The Internet and emails can take a man back, bring others forward and inspire dark thoughts of the wild barberian as an endangered species.
Some time ago I received an email with some old pictures from Julian Mayne, grandson of my old friend Bert Pruden, who died at 76 during hunting season in 1968. Recently another email was the first I have heard from Wayne Williams since he left Red Deer more than 20 years ago.
Both Bert and Wayne were barbers of the old school and serious hunters and anglers. Bert was so serious that, at 70, he packed up his beloved Kate and came to Canada to enjoy the hunting and fishing that was denied a common working man in England. Bert barbered briefly in Red Deer and was the most dedicated, driven outdoors person I have ever known.
Wayne Williams, who operated Sirs’ barber shop beside the old courthouse in Red Deer for many years, was also so driven and accomplished an outdoorsman that he was known to shut the shop in season to guide big game hunters.
I enjoyed a chilly tent camp hunt with him ‘way back when.’ Wayne departed Red Deer about 20 years ago and has never since shorn another head, mainly because rotator cuff injuries suffered in a Red Deer motor vehicle accident made barbering too painful.
Wayne tended bar at the Legion in Qualicum Beach for about 15 years and also did well with some fishing charters until “the Department of Fisheries and Oceans destroyed the salmon fishery by continuing to allow the herring roe fishery and siding for pure political correctness reasons with the great unwasheds’ penchant for protecting seals and sea lions . . . best I get off that subject.” That’s just the kind of subject that occupants of Wayne’s chair in Red Deer would hear introduced — or concluded — by the phrase “ . . . Them dirty, rotten . . .”
The fact is that Huntarian and Anglish were spoken in the Red Deer barber shops of Bert Pruden and Wayne Williams, sadly all but unknown tongues, maybe even dead languages in the modern “unisex” hair salons. ‘Twas not always thus . . .
One spring way back when, Mom gave me the two bits to get a haircut and the warning “and no, you do not get a brush cut.”
After school I went to the shop on main street in Brooks between the Newell Hotel and the pool hall, with adjoining doors to each.
You hoped for a long wait, because of the huge pile of outdoors magazines and for what lore you could learn eavesdropping on the living greats of local outdoorsmen speaking fluent Anglish and Huntarian as they were shorn and shaved.
Of the barbers, Alf was maybe the second greatest goose hunter from there to the correction line, and the tall, gaunt and wonderfully-named Slim Angle chased pheasants and Huns with two gorgeous, but really stupid Irish Setters.
That day I drew Herb, the only non-outdoorsman on the shop roster, and noticed he smelled of more than just talc and lotion and that he braced himself as he cut with one hand flat on the top of my head.
Mom took one look, let out a yell and drug me back to the shop where, just inside the door, she shouted: “Who cut this kid?”
The mere sight of any woman in there, let alone a furious one, incited a stampede to the pool hall, led by Herb, who had apparently supped his lunch — and coffee breaks — that day in the Newell’s bar and had cut only the hair that sprung up between the spread fingers of his hand on my head.
Alf mollified my mother and told her that he could even it out, but explained it would have to be “real short.”
As he worked on it, whenever he got me at an angle where mom could not see, Alf would give me a big wink in the big mirror.
As it turned out, that’s how I wound up with my first brush cut, something you do not see much of anymore; I’m told by the few men I know who still have the hair for it and favour the cut that you pay extra — if you can find a barber who knows how to “level” one, as opposed to the mere buzz cut.
In lieu of watching paint dry I have spent considerable time watching haircuts and can tell you there are still great shops where those dying languages are spoken, but they are mostly in small towns.
One of the best is Garry’s in Pincher Creek, which also features “investments” in pre-owned, even antique hunting and fishing stuff.
I’ve even found in my home city a place still proud to call itself a barber shop, which features a barber or three who still speak some Anglish and Huntarian.
No plug here, though: their lineups are already long enough.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.