There’s a truth in that just-found-out moment. There it was, like an ambush, a picture of Reggie, my barber, the picture a family favorite, flattering, but real, there he is, eyes and smile, the real him…
Caption says, “It is with Great Sadness…to report that my dad…passed away today after a battle with this horrible virus…”
I read that as I was going to bed. I am up early the next morning, typing this…
Didn’t Know Anybody Who Was Sick
Earlier that same day, in conversation I’d said, “I don’t even know anybody who’s sick, of anything, even a cold.”
It – “it’ – it’s out there, seems like it’s far off, at first on the other side of the world, and then across the ocean, and then in the U.S., but in New York, then it’s local, but still not near…
There’s a strange detachment that we all feel, when bad things happen out of sight, to strangers. In our core wiring, we are instinctual about Safe versus Danger, passed down to us by all the ancestors in our DNA line, who didn’t try to pet the saber tooth tiger, who didn’t eat the roots ‘n berries until someone else tried them first…
That’s the second reaction, that danger is near, and suddenly more confirmed.
But the first reaction, that’s the special one. I had a big internal “Awwwww,” maybe even said it aloud, like the world had just made some terrible mistake. Not him…
Just Saw Him, One Haircut Ago
He’d been cutting hair for decades, but he was still so earnest, and pleasant.
Lot of barbers, they get you to talk, but I enjoyed getting him to talk. He had an exceptional gift of enthusiasm. Every visit was a two-for-one deal, ears lowered and spirits lifted.
Reggie could talk Christmas lights in July. If you’re rich in money, it’s bad manners to say how much, but it’s okay to count your Christmas lights out loud. He’d be behind me, clip, clip, and when he’d say the number, he’d kind of whisper it, not wanting to brag. For years, it was more, more than last year, more than anybody I knew. Last few years, he’d talk about downsizing, but not yet, and not yet again, until recently, he’d actually done it, sold off a big chunk of his holiday accumulation.
His mentioned his wife frequently, “Lo (pause between syllables) retta”, like a man who couldn’t believe he’d been so smart about a decision so important. He felt so solid about his kids, pleased with how good they’d turned out, how well they were doing.
His barber station had a few pictures, one of them a newspaper clipping of them, as newlyweds, and fifty years later.
There was another picture, seated at a table, five generations, the world greatly improved, by one quality bloodline.
He had a little ha-ha plaque, probably a gift, it read, “Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.”
He lived so close to the shop that he could’ve walked, but then he’d miss the chance to drive his vintage pickup, poor, barely used thing, could get from home to work and never get out of second gear, the motor barely warm, hardly any miles on the odometer. Couple times a month he might hit 45 on the speedometer.
People Earn Their Reaction
Can’t put my finger on my reaction. It’s that not-sure-why feeling, when it’s not really your loss, but you feel loss anyway, like something unfair happened, and you’re helpless to make it right.
Someone good, and genuine, part of an America that used to be, and is less so, and now one him less so.
I don’t even want to imagine, how it feels, close in.
After a certain age, there aren’t new categories to death and loss, just new people to add to the labels already known. The older I get, the more acceptance I get, not so much to death, but to the futility of trying to make sense of the ones that don’t make sense.
I don’t know how atheists do it. I’d just be so damn angry, at randomness, at our helplessness.
As for me, I’ve got this big bucket filled with Whys. You won’t see it in my casket, but I’m bringing it with me. I don’t think God will mind. I can’t see heaven being heaven, if we don’t get our Whys answered.
I’m also proud of him, for earning this reaction. Life gets after us, it can make us rougher, tougher, and less clean hearted. It’s no simple thing, to be good, stay good, and have extra good to share, where you’ve done others enough good that they grieve at losing you in their lives.
There’s an absolute truth in our reaction to someone’s death. That’s what the obituary can’t capture. People earn their reaction. If he was half the man, he’d have earned half the reaction.
Well Pierre, Whatcha Think?
I was always a morning haircut guy.
He’d do the last little snip-snip thing at the end, like my haircut was the masterpiece of the day, then he’d center the chair towards the mirror and say, “Well, Pierre, whatcha think?”
And I’d always answer, “Well, Reg, there’s only so much you can do with what’s left.”
I said it every haircut, and he’d smile like he did the first time I said it. Then he’d unsnap the barber cloth, give it a shake, and I’d dismount.
Fifteen minutes of his personality was a fine way to start a day.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to the Billedeaux family. On the day Reggie died, there were 127,597 other families in the world, most without an X at the end of the name, who are part of the latest battle in the history of man versus nature, the battle of Covid-19. Since then, the fatalities are up near 300,000. That’s a lot of holes, in a lot of families.
P.S. Dear God, I sure hope we can still get haircuts in heaven…