by Samuel C. Newsome, M.D.
I was the child of a farmer. Actually my family was like many in rural North Carolina. We relied on income from my father’s factory job plus our farm income to make ends meet. Dad would work evenings in the factory and farm during the day. We all did our chores and assumed everyone lived that way.
Saturday mornings we made trips to town for weekly errands. On a monthly basis those trips included a visit to Sercey’s Barbershop. Sitting in a barbershop was about the most boring way a 6-year-old could spend a Saturday. The shop was little more than a storefront with two chairs, a row of seats and a small black-and-white TV tuned to sports. In those days there was always a swirl of cigarette smoke rising from several ashtrays. A visit to the barbershop could take all morning. Dad would discuss crops, weather and occasionally politics with the regulars. Years later, I realized that the long waits for a trim were rare opportunities for Dad to get the local news and maintain a connection to his peers. For me it was just time spent in a stuffy smoke-filled barbershop and away from cartoons.
On one such trip in 1955, as the long wait for our turn had almost arrived, a tall, lanky man sauntered into the shop. Sercey brushed out the seat and waved the linen with a snap and said, “Come on in, Doc. You havin’ a busy day are ya’? You fellas don’t mind if I give Doc Jones a trim. He’s got an office full of sick‘ns across the street.”
I sure did mind, but I guess I was the only one. From the line of chairs with a dozen men rose a chorus of, “Sure, go ahead Doc.” I had yet to learn that the local barbershop and the occasional haircut were social phenomena that were more complex than grooming. The haircut was about comradeship, part of the fabric of small town life.
As mystified as I was regarding the intricacies of barbershop etiquette, I was sure of one thing: Doc was important. He was respected by a whole shop full of farmers waiting with large calloused hands. These were hard-working, good Christian men. They were men who knew the weather and the land. Yes, for someone to earn their respect was a very big deal!
I didn’t know anything about medicine, and I wasn’t sure what a doctor did except give shots, but I knew on that Saturday morning it was my calling. I must admit that I wavered several times since that morning in 1955, but I managed to stay the course and eventually become a family physician. I’ve practiced in my hometown for 36 years. For some of that time, Dr. Jones and I were colleagues.
I’m glad that before his death, I was able to share this story with Joseph Reid Jones Jr., “Dr. Bill.”