One ritual that all Moms recall is the “first haircut.” I definitely remember the first time I dragged Pat to the barber. He had very fine hair, and I thought I could cut it myself. I was so wrong. I kept shortening his bangs until they were at the scalp. Soon he looked like he had had a close encounter with a weed whacker. It was time to turn to a professional. That pro was Jim the barber, a fixture in Western Springs. Fortunately for me, Pat was a late talker, so I lied and said he cut it with a kiddie scissors. Jim knew it was a lie, but he saved my dignity by lifting Pat into the chair and going to work. Patrick did not look perfect when we went home, but he no longer looked ridiculous. I no longer felt the need to confine him to quarters until my butchery subsided. I was forever in Jim’s debt.
Jim Zaccaginini ran the local barber shop. It was not a salon. He had shampoo bowls, but I never saw them in use. There were straps for sharpening razors, and a giant console TV to appease the waiting customers. A giant fish, caught by Jim, grinned down on apprehensive children. Jim was tall, fit and happy, with a shock of somewhat synthetic gray hair- a cruel irony for a man who made his living tending to the abundant follicular growth of others. He was handsome and wise. He ran a tight shop.
In time, as I had more heads to tend to, and fewer hair emergencies to fix, I shifted to Kim, a lovely and kind female barber who, unlike Jim, took appointments. I could not gamble on good behavior for three haircuts worth of time PLUS a wait. Kim would be ready, scissors poised, when I hit the doorway. I could maintain the appearance of disciplined parenthood for the three consecutive appointments. Then I would pay, tip, and vamoose, with the boys grasping bubble gum that Jim provided for good boys. I wonder if parents recoil from sugared offerings these days. I also doubt that parents are as comfortable as I was with their children crawling on a hair strewn floor, or reading the mangled magazines, toys and books proffered in the waiting area. (Remember Goofus and Gallant in Highlights? Hundreds of local kids sneezed on both of them every month) I was overjoyed to have adults to talk to, and children who were not Satanic. (except when they were) I never minded when a tiny client broke bad, wailing or biting. There was a solidarity among the waiting parents. We knew any of our kids could be THAT kid.
Jim was old school: first come, first served. I always admired the customers who would wave off an open chair with Pete to get Jim’s hands and ear. It was a good choice, but I could not bring myself to hurt Pete. (hence, the appointments) Pete was very hard of hearing, and that made it difficult to get any special requests in. Plus, he was a pretty bad barber. My kids had a terrified look if Pete’s chair was open for an extended time, because they feared that I would pop them into it, just to save fifteen minutes. His specialty was a bowl type cut. My maternal vanity kept me going to Kim. Jim did not mind, since he owned the shop, and all profit ran through him. He liked the conversation better with his contemporaries, and his speed was better with adults. Time is money in the haircut business. And Jim rubber banded his cash at the end of the day, and off he went to the bank.
His loyalty to Pete was a beautiful thing, because Pete’s exiting (escaping?) patrons were not exactly sporting an advertisement for the Garden Market Barber Shop. He was also extremely loyal to his first wife, who suffered a long illness, and was well cared for by Jim. The optimist in Jim, (or the romantic; I was an observer, after all, not an insider) led him to marry again, He also was ahead of the curve in terms of modernizing his shop, despite the traditional nature of his clientele. He welcomed women barbers, and they provided his customers and their children with a softer touch. He kept on grooming the men of Western Springs until a few years ago.
My boys continued to visit Kim and the shop during the high school years. They would slide in to spiff up for dances and graduation. Then they migrated to college, and the Garden Market Barber Shop slid off the radar of the Dahl family.
Today’s paper carried an obituary
for Jim, complete with a photo featuring a dapper smile, his traditional aviator glasses, and a boutonniere. It was likely taken a few years ago, and it was just as I remembered him. He passed last week of congestive heart failure. The hospital he died in is directly across the street from the spot he wielded scissors for four decades. I hope he was comforted by being in a community that marked life’s special and ordinary days by spending time with him.
His shop took my boys from booster chaired emergency repairs to prom stylings. Therefore, he is a part of Janet Dahl. et al. I thought it would be the right thing to say that he made our world more handsome, and less stressful. And to say “thank you” for many years of kindness and wisdom.