My Mother called this morning to tell me she was going to the beauty parlor for a haircut. "My head looks like a bushel basket," she said. She is probably right, but I don't pay much attention to her hair. I am busy paying attention to my father's hair.
Some years ago, he decided it would be a good idea for me to be his barber, although I had no training. He figured I would work for free, and he was right. He also assigned me the responsibility of deciding when it was time for his haircut.
I can no longer remember why I went along with this plan.
Fortunately, what my father wants, literally, is a haircut. He doesn't mind uneven sides, abrupt shelves, or areas accidentally shaved to the skin. As long as his hair is shorter than it was to begin with, he is happy.
I give my father a haircut about once a month, early in the morning. First I have to call and make an appointment. Otherwise, he starts on some project and can't fit me in. "Do you want a haircut today?" I ask. The answer's always the same. "Yes, I do. Come by after breakfast."
I walk over to my parents' house through the fruit orchard, carrying my barber equipment: a set of electric clippers, a comb, and a dull pair of paper scissors. The clippers are temperamental; they quit regularly during the course of a haircut. Usually they start up again if I pound on them for a minute. I don't use the paper scissors much anymore. Hair tends to bend around the blades unless I get the angle just right. But they do come in handy on days when the clippers give up entirely.
My father wraps an old square of blue flowered cloth around his shoulders to keep the clippings out of his shirt and overalls, and drags a red iron stool into the middle of the kitchen floor. He takes off his glasses and sits up as straight as he can. I part and comb his hair the way I think it is supposed to go, and with the clippers in hand, start mowing.
Gray hair tumbles off in tufts and clumps. I comb and cut, comb and cut, taking my glasses off and then putting them back on, to try to see better from all vantage points. While I work, my father tells me things I like to know, things from long ago that only he remembers. My mother stands nearby, pointing out spots I've missed. When she gets ahead of me, pointing to a place I haven't even started on yet, I silently offer her the clippers. "Sorry," she says.
When most of his hair is gone, my father's haircut is finished. "There," I say. "Nice and short, just how you like it." I sweep up the hair while my father goes outside to shake out his blue cloth and brush himself off. I dump the hair clippings in the shrubbery at the side of the house because someone once said hair would keep away browsing deer. So far it hasn't worked, but maybe it will this time.
"Thank you," my father says. "You're welcome," I reply. "And remember, you get what you pay for." I say that every time, and then my father always asks, "Do you still offer your money-back guarantee?" I do, of course. Customer satisfaction is the key to my success, especially since I only have one customer.
I replace the iron stool in the corner of the kitchen, gather up my barber tools, and say goodbye. My mother walks to the door with me and says, "He looks 10 years younger with his hair cut. I wish my hair looked that good." Those are kind words, because my haircuts have much more in common with sheep shearing than styling. We all know that, but we don't care. After all, some jobs don't have to be well done to be, well, done.
Then it's home through the orchard, which is snowy in winter and shady in summer, and always a pleasant walk after a good morning's work, at fair and honest wages.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society