the whisker on my earlobe

My Dad and I, circa 1960.

My dad would have been 97 years old today. To remember him, I’m posting a piece (more an anecdotal memory than a story) that I wrote several years ago before his death. Happy birthday, funny man!

This morning while plucking a hair from my earlobe as thick as a chin whisker I recalled my childhood visits to the barber with my dad. Saturday mornings belonged to my dad and me during my grade school years. He and I got out of the house, where my mother and six sisters ruled the roost, not to go fishing or hunting or do little league or some other typical father-and-son activity, but to do the weekly household grocery shopping.

In a family as large as mine, we each had our household chores and the weekly grocery shopping was one I shared with dad. He and I would climb into the big empty nine-seater Greenbrier van, vacant of its usual full load of passengers, and head for the Henhouse, a giant farmers-market-like grocery store with fresh produce, a real butcher with a meat locker, and beehived sample ladies with seasoned sausage on toothpicks and cheese on Ritz crackers. To me we weren’t doing a weekly chore. This wasn’t the job of housewives. My dad and I were on an adventure. This was man’s work. We would over load a giant shopping cart full of canned baked beans and peas, chicken and burger meat, gallons of milk, and large boxes of breakfast cereal and Modess, a popular brand of “sanitary napkins” in the 1950s and ‘60s.

For as long as we went to the Henhouse, the women at the checkout line would laugh and comment on these “two men” buying all this food and so much Modess. Once I remember my dad saying, “We just buy them for the coupons.” Another time he quipped, “I have a wife and six daughters at home. This is an emergency.” I was too young to be embarrassed and my father’s sense of humor taught me instinctively that it was indeed funny, but not an issue.

Sometimes after shopping we made detours through my dad’s old neighborhood. Down the street from the Henhouse was McLean’s Bakery, which had the best bear claws and iced butter roles, and across the old trolley tracks was Lloyd’s Barber Shop  where my dad had apparently been going to get his hair cut since he and Lloyd were both young men. A trip to Lloyd’s was tacked on to our grocery trips maybe once a month, extending the day both in time and space. I was sharing a piece of my dad’s private time and history.

Lloyd’s was dark and tobacco stained, with fixtures from the early 1900s and a long mirrored shelf of hair tonics no longer available to anyone but professional barbers. I have no idea how old Lloyd was by the time I first climbed up into his barber’s chair, but my father was in his 50s for most of my grade school years and had the grooming needs that I now realize were those of a middle aged man; specifically, nose and ear hair. My dad would joke about the “forest” in his ears, or “looking like a mangy dog,” but never made it sound like anything other than something to laugh about. I distinctly remember wondering, as I watched Lloyd take the trimmers to my dad’s earlobes, when I would be old enough to need the hairs in my nose and ears trimmed, as if it was a rite of passage that would come with my driver’s license or high school graduation.

Little did I know that this privilege wouldn’t come until I was in my 40s and that it would be unwanted by then. I guess, with the way my dad took it in stride, like the shopping cart full of Modess, I never realized it was an issue.

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