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His Stories Were His Legacy

Ivan, The Barber, 1882-1963

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Covered in a heavy blanket,
__he sat and watched the rain;
it had been more than thirty years,
__damp weather made him lame.
He turned his old pipe upside down
__against the blowing gale,
for Sunday was his day of rest;
__his faith would never fail.

The old wood chair he sat in he
__had made when he was young;
he hacked and coughed, spat off the porch,
__tobacco burned his tongue.
Ivan had no formal schooling,
__self-taught to write and read;
he apprenticed to a barber, so
__his young wife he could feed.

He opened his own barber shop
__in eighteen ninety-nine:
haircut and shave fetched him a quarter,
__shaves just cost a dime.
His wife died of the Spanish flu,
__halfway through World War I;
kinsfolk came to assist him,
__helping to raise his son.

Cutting hair till almost eighty,
__the old days he’d recall
To customers whose hair he cut;
__such tales he’d tell of all!
The town was sad when he had passed;
__no one could take his place;
those stories were his legacy,
__which no one could erase.

His accounts were of the menfolk
__whose hair he cut when young:
veterans of the Civil War,
__battles that they had won;
tales of bravery, of blood and gore
__of those who fought in France;
anecdotes of the Depression
__which he did not enhance.

Memories from a time long passed
__could make you laugh or cry;
his narratives a deep, deep well
__that never did run dry.

.

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Phil S. Rogers is a sixth generation Vermonter, age 72, now retired, and living in Texas. He served in the United States Air Force and had a career in real estate and banking.  He previously published Everlasting Glory, a historical work that tells the story of each of the men from Vermont that was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War.


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17 Responses

  1. Dick Lackman

    great poem. communicates a vivid story accentuated by the flow of the rhyme and rhythm

    Reply
    • Phil S. Rogers

      Thank you, Dick; Ivan was a very interesting man, one day he would be telling stories about people, the next time you saw him he may not say three words., just sit and puff on his pipe.

      Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    I miss the old stories I once heard in barber shops; I’ve been cutting my own hair for more than fifty years. And I miss the cigar smoke and the copies of Police Gazette.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      They also were the only place where you could see copies of High Hefner’s Playboy Magazine. In those days women weren’t allowed in barbershops.

      The only exception was back in the early 20th century, and that was barbershops where all the working staff were female. These lady barbers gave shaves and haircuts to an exclusively male clientele. The writer Edward Dahlberg’s mom ran such a shop, and he describes it in his wonderful novel “The Sorrows of Priapus” (worth reading just for the strange 17th-century prose style).

      Reply
    • Phil S. Rogers

      I also remember Police Gazette in the barber shop when I was in high school, and ashtrays about every three seats for those waiting.

      Reply
  3. Roy E. Peterson

    Some such barbershops remain in towns throughout the country, but unfortunately are being replaced by the franchise barbershops and barbers with no stories to tell. This took me back to my hometown barbershop that I have missed all these many years not only for the stories, but for the town gossip.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      “The good old days” is not (or shouldn’t be) a subject for mockery, Roy, because they actually existed and instantiated some actual virtues that are disappearing or have already disappeared. Stories are, and have always been, very important in any culture worth preserving.

      Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    Brings back memories, not least of when I had hair.

    Thanks for the read, Phil.

    Reply
    • Phil S. Rogers

      I am glad you enjoyed it Paul, and thank you for the added humor.

      Reply
  5. Shamik Banerjee

    I enjoyed this poem. Most of the barbershops situated near my house are modern with young employees and the latest equipments, except for one owned by a senior citizen. His shop still exudes a sweet, retro vibe and he plays the 90s hits. Your poem reminded me of him. Thank you for this sentimental piece, Phil.

    Reply
    • Phil S. Rogers

      Thank you for your nice comment. It was so interesting to listen to Ivan when I was a teenager. A learning experience.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    A poignant sketch of just a few important points about Ivan, well summarized in the envoi half-stanza at the end.

    Reply
  7. Jeff Eardley

    Phil, what a lovely tribute to one of those eccentrics that seem to be a dying breed these days. Before the pandemic had us scuttling to Amazon for re-chargeable clippers, I had many fabulous conversations with my Sicilian barber, and his connections to some very dodgy characters. Unfortunately, this has been replaced with my two mirror balancing trick and that elusive bit round the back that is impossible to get to.. I really enjoyed this today. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I love “His Stories Were His Legacy” because our stories are what life is all about. Your poem says just that with a heartfelt honesty that lets Ivan the Barber live on. I’ve had the privilege of knowing many Ivans… and I’m all the richer for the experience. Thank you, Phil!

    Reply

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