Last year about this time, poets from State College, PA were invited to interview residents of Juniper Village, an assisted living and memory care center and to feature them in a poem. Here’s my poem about Mr. Fred Harris.
Fred’s blue eyes twinkle,
his lank frame curls into the chair.
He smiles, lost in reverie —
a toddler’s first big boy cut,
the mother picking up a tendril
fine as milkweed silk, to keep…
the mingled scent of Brill Cream,
lather, Bay Rum, Old Spice…
the high school football hero,
proud and sheepish at congratulations
from the men… the rhythmic sound
of straight razor against leather strop…
the businessmen in suits and ties —
just a little off the sides, they’d say,
and Fred obliged.
In the 50’s, it was crew cuts and flat tops,
in the 60’s, duck tails and pompadours.
Then the 70s, when grim-faced dads
dragged in their sons,
and shoulder-length tangles
were made presentable.
“Got another one,” he’d grin.
Fred knew the pulse of Huntingdon,
and if clients sighed a weary sigh,
Fred gave their shoulder an extra pat,
and they’d smile a little, meet his eyes
in the mirror. No music in the shop —
“It runs the batteries down,” he’d say,
but he tuned in to hear the obits read
every day in case a regular died,
so he could pay respects.
After Fred swept the floor at night,
straightened the well-thumbed Argosy’s
and Field and Stream’s, turned the sign
to “Closed” and locked the door,
he drove home to the farm, made dinner
for the kids and Cassie — Mama Cass
he called her — saw to it chores were done,
saddled up Prince for a ride at sunset.
He saw Niagara Falls once,
went to Florida for a couple days,
but that was travel enough.
He had his barber shop, his farm,
people who loved him.
He was useful. He smiles,