I’ve had my hair trimmed by a barber ever since I was able to climb up into a barber chair. Chuck at Paradise Barber Shop in Elkhorn took care of me all through my grade school days. I remember he kept a fake cockroach in a drawer and routinely “found” it in my hair. There was Keith in Brown Deer. Then Cal in Milton, who cut hair till he was almost 80. And Bernie the Barber here in Waunakee for the past 9 years or so.
You may have read the news in last week’s Tribune that Bernie has now retired from barbering. Some might call it an end of an era. I call it an end to my favorite 30 minutes (depending on the wait) every other week.
Sitting in Bernie’s chair involved a darn good haircut, but it was about so much more than just that. It was about how much Bernie cared for every person – young and old, sane or senile, happy or sad. A relationship was built between barber and customer that involved both joyful and agonizing life events. One day you are there for a trim because you are leaving on a vacation. The next day you needed a trim to go to your friend’s funeral. In those life moments Bernie established connection that reached beyond the comb and clippers. He was good at it. No… he was GREAT at it. A true master at caring for people.
Visiting the barber shop was also about being part of a community of people who cared for one another. Routinely I’d hear Bernie mention about how someone had taken seriously ill, or was in an accident, or had lost a loved one. In these conversations Bernie and his customers collectively took pause to reflect on what others are going through, while at the same time remembering the blessings we often take for granted. Without a doubt what Bernie fostered was a caring community of people who were urged to care for others more than themselves.
I hope that what Bernie accomplished went beyond the red and blue striped barber pole light in his shop window. I hope that it spilled out into the Waunakee community and beyond. I hope that he created a legacy that can be emulated by others in our Village and passed on from generation to generation.
So, to Bernie I say job well done. While you are a tremendously humble man, you should take immense pride in being a community builder. You have caused the people of this Village to care for others by being a shining example of compassion yourself. Waunakee is a better place because of you (minus a few bad jokes). I am grateful for having had the pleasure of sitting in your chair. The Village is grateful that your chair was here in Waunakee all these years.