The Barbershop Waltz
Andy’s Barbershop was the local gathering place for all the men who lived in the small town of Woodington. The men would come in for a bottle of soda pop, some gossip and a hair cut. Andy’s was the only place in town with a radio. Andy’s had a barber chair and a leather razor strap anchored to the counter. The counter had space for the tools of the trade and a sink. There was a large ornate mirror for the client to look at after his hair was cut.
The other side of the narrow barbershop was lined with chairs and a coffee table with magazines and books. The shop was deep and narrow. At the back end of the shop there was a pool table for some of the men to use while they waited their turn at a haircut. Andy’s even had an indoor water closet, one of the first buildings in Woodington to do so.
The barbershop was especially popular during the noon hour were both men and women crowded to hear the latest news. On Saturdays, Andy’s was packed in the afternoon to hear the sports scores. The men would smoke their cigarettes and drink their moonshine while playing pool and listening to the radio while waiting their turn for a hair cut.
On Saturday nights the pool room was opened to the community for dancing. The townsfolk would get dressed up like they were going to Church and meet at the barbershop to dance.
What made these dances unique was that while the rest of the country was caught up in the Foxtrot and other popular dance moves, the town of Woodington preferred the old Waltz.
During the week Andy’s barbershop opened at 7:30 a.m. to give the regulars a shave. It was at Andy’s place where the men of the town first heard that the United States was going to war in Europe. It was the same place that everyone heard the announcement of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
Jim Banack was a regular at Andy’s from the time he was a small boy until he went off to war. Jim was born in Woodington. As far back as he could remember, he got his monthly hair cut at old Andy’s barbershop. Jim was 13 years old when heard over the radio that prohibition was officially over.
“What does that mean, that prohibition is officially over?” Asked Jim. Jim’s dad said that “it means the nation can now drink alcoholic drinks” as he sipped on a cold beer. Jim was a little confused. More than half the men in the crowed barbershop were drinking moonshine or a beer.
Jim even did odd jobs for the barber during the depression. There were no jobs to be had but Andy would pay Jim to run errands. He even got a free haircut once a month for the help he gave.
Jim fell in love, got married to Alice and they celebrated their wedding reception at Andy’s Barbershop. If Jim had his way, they would have exchanged vows at the barbershop. A couple of years later James Jr. blessed their marriage on March 31, 1930.
As soon as James Jr. had enough hair to cut Jim took him to see old Andy. Andy put the first lock of hair on some wax paper and folded it up nicely for Alice.
Getting a hair cut at Andy’s barbershop was a monthly tradition for James Jr. as well. In fact, it was at the town barbershop on Monday morning that Jim and James Jr. First heard the news that the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor the day before on Sunday morning.
News was slow getting to the town of Woodington with only one radio, and a weekly newspaper. James Jr. all of eleven years old declared that he would be going to Albany to sign up to fight “the Japs.” Jim and Andy chuckled.
It wasn’t too long after that episode when Jim Banack was drafted into the Army. Two days before Jim’s induction, the town gathered at Andy’s barbershop to give him a farewell party and a traditional town waltz.
“That was March 31, 1942 my daddy went off to fight the Germans in North Africa,” said James reflectively to his daughter Lilly. “In fact, it was the last town waltz Woodington ever had at Andy’s Barber shop” James went on to say.
“I still went there for my monthly hair cuts. But after my dad got killed in North Africa, old Andy seemed to feel to old to host the weekly waltz. I think he took the death of my father very hard, I think part of Andy died when my Dad died,” said James Jr.
“It wasn’t long after that, old Andy retired and his son took over the barbershop,” remembered James.
“He was Andy Jr. But folks just called him A..J., He took to running things quite well.”
James went on to say “It was ironic how every major event I can recollect seems to have happened while A.J. was cutting my hair or giving me a shave. I remember VE day being announced over the radio while I was getting a shave. That was sometime in the first of May back in 1945 that we heard about victory in Europe but those ‘blasted Japs’ were still fighting us in the Pacific.”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I was getting my monthly haircut when we heard about the bombing.”
“What about two days later when the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki? You couldn’t have been there since you already had you hair cut for the month” stated Alice, as if she caught her Dad in his tale tells.
“Your right Alice, I wasn’t getting my hair cut but I stopped by for a soda pop after a baseball game and heard the news about the second A-bomb.”
“What else can you tell me about the history you lived through dad?” asked Alice. She was working on a high school history paper.
“I was on my way home from the little town hospital after you were born back in ‘53 when I stopped by A.J.’s place to listen to the evening news and we heard that the troops were finally coming home from Korea.”
“Were you at the barbershop when Kennedy was killed?” Asked Alice as she tried to show of her history knowledge.
With a big grin on his face James nodded his head, “that is if you mean Jack Kennedy, some of you young folks get him and his brother Bobby mixed up.”
“Yes dad, I know my history. But what about RFK? Were you at the barbershop when he was killed?”
“No, we moved from New York about a month or so before Robert F. Kennedy died.” Replied James.
“I am interested in this barbershop you keep mentioning, could we go there on a long weekend trip?” asked Alice.
“No, there is nothing to see. Andy Jr. boarded up the old Barbershop in the summer of ‘76 after a new barbershop came to town with it’s modern equipment and color TV. He started to loose business so he took an early retirement.”
Time goes by as it always does and before long Alice, who never married, was 57 years old and had the summer off. She was a history teacher. She decided to take a bus ride out to Woodington and see what was left of that old town so near the Catskills.
It was dark as she got off the bus at the Woodington bus stop. Not much had happened in this old town. It wasn’t a ghost town but in the dark, it sure looked like it.
She walked quickly through the darkly lit streets of downtown Woodington and turned the corner only to notice that the only lights illuminating the entire block were from the old barber shop which had been vacant for years. There was a loose sign hanging from the brick wall that faintly read “Andy’s Barbershop.” Even the barber pole was slowly spinning in the dark.
“That’s it,” she thought to herself. “That’s Andy’s barbershop.” Intrigued by the only lights illuminating the entire block, she walked closer to the barbershop. It was clearly run down and had all the evidence of being vacant for decades. “Why were the lights on?” Alice thought to herself.
When she got to the window and looked inside, she was shocked to see a myriad of couples . . . waltzing. She stood there looking through the large glass window for several minutes until someone inside made eye contact with her.
Alice was shocked at seeing someone she knew . . . but that person was dead. She buried her mother ten years ago. Now there she was, in a long fancy gown. She watched as her mother tugged on the arm of a man in a nice black suite. He turned around to look at his wife and saw Alice through the window.
Hand in hand, both her father and mother walked to the door and motioned for her to come inside. Alice, feeling stunned with a dose of disbelief, walked into Andy’s barbershop. She felt a little tingle of warmth come over her which caused her to look down. As she did, she noticed a beautiful vintage gown in place of her sweat shirt and jeans.
She realized the waltzing music in the background. No words were yet spoken as she was ushered further into the shop. Then her father tapped an older looking gentleman on the shoulder, he turned around and the silence was broken as James Jr. said “Dad, I’d like you to meet your granddaughter Alice. Alice, this is grandpa Jim.”
Troy Wagstaff © Copyright. All rights reserved.