Quinton was a well-known barber at the Cumberland Barber Shop on First Street across from the courthouse. He was a natural storyteller and comedian. There’s nothing he liked better than telling a good joke or playing a prank. For instance, his daughter, Susan, who resides in Florida, recently shared an amusing incident about her dad. It went like this. One time there was a new barber in the shop. The feller constantly borrowed Quentin’s shaving mug. The round white soap in the mug, when moistened with a wet brush, worked up the lather for a shave. Quentin devised a plan to put a stop the moocher. That evening, his wife, Jewell, fixed turnips for supper. Quentin took one of the raw turnips and carved it to resemble the round soap. The next day, he slipped it in the mug and waited. As usual, the new barber asked to borrow Quentin’s mug. While his customer waited in the chair, the barber stirred and stirred but couldn’t work up lather. He asked Quentin what was wrong with the soap. Quentin replied “It was fine just a bit ago when I used it.” It goes without saying, that barber had to seek employment elsewhere.
It was only a day or so ago that I passed by the space where the Cumberland Barber Shop used to be. I was shocked and stunned to see that it had been razed…gone…torn down and lost forever. Barber shops used to be gathering places for men who swapped stories, spun yarns, told jokes and enjoyed each other’s fellowship. Their barber knew just how to cut their hair and give them shaves. Little boys were fearful of having their first haircut, but barbers had a special way of fixing a seat to fit them. It was a board that was placed across the arms of the barber chair so that the lad was at the appropriate height. If it were the youngster’s first haircut, his mother was probably standing nearby in tears.
Some other barbers of yesteryear which come to my mind are Charlie Buckner, Tommy Lee and Charlie Stephenson. Their workplace had black and white tile floors, white porcelain sinks, mirrored walls, adjustable leather barber chairs, and a rack along the wall full of coats, jackets, as well as men’s felt or straw hats. Customers waited on an elongated wooden bench which had a high back. While sitting in the barber’s chair, gentlemen could also get a shoeshine while the barber regaled them with jokes, discussions of religion, politics and sports, and bragged on the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren.
Like so many other skills in our society today, shaves and haircuts in barber shops are becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately, many places and things which used to be commonplace and a vital part of our small southeastern Kentucky town have passed from the scene. What a pity. With them, a large part of our history has been lost.