Our neighborhood was small, largely residential, and what kept residents there from having to travel to other extremes of the city for many basic things was a small business district that developed at about midway on the main street…Kelley Street…where Mr. Gardner opened a neighborhood barbershop a few years before we relocated there..
The barbershop was 4 blocks from our home. Mr. Gardner was a few years older than my parents. He and his wife had one girl and three boys in the same local schools that my brothers and I attended. The three boys were a few grades ahead of me and my brothers. The youngest boy was my age so we were both in Grade 2 at school, the 2 others in Grades 5 and 8.
Until about age 5 my mom did haircuts at home with electric clippers. At that point she convinced my dad to take us to Mr. Gardner’s barbershop for a “real” haircut. My dad worked crazy hours in the local mills but he did find time one weekend to initiate me to the barbershop.
Lives in our neighborhood were “transparent”…we knew a lot of what went on in other families and homes…especially when spankings were delivered, typically with a razor strap. So I learned very young what I thought a razor strap was all about…spankings. I had also seen razor straps hanging in my friends’ homes. It didn’t occur to me what the original purpose of a razor strap was…to me it was made for spanking.
When dad first took me for a haircut it was a simple ritual…you walked into the shop, and if the three barber chairs were occupied, you took a seat against the wall facing the back of the three barber chairs and waited for a barber to get through with a customer so that he was ready to start on whoever was next. Dad and I waited for Mr. Gardner to be available.
So I found myself in a barbershop for the first time, confronted with not one but three razor straps and I wasn’t sure what was up with that. My dad handed me a comic book while we waited. I watched as Mr. Gardner eventually retrieved a straight razor from the cabinetry in front of the barber chair, turned the chair at an angle and reached for the lower end of the razor strap and began stropping the razor. A butterflies feeling took over. I was wide-eyed and hoping that I was not showing it. Mr. Gardner looked over at me and winked.
He finished stropping the razor and let the razor strap drop, it continued to swing side-to-side for a couple of minutes. I noted the other barbers doing the same. Butterflies.
I now knew that there was another purpose for a razor strap.
In short order I became friends with Mr. Gardner. I got to know him as a kind and soft spoken man. I also knew his youngest son from school and from him I learned over those years, that Mr. Garner also had high expectations of his sons’ behavior and didn’t hesitate to dispense lickings as needed. The Garners lived in an apartment upstairs from the barbershop so a razor strap was always at the handy.
I would return to that barbershop well into my college years, until Mr. Gardner retired and I moved on to live elsewhere. The butterflies persisted well into those years...still do.