It was 1970, maybe ’71, and like my high school peers, I had let my hair grow. Although not long by today’s standards, it marked me a rebel, at least a rebel in the eyes of my uncles. It hung over my ears, lapped at my collar, and fell across my eyes – it was wavy and cool. The eldest boy cousin, I was a trailblazer and my hair soon became a target. Dad gave me a little grief but not as much as the uncles did. I know that they razzed me for fun, but today it took an unexpected turn, and Willie started it.
A good-natured family friend, I had known Duane Williamson forever. He lived in Rolling Prairie, where he met my parents long before I was born. To me, he was another uncle. A pear-shaped man, he sported suspenders and was as bald as a cue ball. Everyone called him Willie, his gregarious laugh a welcome addition at all family gatherings. He was an equipment operator and traveled the state building highways and roads. When he was in the area, he would stop and visit, greeting me in a headlock and giving me a Dutch Rub.
“Hey, Chief, how you been?” He always called me “Chief.” I endured the Dutch Rubs and laughed at his stories. Eventually, I grew too big for the actual headlock, but we still joked about it. Anyway, today Willie started it.
It was a Sunday afternoon, we were gathered in Grandfather Tower’s limestone ranch. Perhaps it was Easter or maybe Thanksgiving. We had just finished lunch; roast beef and lamb with mint jelly. I never cared for the mutton, but I loved the jam. The ladies were in the kitchen, and the girl cousins were across the lane at Aunt Doris’ house. The guys had taken control of the living room. The football game was on TV.
Grandfather was in his chair, quietly reading the Sunday paper. My Uncles, Dad, and Willie congregated in the middle of the room to solve the problems of the world. I was sprawled on the floor with cousins Glen and Tom, watching the game – when Willie started it.
“Hey, Chief, when are you going to get a haircut? I’d give you a Dutch rub, but there’s too much hair,” Willie joked. The room erupted in raucous laughter, as the uncles joined in the fun. I smiled weakly and tried to ignore them, which was not an easy task. Soon Uncle Doc‘s booming voice rose above the tumult.
“Willie, I’ll get the sheep shears, and we can give him one now.” The room roared, and I half expected Doc to head to the barn. Slowly, a familiar soft voice rose from the corner chair. Silence fell as Grandfather put his paper aside and grinned at his son-in-laws.
Grandfather was born on a farm in Crawford County in 1899, just a stone’s throw from the Ohio River. The fourth of nine siblings, he managed to become a teacher. Starting in a one-room schoolhouse he went on to become a principal, and finally the Superintendent of Schools. Grandfather was a calm, quiet man, the man everyone sought for advice. Whenever he talked, people listened, like today. Today he deftly ended the teasing with two simple sentences.
“Let him enjoy it while he can. He won’t have it for long.” All heads turned toward my dad, and he smiled rubbing his bald head.
All heads turned toward my father, he smiled broadly and rubbed his bald head.
“You’re right,” Dad laughed, “He won’t have it for long.”
Grandfather was indeed correct, a scant fifteen years later I too was bald, but for that short interval, I did enjoy my hair.
Yes, Willie started it, but Grandfather ended it.
David L Dahl.
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