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Carrol Vertrees: Memory of life ‘back home’ comfort medicine

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: February 14, 2013 6:20AM



Its welcome lights went out years ago, but that little barbershop in the middle of my hometown’s mostly comatose business district still leads pilgrims like me home to places we remember so well.

It was run by a remarkable fellow named Sheldon Eubanks, probably Elnora’s best known citizen, next to Doc Porter.

He did not make house calls, but folks who drifted in got some good medicine anyway — they were exposed to the art of conversation. The haircuts and shaves were OK, too.

My memory scales tip easily, without warning. I thought of Sheldon when I read an item that talked about a congressman and his “ill fitting suit.”

Every member of Congress can afford a tailor-made suit. Maybe more than one.

My first suit was a great fit, a green pinstripe thing with a belted back — the style in those days. It fit perfectly, and guess who measured me for it: Sheldon, the barber, a very versatile fellow.

This suit was important — it was a presidential thing, for me, the leader of 21 other seniors, and I felt important. None of my male subjects looked as spiffy as I did at our two senior functions.

I have not thought about that suit much in recent years, but I often think about the barber place, where haircuts and shaves, like gasoline, required only change instead of credit cards or paper money.

Sheldon not only measured guys for suits, he had a little room in back of the shop where fellows could take a shower. Quaint? Maybe, but it was an amenity that many local fellows did not have at home. Those were “the good old days,” remember.

It was the conversations, though, that made his shop a special place. Fellows often just walked in for the visit. As a kid, I was almost spellbound — listening was fun and informative, although sometimes a word that I did not understand slipped in.

Often the talk was about the basketball team and there were many suggestions for making us win more. They did not work.

And I remember that the guys talked about local events — not a lot of gossip, just talk. Big events, like the elevator burning down in the middle of a winter night.

And about the local vet, Doc Montgomery, who tangled with a rabid dog, a fatal encounter for both.

As the kid of a busy farmer, I didn’t spend a lot of time loafing in the barbershop, but it was a favorite place. Even after my dad dropped me off and said, grinning, “take it all off.” I was crushed, worried about my fifth-grade romance.

These are some of my favorite things from the busy downtown world of a place called Elnora. When I go back, I look at that barbershop, empty, unused, but it seems that I can hear the voices, the laughter, see the faces, feel the friendships, hear the clip, clip of the barber scissors. They are still there, locked inside, but anyone with memories of those days can get in without a key.

I look at my school photo and admire that pin-stripe suit measured for me by a barber, and I wonder why some important guys wear ill-fitting suits.

There is nothing sophisticated about a farm kid’s memory of life “back home,” but maybe others have memories locked in the barbershops of their hearts. Like comfort medicine for aging souls. Right?

I have always wondered about feminine conversations in “beauty shops” but am afraid to ask.



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