The Colonel, My Sister, and The Barber at the Base

Here’s a sweet story.

IMG_4722
Circa 1987

My parents retired south from New England where they’d grown up, married, raised their family and had a huge network of friends. They moved primarily because my Dad developed a particular loathing for snow. This isn’t really the point, I just thought many of you would empathize since it’s February. Anyway, they moved to North Carolina. No snow, and they could be near a military base, Dad’s second criteria. Not only did Dad loathe snow, he really really liked being able to drive up to the guards and have everyone he outranked jerk to attention and snap off a salute (he was a colonel, after all, and he’d earned it, having started as a private shortly before Pearl Harbor). He’d slowly proceed to the PX where he’d read every word on the labels until my mother thought her head would explode. Finally, she quit going with him. This suited Dad just fine; he could buy more weird things like pickled pig knuckles that Mom wouldn’t stand for. Besides, she would go along with what he really preferred anyway: a second base trip to the Officer’s Club for the Sunday Brunch. (Another opportunity to be saluted!) Back in the eighties and early nineties, they used to fall all over Dad at the Officer’s Club. I imagine they did any World War II vet, but Dad was a very friendly, outgoing guy who loved to joke and got to know people wherever he went. The Officer’s Club was right up his alley. He’d let them know he and Mom were coming to the Brunch, and there was always a white matchbook embossed with gold script that read “Welcome Col and Mrs Hugo,” at their linen-covered table. Along with flowers. Dad was a well-loved guy. I still have one of those matchbooks.

His jocularity aside though, there was another side of Dad: his kindness. He never forgot what it had been like either to grow up poor, the oldest of eight, during the Depression, or to start at the bottom. Much as he’d come to enjoy the finer things, he never wanted to pay a cent more than he absolutely had to for anything, and he was always drawn back to the men who were what he’d once been: young, broke, far from home. So on those trips to the base for groceries, he’d go to the big base barbershop and pay five dollars for a military haircut. Toward the end of his life, we teased him about it. His barber—there was one in particular he really liked and would wait for–might as well have just brushed off the top of his head with a towel and called it done, Dad had about that much hair. Still, he always went, and when he was finished his chat with his barber-friend, he’d take out his wallet and he’d ask how many privates were in the shop right then. It seems he’d once been a private first class himself, right before Pearl Harbor, and a colonel had paid for his haircut. So the barber would find out how many privates were in the shop and Dad would pay for all their haircuts. How could you not love a man like that?

IMG_4719
Jan and Heuston

Before he died, my Dad told my sister and me that there were a few people he wanted us to “remember him to.” (Did this mean with a monetary gift? He wasn’t in a condition to discuss it, and maybe we thought his written instructions would be clear.) After he died, we found the scrap of paper on which he’d jotted the names that included “my barber at the base.” At the time, Jan and I realized: we couldn’t get on the base without Dad with us. We didn’t know the barber’s name or how to contact him. It was one of few requests of his we were unable to fulfill. Another was to “remember him” to our mother’s hairdresser. She’d gone out of business, and we didn’t know her last name or have any idea how to reach her.

Dad died six years ago. Last week, my sister—who bought Mom and Dad’s beautiful home on the inland waterway in North Carolina and has the same landline they had for thirty years—answered her phone. Here’s the amazement. It was Heuston, Dad’s barber, whose name we had never gotten. It wasn’t clear to Jan when Hueston learned of Dad’s death. He sure remembered that Dad would have turned 100 in October and said he knew Dad hadn’t been in “for a long time” and that he missed him. He doesn’t use computers, but apparently someone looked Dad up for him, found his obituary and located Jan’s name. Somehow he got her number. And Heuston called that number just to say he missed Dad.

When Jan told him we’d wanted to meet him when Dad died, Heuston said he could sponsor Jan to get on the base (no salutes for her car, however). Well, it turned out that security is so tight he wasn’t allowed to do that, but he drove off the base just to be able to meet that good Colonel’s daughter, who also took him what she knew would be a surprise: a gift she told him was from The Colonel (as he loved to be called) who had wanted to “be remembered” to his friend, and a picture of him, which Hueston said will hang in the shop. She also gave Hueston enough to pay for the haircuts for every private that day. Exactly what Dad would want done in his name.

24 Responses to The Colonel, My Sister, and The Barber at the Base

  1. Lynne,

    Ah, another of life’s many miracles! What a wonderful story about your most interesting family. I plan to have my husband read it later (He was also career military and the most generous person I know!) We salute your dear old Dad and his very loving daughters. Carry on!

    Carmen

      • He did! And happily relates to PX visits, Officers Club, and being saluted at the gate. Still misses it all after 50 years! (Any chance this was Seymour Johnson AFB?)

        Very best wishes on your new work. Can never forget your very first with Hannah, truly beautiful in every way.

  2. What a great story and the way your dad found to “play it forward”. Hurrah to his barber for going the extra effort to tell Jan how much your dad meant to him. Too bad he didn’t make it to that 100th! I know he still speaks to you and always will, salute or not!!

