John D. Pierce

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"Big Ears, Long Hair"




Haircuts were an uncomplicated part of my childhood. Woody Sweat charged $1 for your choice of a flattop or burr at his barbershop in Chickamauga, Ga. If you preferred, he would leave a little something on top to slick and part.

No appointment was necessary. Just take a seat, pay attention to who was ahead of you, and wait until Woody’s chair emptied and he called, “Next!”

Whatever the style choice, hot shaving cream and a sharp razor ensured that no trace of hair encroached upon the ears. We often referred to haircuts as “getting your ears lowered.”

Then the Beatles came over from England and brought all sorts of social ills to this fine nation — even to God-fearing communities like ours. The elders were suspicious of these Brits who wore suits and ties, and sang subversive lyrics like: “She love you, yah, yah, yah,” and “I want to hold your hand.”

Before long, my classmate Raymond Repp let his hair grow beyond the socially acceptable line. But, then, he was a drummer. Even before reaching high school where he played in the band, Raymond would tap out a mean “Wipeout” on the metal front of his desk in the eighth grade.

My guess is his hair grew along with an appreciation for Ringo Starr. Somehow, you could always excuse musicians for being different.

I was the second guy — or close to it — to let my hair grow beyond my ears and down on my neck in early high school. Playing a hoodlum named Joe Ferone in the Ringgold High School production of Up the Down Staircase provided my excuse.

The part allowed for an alter ego. From head to toe I wore shaggy hair, a striped tank top, blue jeans and suede boots. I also chewed on a toothpick, and to my mother’s eternal shame, uttered the word “damn” twice.

When the play ended I cleaned up my act a bit except for the hair. It was the answer to the large ears that have marked Pierce men for generations. My ears have been the same size my whole life; I just grew to match them as an adult.

Trusting my lengthy hair to a clipper-happy barber seemed too risky. So I made an appointment — an act generally reserved for the female gender — at Crawford’s style shop in downtown Ringgold. I walked over after class.

Kenny Crawford was known for his famous razor cuts. (He also “cut” my pastor’s hair every week — which I learned later was how it stayed a consistent shade of black.)

“Leave a little over the ears,” I said, settling into the chair for my first staggering $8 haircut. As he shaped me up, Kenny warned of the dangers of using inexpensive Prell shampoo on my skillfully and expensively coiffed hair.

“That stuff’s strong enough to clean carpets,” I remember him saying.

So I walked out with a new hairstyle and a $3 bar — yes, a bar — of gentle shampoo. I waited by the curb until my dad picked me up.

As we started toward home, Dad glanced at me before turning his eyes back to the road. The first words he uttered summed up his complete assessment of my new look:

“Were they closed?”

[An unpublished essay © John D. Pierce]