I’m in North Alabama, far from the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Long stretches of the Gulf Coast are trashed. But by a divine miracle, my family is safe, alive, and accounted for. So are my friends and neighbors. A miracle.
So I’m getting a haircut.
I almost went for a haircut yesterday, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the televised hurricane coverage. It was high adrenaline stuff.
Gone are the days of sedate news reporters who look like your father’s dentist, seated behind news desks. Today, we have a breed of brave journalists, fearless, with the courage to risk their lives for breaking news, public safety, and six-figure incomes.
Yesterday, I watched one such reporter stand on a beach, enduring gale force winds that were strong enough to ruin most reproductive organs.
He screamed into the camera: “It’s windy out here, guys! Super, super windy! Back to you, Bob!”
I shudder to think of what could’ve happened if he hadn’t told us that.
Anyway, my mother texted me today and told me the lethal storm passed over her home yesterday. Today, she is enjoying sunshine, crocheting a scarf.
Like I said, a miracle.
So getting back to the barbershop. When I enter the shop, a bell on the door announces my arrival. This is your average clip joint. There is a barber’s pole out front.
Inside are men who gather for no particular reason. They pause their conversation when I enter.
I greet them. They are quiet. But soon, they go back to telling stories like before.
I am grateful for their stories. I’m tired of hurricanes, storm surges, and reporters with death wishes. I need something to take my mind off the anxieties of Hurricane Michael. And that’s exactly what I get here.
Soon, I am sitting in a barber’s chair overhearing stories of all kinds.
The woman snipping my hair is a hairdresser—trained in cutting women’s hair. There is a difference, she explains, between being a barber and a hairdresser.
“A HAIRDRESSER can cut women’s hair AND men’s hair,” she says. “But a barber cuts men’s hair and tells dirty jokes.”
This shop is full of white-haired men who love jokes. They talk and talk. She listens to their outlandish tales without interrupting because she is a smart woman.
In her line of work she has learned the two cardinal rules of old men:
1. Always tell clever stories intended to make people laugh.
2. When all else fails, fart.
One man is talking about his son, who sells agricultural equipment up in Pennsylvania. It’s not a funny story, per se, but it’s good to hear a man brag on his son.
Another man talks about his fishing trip, and about getting stranded on a lake. Men laugh. I laugh. It’s a good tale with a great punchline.
Then, a man with a walrus mustache tells a joke about the preacher and the farmer’s daughter, and several of us nearly ruin our pants.
Then. An older man begins talking about the Old Days.
This topic is holy. And it brings out the best in elderly men. They talk of their own history with a kind of reverence you can feel. They wear looks on their faces that make them seem older and wiser than they are. They smile. They recite the simple poetry of our people.
One man recalls the autumn evening he stole his brother’s Chevy so he could take his first sweetheart to a movie.
Another recalls the day he kissed his sweetheart goodbye and went to Korea, then Vietnam.
The man in the barber chair next to me, cape around his neck, tells the story of how he met his second wife:
“She was a school teacher,” he says. “My first wife died when I’s twenty-six. I was raising my boys on my own, and this pretty teacher come into town…”
His story is beautiful, and he tells it so well. After one year, he finally worked up enough courage to ask her out. He took her to Huntsville and bought her a steak and a glass of beer.
They were married a lifetime. She is no longer with us.
When my haircut is finished, I bid these men goodbye. I wish I had a good joke to tell them, or a good story, but that would only spoil it. Today, I was here to listen.
I crawl into my vehicle and breathe a few times. I call my mother. She is glad to hear from me, and I am glad to hear her voice.
And even though this hurricane caused a mess that will cost billions to clean; even though it looks a war zone only thirty miles from my house; even though a storm almost killed us all, we’re alive. And I am grateful for that.
I am grateful for old men who tell stories. For laughter. Good haircuts.
And any miracle involving my mother.
Sandi in FL. - October 12, 2018 5:04 am
Sean, it’s a relief to read that you and your family members are safe after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the panhandle. I live in southwest FL where we had to contend with Hurricane Irma last year (September 10th), so I know how terrible such bad storms are. I’m guessing it looks like a war zone up there near you. Take care.
Wendy - October 12, 2018 5:24 am
Sean, I’m so glad y’all are safe! I hope what you find when you return to the panhandle of our beautiful gulf coast will be “fixable” without much worry, stress & money.
Marlene - October 12, 2018 8:26 am
Glad to hear you talked with Momma. I was concerned that she stayed. We have a cousin that lives in Sara Rosa Beach also and we heard yesterday that they are ok too. Be careful on the roads when you go home. I’m so glad you have a home to go to. Stay safe my favorite Chip Monk.
Nancy Thomaston Rogers - October 12, 2018 8:41 am
As you should be. God bless your mother Sean and all your family.
Kelly - October 12, 2018 10:08 am
So glad to hear your Mom and family are safe! God bless you all and everyone in the beautiful Gulf Coast.
Karen - October 12, 2018 10:47 am
Your stories remind us of what a marvelous gift our life is. We need these reminders in the wake of the storm, and in its aftermath.
Jeanne Butler - October 12, 2018 10:54 am
So glad your family and friends are all ok. I saw the devastation on TV. It is unbelievable. Be well. Love you Sean
Joyce Mullikin - October 12, 2018 11:39 am
And we are go grateful for you, Sean. You brighten our mornings.
flkatmom - October 12, 2018 12:14 pm
Janie's Jottings - October 12, 2018 12:26 pm
So glad your family came through the storm okay.
Jo Ann - October 12, 2018 12:27 pm
So glad to hear that your family & home are safe & intact. Blessings.
Connie Havard Ryland - October 12, 2018 12:28 pm
Good stuff this morning, as always. I just love the way you love your momma and all the other women in your life. You are a treasure. ❤️
Jan Mohler Balsbaugh - October 12, 2018 1:01 pm
So thankful you and your loved ones are safe!
Nancy Lane - October 12, 2018 1:39 pm
We have a home in Blue Mountain Beach. Your words could be my words. Thanks for expressing them.
Jack Quanstrum - October 12, 2018 3:17 pm
Amen! Great story!
Pat - October 12, 2018 4:02 pm
So glad you and yours are OK. My friends have finally “reported in”, so I’m feeling much better! I was thinking as I read the last part of your story when you said you wished you had a good joke or story to share with these “old soldiers” I call them, that surely you remembered cardinal rule #2 of old men!
Shelton Armour - October 12, 2018 4:23 pm
You are blessed. Your family and friends are ok and insurance takes over the rest of Michael. I’m glad you were smart and got out of the way. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this wonderful story.
that's jack - October 13, 2018 1:19 am
Us old men are a lot of fun, ‘cept when we bore the younger generation to death.
that's jack - October 13, 2018 1:21 am
PS: the mainest thing is that you guys are okay. The terrible thing are the homeless and the missing!
Ellen - October 14, 2018 5:24 am
So thankful that y’all are doing okay! Your Mom is a very Blessed lady to have you as a son and you are Blessed to still have your Mom!!!
Lucretia - October 14, 2018 7:38 am
Thank you, Sean, for sharing your great blessings in your life. Lucretia
Janet Mary Lee - October 17, 2018 3:24 pm
So thankful your family and loved ones are okay! It must have been hard that some stayed and you awaited their calls. My heart grieves over the loss of lives and homes and shops that make this part of the world so special.Hope you get back soon! Peace be with you, Sean.
BJean - October 21, 2018 1:19 am
This could have been a Norman Rockwell painting, but you drew it with words..Thank you.