By Rodney Beckith
As time goes by, many of the scenes we’ve come to rely on and take comfort in have slowly begun to fade away. As small town America gives way to a faster way of life, little can be seen of the way things used to be, and the icons that represent the life we once knew.
Gone the way of the dodo are all but a few which remain to remind us: roller rinks, drive-ins, black and white television and the barber shop. Don Clemons remembers what it was like, and keeps to the old way of doing things at his barber shop near the intersection of Bells Lane and Old SR 74 in Mt. Carmel.
“I was 25 when I started here, and I don’t know where all the time went,” said Clemons.
Clemons, approaching 82 years of age, has been cutting hair at the same location now since 1950.
Although semi-retired, he still manages to continue to serve his patrons on Thursday and Friday from 8-4, and on Saturday from 7-3. He said that getting Saturday afternoon off is a good deal, not matter how you look at it, and plans to continue his trade indefinitely.
“It’s whatever the good Lord is willing,” said Clemons. “I don’t know, if I can stand up, I’ll cut hair. I don’t have any idea of when I’ll stop. I have no ideas of retiring. I’ve been semi-retired since 1992, and I kind of like that. I work three days and I’m off four, that’s a good deal.”
Going back to the beginning for Clemons, the former Air Force ball gunner knew in 1946 when he left the military that he needed to find a job. Unsure of where to go, he decided to give hair a try.
“I had just got out of the service,” said Clemons. “I put two years in after high school, and I was married, so I had to get a job. In 1946, things weren’t too good. I looked to see what the government was offering, and they had a class on barbering. I thought about it for a good while, then I got into it. It was necessity. You get married, you have to take responsibility. It was a way of living.”
He said it took a few years to get into the classes, but completed them shortly before the mandatory training nearly doubled in length. After six months, Clemons was out and ready to begin work, which he said has been steady and reliable for 58 years.
“There was no deep thought, it was just the force of necessity that I had to get a job,” said Clemons. “In barbering, you can make a living in good times and bad, and it’s turned out that way too. There’s been a few recessions, things slowed up, but I made a living.”
And as far as reliability goes, the old barbershop is the place to find it. The small structure resembles the thousands of barber shops that used to grace streets around the nation. Clemons said that it can be hard to find a barbershop anymore, but those who do can be counted on to become regulars.
“I’ve got some of the same customers that I started with back in 1950,” said Clemons. “People will stop in that’s moved in from somewhere else and say ‘where is there a barber shop? I’ve finally found one.’ People don’t take time anymore, they’re all in a hurry. I live next door, and I didn’t realize at the time what I was saving myself in hours. If it’s a bad day, you don’t have to get in the car. It’s hard to put a value on a position like this. That wasn’t through any smarts of mine though, I was just lucky.”
The simplicity of the barbershop is often its appeal. Lined with magazines on hunting, shooting and other sports, the lobby is an area for customers to stop in and gather while they wait their turn in the chair. Making reservations never sat well with Clemons, nor does cutting women’s hair, which he said is a specialty that should be reserved for a different establishment.
“I don’t care about reservations,” said Clemons. “If you walk in and you’re next, well you’ll be next. I don’t like holding spots for guys, because they’re never on time. That messes you up. It’s a place you can walk into, and I don’t cut women’s hair. It’s not the place, the barber shop. The first time, they’re happy. The second time they want two or three styles cut in, so I thought the best way to handle it was not to do it.”
“I like the camaraderie you get with your customers,” said Clemons. “If you like shooting (Clemons is a former trap shooter), we can always talk about that. I enjoy the public. I don’t care about talking politics or religion, because neither comes to a conclusion.”
Of course, the years have forced Clemons to make a few adjustments. Injuries over the years, and possibly the repetitive motions of cutting hair, damaged Clemons’ shoulders until he can no longer raise his arms very high. To compensate, a friend built him a platform to stand on that allows him to get above the heads of his customers. Still too tall? Clemons said that you can just slip down in the chair to help out. And the community itself has changed; Clemons said that there’s little to resemble the old Mt. Carmel in what you see today.
“I had plans to take pictures on both side of the street 50 years ago,” said Clemons. “I still have the camera filled with film and haven’t taken a one. It’s been an interesting time though. This was the only way through here. This has been real kind to me, I’ve raised a family. I’ve spent a year or two here.”
Formerly a stop along the Cincinnati Georgetown Portsmouth trolley line, Mt. Carmel has seen its share of ups and downs. It was also one of the first communities in the area to have electricity, which came in handy during bad weather.
“A year or two after we moved in here, a blizzard covered the road,” said Clemons. “Down near the Catholic church, you couldn’t tell where the road was. Charlie Beheimer had a bulldozer, and he ran out of cigars. He cleared the road to get his cigars, so that’s how the road got cleared. We used to have two or three grocery stores, and there’s always been a couple of bars. It was just a little country town. I came to the conclusion real fast that you didn’t say something about somebody unless you said it to their face. They were invariably related to somebody. This was a going little town, they had electricity here before they had it wholesale.”
And so, a tradition continues on, at least for the time being. Customers new and old will continue to gather in Don’s little barbershop to visit and shoot the breeze, something that Clemons said he’s been happy to take part in over the years.
“I’ve been real happy here,” he said.