hot foam on the back of my neck felt great, but when the old man picked up that
glistening straight-edge, my eyes locked on his brown-splotched hand checking
for even the slightest tremor. I could always change my mind. |
When I first
started going to Austin’s Sportsman’s
Barber Shop, the senior barber was Sidney C. Frost. In deference to his age, everyone
called him Mr. Frost. Born in 1909 and nearing 90, he had been taking a little
off the top and sides since 1927.
Mr. Frost had started out downtown in
Building at 6th and Congress Ave., moved for a time to a place on West 7th
St. and then, as he put it, "went back on the Avenue" and opened his own shop
at 918 Congress. In time, he followed his customers to the suburbs, selling out
to a younger barber named Jim Field. Field started Sportsman’s, filling its walls
with mounted game heads and trophy fish.
Tall and thin, Mr. Frost knew
his trade well. But as surely as hair grows, it also thins and turns gray, and
he had trimmed his work load to only part time.
Knowing I had written
some books on Texas Ranger history,
Jim mentioned one visit that I sure ought to talk with Mr. Frost if I ever found
him in the shop. Back in the day, he had been the legendary Capt. Frank Hamer’s
As it happened, the next time I showed up needing a haircut, Jim
had a customer with someone else waiting. However, Mr. Frost was sitting in his
chair reading the newspaper. Could he work me in, I asked, being polite. Sure,
he said, slowly getting up.
I was headed out of town and definitely needed
a haircut before I hit the road. Necessity aside, I liked the idea of being able
to tell my grandkids that I’d gotten a haircut from the same man who used to cut
the hair of the storied Ranger who in 1934 had tracked down and killed the outlaw
Parker and Clyde Barrow.
“How you want it?” Mr. Frost asked, sizing
up my salt-and-pepper locks. “Above the collar?”
Just a regular haircut,
I said, and sure, nothing over the collar.
into the chair, I planned a slow build up to the one question I wanted to ask
most, which was, “So, tell me about Captain Hamer…” That in mind, I started by
asking Mr. Frost how long he’d been cutting hair. Soon I had him reminiscing about
the good old days.
He said that early in his career under the revolving
red, blue and white pole, most men got their hair cut weekly. That was a good
thing, because even in the wildly inflationary days before the stock market crash
in 1929, Mr. Frost earned only 40 cents a haircut.
“After the market crashed,"
he recalled, clipping away at my hair, "we had to lower the price to 35 cents."
A lot of men also depended on Mr. Frost for their daily shave. One well-groomed
customer came in twice a day, first thing in the morning and then again in the
afternoon to get his five o'clock shadow taken care of.
Finally, I took
aim at Hamer – at least in the interrogatory sense. Mr. Frost said he didn’t remember
much of what they had talked about, probably just typical barber-customer banter.
But one thing did stand out in his memory.
"The captain never got a shave
and a haircut at the same time," he said. "Guess he didn't have that much time,
or that much money."
A shave cost a quarter before the crash, so the whole
shebang would have set the six-foot-plus lawman back all of 65 cents. Rank-and-file
state employees have never been overpaid, so Hamer apparently opted for an economy
of scale when it came to his tonsorial needs.
And then Mr. Frost recalled
another of the late captain’s eccentricities.
"When he did get a shave,
he never let me completely cover his face with a hot towel,” my barber revealed.
“He said too many people wanted to kill him for him to let his guard down."
that Mr. Frost likely would have been standing close enough to catch a stray round
or two if any shots had been fired at the captain as he sat in the barber chair,
he didn’t mind Hamer’s cautious approach.
By the time I sat warming Mr.
Frost’s chair, barbers no longer did much shaving of faces. But when he asked
if I’d like the back of my neck shaved, I said yes. If the ever-viligant Hamer
trusted Mr. Frost to be steady with a razor, so did I. Well, sort of.
"Just don't cover my face," I laughed, sneaking one last look at his hand. Was
that a slight shake?
Nick free, when I stood up after Mr. Frost removed
the cover he’d draped over my lap, I looked in the mirror. Perhaps overly preoccupied
with talking about the old days, Frank Hamer’s barber had removed almost all my
hair! Mr. Frost’s “regular” was the shortest haircut I’d ever had this side of
a burr. Maybe the longtime barber’s scissor work explained why most photographs
of Hamer show him wearing a Stetson and a frown.
Cox - July 19, 2012 column
and Clyde | Texas
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