I went to visit my grandma every summer, she lived an apartment complex in a small city. She was going grey and bald in some areas, just to speed up the process of accepting the inevitable, she cut her hair really short and cropped it close to her head in the back. My grandma was always so happy to see me and we chilled for an hour or two in the park, playing chess and the like.
When we got take-out for dinner, her and I would sit and watch old films on her flat-screen tv. Her interests were towards more comedies but I liked the period dramas. Once, we watched an old film where the lead damsel cuts her hair short for some reason: I forgot the reason.
”Did I ever tell you about my school days?”my grandmother asked me.
”No”,I replied,”You hardly ever talked about your education”
”No, not that kind of school days”,mima waved my answer,”I worked for a school in South Carolina”
”Wow”,I awed,”Never knew you taught”
”No no”,my grandmother was miffed that I was not getting her lingo,”I wasn’t a teacher, I am not a mathy or sciency person. No, I was the school’s barber”
”Uh-huh”,I nodded confusedly,”I don’t see the use a school would have for a barber”
”It was a long time ago”,grandma started,”I worked for an alternative school that specialized in preteen to high school education. It had a name, dang, what was its name? I seem to not recall the simplest of things anymore. Ah! It was called Betsy’s primary to secondary school for girls and young ladies”
”That’s… something, I guess”,I turned off the tv to focus on the story,”But wouldn’t it be a school for boys since that’s the gender who has to have short hair most of the time”
Grandma huffed,”Your generation, I thought you wouldn’t care about gender stereotypes. We didn’t care about stereotypes before it was ‘cool’. And yet, the school was mostly run by conservative and liberal women but I digress. Do you want to hear the story or not?”
I threw up my hands, surrendering to the tale from my grandmother. Her story started sometime in the fifties, as she remembers, my grandmother had just become a licensed barber in South Carolina. She was looking for a barbershop or salon to work at but she didn’t get offers and her job search came up empty. Then, a job title seemed promising, it was for a hairdresser that was able to handle big crowds. To my grandma’s knowledge, she was only one who applied for the job at the school.
The summer was coming to an end and orientation day was coming up fast. When that day did come, six buses, full of girls of all ages, came to the school. Betsy’s school staff organized all the students into groups based on grade. Some would have their turn in the chair in the evening or tomorrow, if need be, but the rest were marched off to the barbershop.
My granny was tidying up her area when the door to her shop opened and a hoard of white dress-shirts and long skirts came inside. All the girls looked the same, they all had white socks tucked into their black shoes. Grandma told me she was to not waste a second on each girl, she had fifth graders and high school freshman girls so that would be easy for she was told to give them the same style.
One girl after another, whether the girl had short or very long hair, whether the girl had black, brunette, red, or blonde hair, or whether the girl had straight or very curly hair; they would receive the same haircut. A girl would come forward and mount my grandmother’s barber chair, let’s say she had very curly, red hair that bounced on her shoulders. As soon as that girl was in the chair, let’s say this wasn’t her first rodeo, my grandmother would cape the girl and grab her clippers. There’s no need to bother contemplating guard size for my granny would just rev up the device and start buzzing off all the red curls, leaving the girl basically bald.
I can say for certain how my grandmother could even do this, on such a mass scale, but I just have to convince myself that the parents consented to this: maybe even the kids consented to the procedure, I don’t know.
Well, anyway, my grandmother halved the amount of girls she had to buzz down in that group by the half hour waypoint. And, my grandmother’s words, she showed no signs of fatigue; she shocked the staff with her dedication to the job. She had all of the girls in the first group buzzed down by ten a.m and she wanted to continue on with the next group but the staff forced my grandma to take a break. It was a short break, from my grandmother’s recollection, for as soon as eleven o’clock rolled around; a new batch of hairy heads came into the barbershop.
Now, these girls were sixth and seventh graders and sophomores and junior girls, seasoned veterans of the school’s regulation, and they knew something that my grandmother loathed: they had a choice in haircut style.
To be clear, the haircuts were all above the color and my grandmother hated to waste time on each girl for the specific haircut. She wished she could just buzz them all down like the other girls. But rules were rules, and my grandma liked to follow rules. There were some girls who wanted the classic buzz down but they were too far and in between.
The other girls opted for more feminine cuts, like bobs and pixies, and some girls asked for masculine cuts like flattops or pompadours. It took some time to go through each girl and grandma hummed to herself as she worked to not go insane. And then, eleven-fifty rolled around and my grandmother was forced to finish up the girl she was working on at that moment, luckily it was a girl who wanted a classic buzz down, and let the girls go to lunch.
Lunch was at the school and it was forty-minutes tops so the girls who did not get their hair cut were back at the shop after lunch. And sitting in those waiting chairs for your turn in the barber chair was uncomfortable, the girls would sometimes whine about the waiting chairs. And cell phones were not invented yet so grandma told them to be quiet and entertain themselves. The girls would sing a cappella to spite my elder’s attitude.
When my grandmother was finally finished with the sixth graders, seventh graders, sophomores, and the juniors, it was already three-twenty five and school was out. She had to wait a full night to continue her work, my grandma says she almost pooped her panties when the sun rose the next day. And it was the last batches, eighth graders and seniors, haircut day. Like the previous group, there were some girls who were addicted to the classic haircut and there was more of them this time. The ones who desired the alternative style also received their cuts that day. And that was it, the orientation haircutting period was over.
You might ask, then your grandma didn’t have to do anything for the rest of the school year, right? And the answer is no, my granny was busy all year round. See, being the school’s barber meant she was on payroll and she had to work to pay the bills. The next question you might ask would regard her other duties. My mima’s other duties consisted of: teacher and student regulatory haircuts, subbing for an absent teacher, and disciplinary action.
What I mean by disciplinary action is that if a girl misbehaved in class, like used absolutely vulgar language or severely injured a student or staff member, the student would be referred to the barbershop for her punishment. Now, my grandmother dished out detentions and lectures to the offending student but nothing beats her specialty: her words, not mine.
One day, a sixth grade girl called her mother a b-word in front of the math teacher, Mrs. Hopps, with the mother’s word, Mrs. Hopps marched the girl to the barbershop. My grandmother was reading a poem about pigs and man when the two entered the shop. Mrs. Hopps had the girl by the ear and the girl kept yelling obscenities at Mrs Hopps, the girl never accepted defeat until my grandma took the girl and escorted her to her chair.
The girl’s tongue was still as venomous to my grandmother than it was to Mrs. Hopps but my grandmother’s nature, even as a young woman, was still as strict as it is today. Grandmother spanked the girl’s butt until she couldn’t talk, only cry, and she could hardly sit in the chair as her bottom burned. But my gran didn’t care, she caped up the girl and grabbed her guardless clippers. The girl had a blonde French bobbed haircut and the clippers wasted no time in reducing the hair to an almost nonexistent stubble. But a disciplinary haircut is a little bit more than a simple buzz down. My grandmother grabbed from a cabinet a can of shaving cream and spray three, small dollops on the girl’s head. Spreading them evenly over the scalp, my grandmother produced a straight razor from a small box that was in a drawer of her desk just adjacent from the barber chair. With it unfolded, my elder shaved the girl’s head bald. She uncaped the girl and told her to sweep up her own hair and go apologize to her mum. The bald girl did just that.