Sunday, 12 June 2011

An Irish barber’s tale






An Irish barber’s tale
On busy station road you will find an old barber shop with red chevron pillars and a small retro signboard depicting a male with a pipe. The little shop is no bigger than my apartment living room and is snuggled between a ruffian biker bar and a pawn shop. With rowdy fist fights on the left and drunks selling their last possessions on the right you could go to Uncle Sweeney’s for a decent crew cut and a story.
Uncle Sweeney survived the D-Day battle in Normandy but lost all of his family due to the war. There was famine in Ireland and he felt there was nothing for him to go back to. He was allegedly standing at the Southampton harbour and received two voyage passages to two different countries.

United States was the one destination and South Africa the other one. He allegedly flicked a coin and the toss would decide where he would find his pot of gold. The result put him on the vessel that sailed for Cape Town.

He would later recall that fortune was on his side when he tossed that coin because New York was already crowded by the Irish and that the Limerick Gang were looking for him due to an outstanding bookie account. When Sweeney made the advance he was convinced that he would not survive the battle and therefore spend the “little amount” on the brothel and drink before the eve of the battle.  

Arriving in Cape Town he had only two Service hair cutters he stole and concealed in his army back pack with a nifty scissor and shaver set he removed from a dead Nazi on the front. Feeling some gratitude for the allied forces that taught him to cut hair, he decided to make it his trade in South Africa.

To survive he started a job on the farms as a seasonal sheep shearer and saved his money to start his shop in 1950 and got married to one of the Sheep farmer’s daughters in 1951.I met the uncle in 1982 when I got my first real barber cut and ever since booked appointments there for the next 27 years of my life.

 When you enter the little shop, the smell of spirits, powder and Jojoba oil lingered in the air and the old Panasonic played crackling songs of Frank Sinatra and Billy Holiday. The walls were crowded with yellow stained pictures of old and dead heroes of the past and the magazine closest to my chair reported the big flood of 1977.
 Uncle Sweeney’s assistant looked at me while finishing a small boy’s hair and said” The old man died in his sleep last night but his wife left a small note with a bottle of Jameson for you ”
“Martin, it seems Sweeney had premonition of his death and wrote this letter with a bottle of whisky for you” 
Sweeney’s note with Poem:
Ah my lad...you knew me best! I return your poem back to you with a bottle of the good stuff and for god sake no mixing it with Coca Cola! I have no regret and love you from my Heart of hearts ...find yourself a decent barber that knows how to cut sheep’s hair!

My friend Sweeney

the roaring laughter
ridiculous tales
sold as the truth

he was unstoppable

those evenings at the hearth
we exchanged views
between a bottle of whisky

as the mellow drink settled inside us
and the last red embers died

I saw his face damp and the heartbreak
of a thousand Irish families in it

rubbing he complained about allergies
telling me a limerick and cracking the seal
of another good label

Post Script: Funeral speech
10 Life lessons old man Sweeney taught me:
1 Home is everywhere you go, it is right inside you.
2 Every job is noble and worthwhile when done with passion and gratitude
3 Accept the hardships of life and compose a Limerick for each disappointment
4 Enjoy the good in your life and toast every happy event with a tot of good Irish whisky
5 Live as if there is no tomorrow and if the next day arrive run like hell!
6 Never lose a fight against a woman but if you win than God must help you!
7 A man without a tale or a song is no man.
8 Dishonesty is not good but if you must:  lie the truth
9 Be true to yourself and be of the same cheerful mood every day.
10 Make the most of the little resources you have and help others.    

May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.


                                

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Martin...my ancestors must have flipped the other side of the coin!

    ReplyDelete