In the 1960s, Chester had two barbers.
Jake Howe lived in the house next to the People’s United Bank. In the front of his house is where Jake cut hair. Jake had a barber pole out front on the porch post. There was one barber’s chair with a razor strop attached. I remember watching Jake sharpen his razor with the razor strop. It seemed so effortless.
Jake was an avid fisherman and loved to tell stories. On Saturday mornings, there might be three or four men waiting for a haircut. All were entertained with Jake’s stories and often added to the conversation.
Jake had a large brown trout mounted on the wall. Jake claimed he caught it in the Williams River. It was a monster weighing six pounds. In later years, we learned Jake may have caught the trout in Chittenden Dam.
In the 1960s, the Beatles with their long hair made us kids want long hair too. I remember going to Jake’s for haircuts at my parents’ insistence. I too wanted long hair, but my folks forbid it. Arnold: “As long as you’re under my roof.”
I remember sitting in the barber chair getting my haircut. Jake was telling me a fishing story in detail as he cut my hair. I was facing the mirror and thought, “My god, he’s scalping me.” While my hair was already too short, Jake wasn’t done telling the story, so he kept clipping.
Tom Hildreth moved to Chester in 1979. It wasn’t long before Tom discovered Jake’s. Tom told me a story when he went for a haircut. Jake’s was an interesting and different atmosphere.
Tom sat waiting his turn, listening to two old men giving each other directions. One described a large tree well off the beaten path deep in the woods. Tom sat and listened to these old men talking about this location that they both knew well. Tom had grown up in the Holyoke area, so this was new to him.
Tom couldn’t believe two men in their 80s knew this remote location and still hunted. This was Tom’s introduction to the Vermont way. It was not lost on Tom.
John the Barber
The other barber was John Emerson. John was a bachelor and had a reputation of being a womanizer. He had other equally fine qualities. He couldn’t be considered a good role model, but he was fun. John was younger than Jake, and so more hip. My parents forbid me going to John’s. This is where my friends and I liked to get our haircuts.
When you walked into his shop, he would bark some insult. Once you sat down in the chair, John became civil and friendly. It was a fun place to be. He treated us as equals. This was something teenagers seldom encountered.
John was cool. He kept a few girlie magazines in his shop. John, too, was a hunter and fisherman. John had some great stories. John’s barbershop was located in the rear of the Henry Office Building.
He lived on High Street in a small cottage next to our house. I would sneak over after dark to see him. John was rude, crude, vulgar, and living life his way.
In the mid-1960s, Vermont had very few moose. If a moose was spotted in Vermont in those days, it was major news. It was about 1965 when hunters found a dead moose in Mount Holly. It had been shot in deer season and left to rot. There was a rumor that John Emerson had shot the moose while deer hunting. This may or may not be true.
If you’re my age, you grew up in a neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in Brooklyn or Boston; you had a neighborhood. You had neighborhood stores, delis, butchers, barbers, and you knew your neighbors and other kids. Chester was my neighborhood.
Over the years, I’ve talked with many transplants from the city. Many of my generation, regardless of where they grew up, have similar childhood memories. I’ve always been inquisitive about where people come, their background, or what they did for a living.
A while back, I was in the plaza in Springfield. A little old lady was bent over, almost double, pushing her shopping cart. As I overtook her, I said, “I’ll race ya.” She replied, “Don’t bother. You don’t stand a chance.”
This week’s old saying. “If you’re giving away an old coat, don’t cut the buttons off.”