Buzz Cuts and Curly Hair

“What wonderfully curly hair your children have,” a visitor from Seattle exclaimed, as she ran her fingers through my curly hair and made me cringe.  Since my brother Mike was dark complexioned, a throw-back to the Spanish armada when it wrecked on the Irish coast, his hair was dark and straight, while Sister Molly’s curly hair was the same as mine; though for a long time, Mom had to scotch tape a pink ribbon to Molly’s bald head, signifying that she was not a boy, but a girl.

“Can’t I get my hair straightened out?” I asked Mom, who replied that I should ask Don the barber, the next time I saw him; and so I did.  Don Kellogg had a board that he would place across the arms of his barber chair for us little kids who weren’t tall enough.  “Don, “why don’t I have straight hair, like everybody else,” I asked him from my lofty perch in his barber chair?  “Have you been eating your squash and other good vegetables?” he asked.  I hated squash and told him so.  “About the only thing I can suggest is that you borrow one of your Mom’s silk stockings and pull it over your head at night and keep doing that for three months.”  Sister Molly was laughing at me and told Mom that it made my eyes look Chinese.  I didn’t know which was worse, having old ladies pet me like a dog, or, putting up with having to wear a stocking over my head, which never did any good anyhow.

John’s Mom did their haircuts at home where she could do what they called “crew cuts” or what John later learned in the air force were called “buzz cuts.”  His sister was saved from this embarrassment.    Some of the kids merely had a bowl plopped over their heads and anything showing was cut off.  When John went to school with a new haircut, he was taunted with; “Did your Mother put a bowl over your head?”   In other cultures, the bowl cut is viewed as an attribute of poverty, signifying that the wearer could not afford to visit a barber.
If we came home with pitch, tar or dog manure in our hair, Our Mom’s went off the deep end and got the stuff out by using a lye based soap called Feldmans that hurt like hell.  Twenty mule team borax was another way for her to torture the evil smelling stuff out of our hair.  Seventy years after, could these applications be our present day source of baldness?

Now, there is a brand new cooking school where Don Kellogg plied his trade as a barber in the 1950’s.  The old drugstore was on the south side of Tommy’s shoe shop which is now a new pizza place with a coffee shop on the other side of the old Van Olinda building.  Tommy’s shoe repair was long and narrow, with the shaping and grinding wheels all on the same electric shaft and painted green.  The old retired Norwegians came to Tommy for their thin-soled kangaroo skin boots that were as soft as they could be to the feet of Vashon’s retired farmers, loggers and fishermen.

Cunningham’s was the only tavern on Vashon in the 1950’s and people bragged that if we didn’t have nine churches there would have been more taverns.  The Red Bicycle used to be Cunningham’s tavern and is right across the street from Kellogg’s barber shop.   When the door swung open the smell of stale beer washed out onto the side walk.  John Cunningham was a friend and the tavern owner’s son or brother, I can’t remember which.  “Wanna see where the off-island berry pickers were fighting?” John asked.  We couldn’t go into the tavern, being under-age and walked around the building to an alley that was still red with blood as one berry picker used a broken beer bottle to kill the other.  “Let’s sneak into the funeral home and look at the dead-guy,” John said.  Garvin’s Funeral home was just down the street and it was starting to get dark when we snuck through a side window to see a sheet covered body lying on a marble table.

“Let’s pull a trick on Bill,” I said.  I’ll lie down on this other table and you go get him.”  Now Bill was the undertaker’s son and John brought him down to the closed window on the south side of the funeral home.  My feet were bare and I had covered myself with a sheet except for my toes, to which I had tied a name tag for the sake of authenticity.  The window creaked as John opened it, while I waited for Bill to reach the floor of the funeral home.  With a loud “Woo, woo, woo”…I sat up with the sheet over my head and Bill dropped to the floor in a dead feint.  We left him lying there and escaped through the window to the darkness outside.  Could we have scared Bill so bad that he lost most of hair?  Yes!  And from that moment on..Never needed a bowl put over his head!?!

Sean@vashonloop.com