These stories are as I remember them. They’re probably different from what really happened, and different from the way other family members remember them. Your mileage may vary.
Haircuts were always a source of contention when we were kids. English was not the first language of most of the barbers in the neighborhood, and when you tried to explain to any of them how you wanted your hair cut, they would listen carefully, then do what they were going to do, anyway. Often that meant getting a boot camp haircut, and none of us wanted that, especially not in the late 1960’s. We wanted to leave it long enough to look hip, cool, and groovy (like I said, the 1960’s), but not so long that we’d be thrown out of school.
One day, I discovered a barber at the end of Glenwood Avenue who not only spoke English but who would actually listen and leave some hair on your head. When I came home after my first haircut at this new place, Mom liked it. Soon, the three of us were getting our hair cut by him. We were happy, Mom was happy, the nuns at school were happy, everyone was happy.
That is, until the day, not long after a recent haircut, one of us started complaining about an itchy head. Mom looked, and discovered, much to her horror, he had a large seeping wound on his scalp. A trip to the doctor revealed that he had contracted a fungal infection, and had to smear this awful medication on it until it went away.
Mom was furious. We were ordered never to go to that barber again, and Mom did what she always did when she was upset about something: she started calling her sisters and telling them the whole story, knowing that they would stoke her anger and prepare her for the next phase, which was probably calling a lawyer and suing the pants off the barber on Glenwood Avenue. Never mind that the other two showed no ill effects from having their hair cut at the same time by the same barber. Never mind that the barber was duly licensed by the City of Chicago, had passed an inspection by the Chicago Board of Health, was a member of the Barbers’ Union, and used all of the same precautions and protocols that every other barber in the neighborhood, and probably every other barber in the world, used to ensure nothing like this would happen to any of his clients. Clearly, he had willfully, and with malice aforethought, given one of the Holton boys a fungal infection, and, as God was her witness, she would make him pay.
The first sister she called was Alice. Alice lived the closest of any of her sisters, and, because she had four young girls, was home most of the day. When we were let out of school early (specifically on Wednesday afternoons, when the Catholic kids from the public schools in the neighborhood came to St. Ignatius for religious instruction), we would go to Alice’s and wait until Mom got out of school, because Mom didn’t trust us by ourselves. Mom started telling her the story, and Alice stopped her. “Uh, Bunny? Before you go any further, you should probably know something.”
Alice told Mom that the Holton boy in question, trying to entertain his young cousins, chose to do so by wearing the toilet plunger on his head like a hat.
So much for the lawsuit. But we never went back to the barber on Glenwood.
from The Sound of One Hand Typing