My father, Warren O’Brien, shaved with a straight razor, polished and sharpened by his strop hung beside the bathroom sink.

Around 1956, we lived on Joann Street in Detroit where Dad barbered at the corner of our block and Seven Mile Road. One day I read “Warren Barbers” painted in huge letters on the brick wall facing Joann Street. I didn’t comprehend the sign meant my father rented the shop and hired other barbers.

As the straight razor fell from fashion to Gillete’s disposable brand, Dad and his employees shaved less faces. Yet, my father remained faithful to his straight razor and strop.

Like a magician, he spread a white chair cloth over his customer’s shoulders. Only their heads, pant legs, shoes, or muddy boots were visible.

Dad said, “You can tell a man’s occupation from his shoes.”

In preparation of either shave, haircut, or both, Dad and his barbers placed a piece of hair cloth around the customer’s neck, then secured the neck of the chair cloth snugly over it.

Similar to a dentist’s, barbers wore white, short-sleeved shirts with a banded collar buttoned close around their necks. This style went back to the day when the barber doubled as a dentist wherever the sign of the red, white, and blue barber pole appeared.

Fond of photography and his business, Dad used his Kodak 8 mm movie camera to film numerous reels of his barbers serving customers. My sisters and I were not allowed into Dad’s shop until he closed it. Ours was the privilege to help Dad sweep hair from the floor. I didn’t mind, but the little bathroom was about the filthiest I’d ever seen.

My siblings and I liked to play with the bar that pumped the chairs up and down. We also spun the chairs around and giggled. We had fun pushing down the key on Dad’s cash register to hear it ring and open the tray with one dollar bills in it.

Meanwhile, Mom washed, dried, and ironed Dad’s barber shirts and our dresses. She pounded round steak with her trusty tenderizer mallet and peeled and boiled potatoes, then mashed them with her red-handled masher. Lastly, she popped lids from Granny’s canned green beans and corn.

Mom and her Sunbeam mixer blended the ingredients for our favorite chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. And she used her pastry blender and rolling pin to bake her famous pies – strawberry rhubarb my favorite. Ten years later, the first woman to cater private parties within our Warren community, Mom modeled the forthcoming cottage industry.

Dear Reader, on this beautiful harvest day, these reflections speak of my heritage, the significant possessions my parents used to support my sisters and me: their love, two hands, responsible husbandry, and willpower.

If I don’t turn the straw with my pitchfork every day to keep the hen’s bedding clean, we’ll have dirty eggshells. And if I don’t write my family’s history, who will remind my children of their grandparents’ tools of their trade?

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