battery, he turned the knob, and Loretta Lynn said, “I was born a miner’s daughter…” This is what I learned about humility, the art of appreciation. kind humor, even if I had.

Dennis Chastain is a Pickens County naturalist, historian and tour guide. He has written feature articles for South Carolina Wildlife magazine and other outdoor publications since 1989.