    • I thought it was really neat that Heuston called, too. And I was proud of Dad for doing such a nice thing–all the while never mentioning it to us. Thanks, Barb.

  3. I just adore your writing Lynne. What wonderful memories of a great man. My father also was a WWII vet, not a Colonel but full of great stories of his days in the Pacific just never of combat. Of those things he never spoke. I lost him to cancer many years ago and miss him every day. After his death I also learned of the many kind things he did for vets down on their luck. Of course, things he never revealed to his family. So your reflections of your father made me smile and brought back fond memories of my own. Thank you.
    P.S. love the photo and that Jan paid for the haircuts. I agree, your father would have loved it.

    • Cynthia, that’s such a nice thing for you to say. Dad only told us about his war experiences late in his life and when pressed to do so. I’ve heard that’s common with the WWII vets. I’m so glad this post brought back good memories of your Dad for you. Mine wasn’t in the infantry either, but was an ordinance officer after he was commissioned. He first served in Europe, then was sent to the Pacific theatre. He ended up on Tinian Island in command of the revetment next to the one in which the Enola Gay was loaded with the nuclear bomb–not that any of them knew it at the time. He talked about sending pilots and crews in B-29s to bomb Japan, all of them knowing that many of them would not make it back, names of wives and girlfriends painted on the planes for luck. Where did they all find the courage? My grandmother had all four sons and her nurse-daughter serving overseas at the same time. Where did she?

  4. What a heartwarming story. We never know how many people we touch with acts of kindness. How rare for it to continue after someone is gone. He must have been a one of the finest.

  5. What a wonderful, wonderful story about your dad. I loved it. Although I knew him, as your father, for 50 years (which means we have been friends for 57!), this story revealed an essence about him that I never fully realized. I smiled, thinking of him walking into the Officers’ Club. The treasured photo of the matches’ cover says it all. How very heartwarming – astounding – that the barber found Jan and that she could fulfill your father’s wish. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Such a heartwarming story, Lynne! It brought back memories of my Mom and Dad, both serving in the European front during WWII. They met during their training in the Arizona dessert prior to their departure for England in 1943, eventually landing on a Normandy beach to set up the 97th Evacuation Hospital. Mom chased Dad from England to France and Belgium, finally caught him in Giessen,Germany where they married. Though they saw the horrors and cared for the wounded soldiers each time they set up the medical facilities (in tents of course), they didn’t talk much about it either. They shared the interesting stories and the good times. After the war, and until shortly before they died they were instrumental in setting up reunions with all the docs and nurses in their unit in various locations in the States. So very proud of them both. Truly our parents were part of “The Greatest Generation”!

    • I love this amazing story of your parents. I can’t imagine the terrible things they saw and lived through. Such strength they had to summon. They must have developed a very deep relationship. Thanks so much for sharing this. You have so much to be proud of in your family, Judi.

  7. I just love this. I lost my Dad a year ago this coming April 11th and there is no harsher pain for a Daddy’s girl than to know that he isn’t there at the other end of the line when I need to know what’s going on in football because I haven’t kept up. Just a beautiful, beautiful post and wonderful to tribute to your father who I do remember rather fondly. To this day, I tell people the story of when he and your mother were visiting Jan and I sauntered in, as neighbors and friends are wont to do, obviously pregnant and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Now, Kim, didn’t your father tell you what happens when you lay with a man?”. To which I replied, “Well, Fred, I’m not sure that he would be the man to caution me since he and my mother have nine children.” LOL He laughed heartily at that.

    • Oh my gosh! That sounds exactly like Dad. What a great, perfect comeback you gave him, too. Thank you so much for sharing that story, Kim. I know you’ll always miss your Dad as we miss ours.

  8. What a sweet sweet story. Gave me goosebumps. Don’t you hope that somewhere out there is a guy (once a private) paying for someone’s coffee or haircut saying “I don’t know man, someone paid for my haircut, so I’m paying for yours.” And the beat goes on…..

  9. Lynne,
    I loved this story of your dad. It’s always these memories that make us who we are and those special “people” even if they are our parents, who shape our lives..

  10. Lynne, you have obviously touched many hearts with this remembrance. Perhaps it is time again to write another memoir for your next book…

    During the Thirties in Manhattan, my mother and father worked in the same building but never met each other because they each went up different elevators. Then Pearl Harbor put them both in the Navy, stationed in Washington, DC, where, as it’s known in film-writing parlance, they “met cute” in the commissary. Because of rationing, one wanted more cream for coffee and the other wanted one more piece of pie for dessert, so they pooled their resources, and the rest is history And me, and my brother. So if it hadn’t been for Hitler and Hirohito, I wouldn’t be here. (Maybe I should write a memoir, too.)

I'd love to know your thoughts, whatever they are. Here's a place to leave a comment.

Pin It on Pinterest