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Column: Wild and woolly days

“Ok boys that’s the last haircut I’m giving today, y’all can go on home."

With that, Mr. Jones sat down in the empty barber’s chair and fell asleep.

Growing up my parents would only allow my brothers and me to wear our hair in a GI or flat-top style. Our hair could grow longer and they could save the 50-cents each about 4 times per year at Mr. Jones Barber Shop. When Mama decided that we were looking “wild and woolly” she would send us to see Mr. Jones.

The barber shop, located about three blocks from our house, was about a 10-minute walk unless we took the railroad track. That route cut the walk to less than five minutes. The railroad was a switchyard that held many fascinating and interesting things to see for three boys ages 8 to 12. So, having many more important things to do than walk three blocks, we would sneak onto the tracks every chance we got. While on the “tracks” we could investigate things such tar pits, empty rail cars, and if lucky, watch boxcars slam into each other while forming trains that were headed for places we had never heard of. We even placed pennies on the track for the cars to flatten and transform into an oval shaped piece of copper that made us the envy of other neighborhood boys.

We always had great adventures until the railroad workers spotted us, or Mama learned that we had taken that forbidden route. The workers would yell at us and demand we leave immediately. Mama’s reaction was, however, a much different story.

She was scared to death of the railroad and we were constantly warned to stay away and never go near those train cars. To say it was bad news when we got caught (and we always got caught), was an understatement. Punishment was quick and by today’s standards might be … well it was tough. So we eventually learned to stay off the tracks.

The only time I ever remember my Mama walking on the tracks, she had me by the hand. We were headed to Mr. Jones' Barber Shop. It was the same day he announced to my brothers and me that he was finished cutting hair. We were headed to wake up Mr. Jones, and to my surprise, Mama knew the railroad route. 

The problem wasn't that he needed a mid-day nap, but that he had cut only one-half of my hair. One side was neatly cut but the other remained “Wild and Woolly.”

With my hand in hers, we weren’t walking, but high stepping it; down the railroad tracks. My mother was mad (she would never use today's slang word). Still asleep (I later understood he was drunk and passed out) when we arrived, Mr. Jones could never have dreamed what he was about to face.

She grabbed his shoulder and shook, demanding he get up and finish what he started. He did just as he was told. My flat top complete, she paid him $1.50 for the three haircuts, and we headed home up the street using the street, not the railroad route.

Mr. Jones reached up and turned off the paddleboard-ceiling fan, and locked the door. He had definitely cut all the hair he was going to cut that day. 

Otis Raybon is the publisher of the Rome News-Tribune.