A haircut and a lifetime

April 1st, 2022


(published in The Daily Memphian, March 25, 2022)

(photo: Jean Jamieson and her chair)

I called to make an appointment, and she cried a little bit. Okay, we both did.

Our relationship began when Red decided to give boxing another go. He had boxing pictures on the wall documenting the cauliflower ear he’d earned in those pictures. He had put down his gloves and picked up a pair of scissors and a barber’s license a couple years before, but the ring still beckoned. I was in his chair in a shop in Whiskey Chute, the alley on the south side of the Falls Building, when he told me I was going to need to find another barber.

I did. Her name is Jean Jamieson. And she cut my hair for the last time last week.

The first time, we talked about a brand-new movie. Rocky. The first one. As in, “Yo, Adrian.” As in 1976. As in just about all of my career ago.

Every time in the hundreds of times since, over the 46 years since, we did what we do. We talked about our lives, our city, our aches and pains. Things funny and not. Things curious and not. About people. People not so special. People very special.

Sometimes, we’d talk about the man who hired me right out of college and later became my partner in an ad agency, Dave Swearingen. She cut his hair, too. She even went to him to cut his hair toward the end, even when he didn’t know her anymore. Even then she could make him smile, make him remember just a bit, for just a while.

Sometimes we’d wax philosophical.

“There’s a hole up here,” she said on one occasion, and then held up a mirror so I could see a perfectly round, barren wasteland about an inch and a half wide in what used to be an uninterrupted forest of dark brown hair. But then, it used to be dark brown, too. “What should I do about it?” I asked. “Stay away from people taller than you,” she said.

Another time, we were discussing camping and she made this comment, a comment that dates us both, “Camping to me is when they open the sidewalk windows at Friday’s.”

Jean and I share a little wiseass. Maybe a lot. And I’m going to miss that a lot.

This isn’t about nostalgia. Nostalgia tends to repaint the past in complimentary hues, to make me look like I did, or I thought I did, when I first sat down in Jean’s colorful antique barber’s chair. Jean and I both know I don’t look like that, then or now.

This isn’t about returning to some better time, some better order in the universe, some better provider of services, some better loyalty shared between server and those served.

The past is a lesson not a destination, and a future based on it is going backwards.

Meaningful relationship isn’t about the time in which it first occurred; it’s about its durability and flexibility over time.

I often quote a Billy Joel lyric because it’s never been said better:

“The good old days weren’t all that good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”

The world is a hot mess right now. As it was and it will be. The glass isn’t half full. It’s shattered in sharp pieces spread across Ukraine. Our city is challenged by its poverty and its failure to see the truth in Black and white. As it was and it continues to be.

This isn’t about that. Those realities must be dealt with, but focusing solely on our problems will so cloud our vision that joy in our time here will disappear from view.

This is about simple celebration, something we simply don’t do enough of because we spend far too much time looking for something grand and glorious to pop our cork. We manufacture our celebrations on prescribed dates and occasions, rather than recognize the real reasons for celebration in our lives.

The reasons are all around us, in little things and places that bring a smile. A smile is a celebration. That key lime pie. Finches on the feeder. Dogs in my lap. My city in spring. Fifty celebrations a day.

The reasons are in each other. The us of us. The kids we raised and the kids they’re raising. The stuff on the fridge door, on the bookcases, in the frames, and in the stories. The friends we’ve had forever and the ones we’re still to meet, and those stories. Pick any. Sort. Celebrate.

The reason is the barber I found 46 years ago. Jean’s retiring. Her chair was the one Holiday Inns founder Kemmons Wilson sat in for years and years, given to Jean. She’s given it to another barber on the condition that he never sell it but pass it along to another barber. And so it goes.

Jean, the chair, and I are still here.

That’s cause for celebration, in a big hug shared after a haircut, after a lifetime.

I’m a Memphian, and life isn’t about the endings; it’s about the lives.


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