My plans for today call for a much-needed haircut. It's a once-a-month routine and like most people, I don't like to experiment. Old habits don't disappear.
The hair lessons learned as a child continue to dictate my behavior today. A fine gentleman named John R. DeVos had a barber shop on Greenmount Avenue, just to the east of old Oriole Park in Waverly. Johnnie, as we called him, had cut the hair of my great-grandfather, grandfather and father, my uncle and cousins. Maybe this was an extreme case, but I learned a lesson in why it's good not to switch barbers once you've found a good one.
His loyalty to us, and ours to him, was awesome. I'll always remember the way he came to the house to trim my grandfather's hair one Thanksgiving when this family patriarch was dying. In 1963, he also paid a call at the old Henry Mears funeral home at Calvert and Madison, when my grandfather died the day after Christmas.
Johnnie used scissors mostly and employed them with a repeated action that sounded like a code. He had a master's touch. He worked alongside his son, who was also a good barber, but maybe not up to his father. If young Johnnie cut my hair, my elders discussed its deficiencies, much to my embarrassment.
A trip to his shop was also provided a living lesson in Orioles International League baseball history. Many of the aging Orioles and staff came back to Johnnie for their trims. I got to know the great Mike Schofield, the park groundskeeper, who had a place of high respect in their neighborhood. The other was Tommy Thomas, the International League manager, who had a World Series ring he later earned as a scout for the Red Sox. He drove a big Cadillac and distributed baskets of York Imperial apples from his farm.
After 50 years of snipping Kelly family locks, John himself died and I was at a loss. Finding the right barber was not easy. If Johnnie had competition, it was Alva Shields, who was one of the few women barbers in Baltimore in the 1950s. Her shop was a block north of his on Greenmount. Mrs. Shields' quarters were spotless. It seemed to connect with the Freitag School of Music and you could occasionally hear a saxophone as she snipped away. In later years, after she also gave up the shop, her quarters became the headquarters of the Peoples Free Medical Clinic.
My brother Eddie reminded me of the period when the old barbers like the DeVos were disappearing and the hair stylists were appearing. After paying maybe $1.50 for a cut, the $10 charged by the old Hair Garage on groovy Read Street seemed like the down payment on a house. And there was that quarter you had to tip the shampoo lady, which seemed like an extravagance to a thrifty Baltimorean.
For a while I used a Mr. Tumminello - I think his name was Harry - who worked in downtown Baltimore on Park Avenue near the New Theater's side entrance. He was another master barber. Now, if Johnnie had the Waverly sporting crowd, Tumminello's had the clergy. His chairs were lined with the Roman Catholic bishops and clergy from the Basilica and St. Alphonsus Church. I soon learned never to try to get a cut there on a Saturday.