Two hundred and fifty miles is a long way to go for a haircut. But there we were, driving five hours in a car loaded with toys, baby food, and diapers so my 17-month-old son, Nicholas, could get his first trim.
We drove through four states, from New Jersey to Virginia, because his grandfather wanted to share the experience with shaggy-haired Nicholas and knew a local barber who would make it special.
When we walked into Bob's Barber Shop, it looked as though it hadn't changed since it opened in 1954. A red, white, and blue barber pole stood in the window. Classic chairs with red upholstery and chrome accents lined the shop.
Bob had an easy, low-key smile and not too much of his own hair left. He wore a tie and peered through glasses nudged low on his nose while he cut. His wife, Carolyn, cut hair in the chair next to his; Bob's father worked at the shop until he was 93.
Bob's shop is surrounded by dozens of stores and restaurants serving the housing developments that have cut away at the bucolic image of horse-country Virginia. In their midst, Bob has retained a human touch that feels part of a bygone era. In his shop, children won't find videos to watch or barber chairs that look like racing cars.
Nicholas's haircut began innocently enough. Bob sat him on a board placed across the arms of the chair. He called him Superman when he placed the cape on him and spoke to him in a Donald Duck voice. Nicholas didn't know who Superman and Donald Duck were, but we adults got a kick out of the whole production. My wife, Beth, her father and mother, and I were grinning from ear to ear. Nicholas never flinched.
When the cut was done, Nicholas had been transformed from a hippie toddler into a dashing boy.
We all agreed Bob had added a year to Nicholas's appearance by removing a few locks of wispy, blond hair. A year at that age is an eternity of experience and development. More is expected of a boy just a bit older than Nicholas. Three- and 4-year-olds see him and say, "Look at the baby." They want to take him under their wing, despite their own tender age. After all, they've been around that much longer.
In Bob's only apparent nods to modern technology, he took before-and-after photos of Nicholas with a digital camera and printed a first-haircut certificate on a computer in the back room. The certificate read, "This is to certify that Nicholas has had the courage to receive his first haircut" – and included a lock of hair. It was official.
Bob offered us a glimpse of the past, even while stealing a bit of it with my son's new look. But I walked out of the shop thinking about the future and Nicholas's hair. Perhaps he'll go the establishment route, parting his short hair neatly down one side. Or maybe he'll veer off the beaten track, sprouting dreadlocks or growing his hair like a rock star.
What will my reaction be? Will I be accepting or condemning?
As Nicholas grows up, many of his memories will fade away – just like the latest hairstyles. So I'll tell him about his earliest days, when there was a first time for everything. I'll tell him about our time together while I stayed at home to care for him – and all about his first haircut at Bob's.
Time marches on. Several months after his first cut, Nicholas is in need of a second trim. We're planning to head back to Virginia soon. We intend to stop by Bob's Barber Shop.