It was about 1955 when Wilford "Spike" Tanner appeared in North Lewisburg as a new barber. I was all of ten years old, and curious about him. I lived at the north end of town, directly across a gravel driveway from the town's other barber, William D. "Billy" Curl. Billy had been "my" barber for the first ten years of my life. He, and his wife Lydia, operated a barber shop - beauty parlor on Sycamore Street, adjacent to the old Hiway 559 Coffee Shop. I had sat in Billy's chair there so very many times, listening to the rhythmic ticking of the old pendulum clock on the wall and the whirring sound of the electric clippers. Even the scissors he used for the trimming had their own particular beat. Hair fell to the floor to the "clickity-clack" of those scissors in his expert hands.
Billy and Lydia had brought presents to our house every Christmas...generally they were gloves, socks, or scarfs which Lydia had carefully knitted over the year. They were good, kindly people, and great neighbors.
But, I wanted to see just what this new barber could do for me. So, one day after school while walking home, I stopped at Spike's shop. He had a retail place on the ground floor of the old Town Hall building (and was to remain there many, many years before moving to another building just a short distance east on Maple Street). Spike was a tall, thin, man, dressed in a white barber's smock, open at the collar, with just a wisp of a dark moustache. He was slow and methodical, and talked with a slow, deliberate pace in a slightly high-pitched voice. He was an avid bowler, and his shop was a gathering place for men of like mind and skill. Sports topics were the rule of the day, and during the baseball season, the old black-and-white TV in the corner was usually occupied with broadcasting a game...usually the Cincinnati Reds.
The crew cut was popular about this time. Hair was closely cropped on the sides and back of the head, but left a bit longer on top. This forest of hair was then treated to a pink goo, sometimes from a "goostick," other times from a plastic jar, Spike's fingers liberally covered with the pink stuff. The idea was to make the hair stand up straight. Then, Spike took the electric clippers and with the precision of a lawn care expert, clipped off the end of the hair, making the top of the head perfectly flat. The result was clean, crisp, and durable. The Navy could land an aircraft on that flat-top surface.
I paid my $1.00, walked out the door, and felt the afternoon breeze as it worked its way through those upright hairs. There was a sweet odor which emanated from the pink goo as I crossed the street and turned north on Sycamore Street.
Half-way down the block toward home, a sudden realization struck me. I'd have to pass by Billy Curl's barber shop to get home. Billy would see my new "flattop" and realize that I'd been to see his competitor. I was almost in a state of panic; I didn't want to offend Billy. So, as I approached the Highway 559 Coffee Shop entrance, I dropped down to hands and knees and scurried past the plate-glass windows at the front of Billy's shop. Safely beyond his potential gaze, I stood up and quickly walked the remaining distance to my house. Over the next few days, I avoided being seen on my front lawn, concerned that Billy would notice my haircut.
A few days later, Mom sent me on some errand to one of the stores downtown. I made the necessary purchases, and had just turned the corner onto Sycamore Street, when Billy crossed my path. He was apparently on his way to the Post Office to retrieve his mail.
"Looks like someone has a new barber," he said. I was very embarrassed, and could have disappeared into one of the cracks in the sidewalk. "Well," he said, "it looks pretty good." And he went on his way.
For the next few years I tried to be ecumenical about the situation. Sometimes Billy cut my hair; sometimes Spike cut my hair. With Billy's death in 1964, the town lost one of its two barbers. Thereafter, Spike was the only person to cut my hair until I moved away from home in 1971.
By the time of Billy's death, I had lost my appreciation of the flattop. It always looked good at the start, but had a tendency to look wilted and fore lorn after just an overnight sleep. That's when Spike introduced me to the "pineapple." In this style of haircut, the hair was close-cropped all over...sides, back, and top. But a bit of hair was left at the front of the forehead which was dobbed with that all-to-familiar pink goo and combed to the side in a flourish. In my teenage mind, it looked "cool." I wore my hair that way from junior high school through my first two years of college.
I left North Lewisburg in 1971 and moved west to the mountains of Utah. Periodically, I returned home for visits with families and friends. I always made it a point over the next two decades to stop by Spike's barber shop for the usual trim. It was a good time to wax nostalgic with Spike, and to get caught up on the latest town news and gossip.
I was enroute to Panama in 1990 for my next duty assignment with the U. S. Army. I decided to stop in North Lewisburg for a visit. After spending time with family and friends who lived there, I drove by Spike's Barber Shop, only to learn that he had closed down the shop and was no longer practicing the tonsorial trade. I drove the rental car to his house, got out, and walked to his door. I knocked, and in a very short time there he stood at the door...the same thin, moustached Spike I had always known. He seemed pleased to see me, and invited me into his home for a chat. After a few minutes, it was time for me to leave. As I arose and headed toward the door, Spike called out" Wait a minute! I've got something for you." He went to another room and soon returned, a plastic jar in his had. It was white and blue, with an American flag sticker on the top. He handed it to me. "That's the last jar from the shop," he said. "I've saved it just for you."
I held in my hand an unopened jar of that familiar pink goo which I had used so many years before. I was overwhelmed to know that he had been saving that old jar just for me. We shook hands, I mumbled a "Thank you," and I left. I never saw Spike the Barber again; he died on November 29, 1990, just a short time after I departed for Panama.
Another twenty years have passed since Spike - my friend, my barber - gave me that unopened jar of goo. It has traveled with me from place to place, from Panama back to Utah, and from Utah to Ohio and other places around the country. It has seen a lot of miles, but I treasure it still. Today, it sits on a shelf on my bookcase, a reminder of other times and other people. But mostly it reminds me of home.