Harry Martin

Harry Martin died this week. He’d been telling a story, something about a frog and a lantern, but didn’t get to the punch line. He just paused, looked at the man in the chair, uttered a soft sigh and slid to the floor.  It was over in a few seconds and the doctor said that he hadn’t suffered much at all.

Harry was 64 years old and had been married to Karen for 37 years. They had two boys and three granddaughters. They’d raised the boys in a two story house on Merton Drive which they’d bought just before their oldest was born. They’d lived in town all their lives.

Harry owned a barber shop just off Main Street which had only three chairs, one each for him and Nelson, who had been with him as long as anyone could remember, and a third chair that served to hold the morning’s papers and a few out of date copies of Maclean’s and the Hockey News.  Harry had always said that if he ever hired a third haircutter, he’d know he’d made it “big”. His friends enjoyed his wide grin and quiet humour and gave him grief, saying he’d already made it ‘big” by charging them so much to sit in one of his chairs and to wait so long on Saturday mornings for the privilege to do so. Harry argued that a visit to his shop was more than just a haircut. It was a chance to visit, chat awhile and get over the rush of their busy week. He said that it was so relaxing that if he offered tea along with their trim, they’d have to pay him a spa fee.  As it was, he might just change the sign, call the place a Salon and charge accordingly!

When someone new came in for the first time, they’d often find that the row of chairs on the long wall opposite the mirror were occupied. They’d wonder if there might be a shorter wait elsewhere but Harry or Nelson would tell them to just sit anywhere, they’d be done in a minute. If they stayed, they’d soon notice that not everyone seemed to be there for a haircut. Men came and went, passing the time of day and chewing the fat. They talked about their jobs and bragged or complained about their kids. They bitched about Ottawa and the Leafs. They shared Timbits and bought each other coffee. It was a club and for more than a few, a regular Saturday morning haunt. Frank Brenner apparently held the current record. He’d been seen in this shop every Saturday for going on seventeen years.

Harry and his family had been involved in the life of the town. He’d been on the school board when his boys were of that age and had served two terms as Alderman. He’d been a Lion for thirty years. Karen had worked at Stamford’s Grocery until she retired and still volunteered at the veterinary hospital. His boys had played for the high school hockey team and the youngest had gone on to semi-pro.

So, it was no surprise to find that the church was full for Harry’s service. There was standing room only, mostly men who had vacated the pews for the women and children. It was a mild spring day and some of the men were content to stand outside the open doors. They could hear the pastor’s sermon from there. A few lit cigarettes while they waited for the service to end so they could make the move to the cemetery.

After, at the house, they gathered in groups on the main floor, spilling onto the porch and lawn and drive. Most held a beer bottle or a coffee cup. Several held paper plates of cold cuts and potato salad or casserole. Karen sat in the corner of the living room with her friends and listened to the chatter and laughter as the men recalled Harry’s best moments. People stopped by her chair for a quiet word or to give her hand a squeeze. They made promises to stay in touch and offers to help out if she needed anything at all. Just call.

There were many stories and a lot of laughter. No one seemed eager to leave and the afternoon turned to evening. After a time it became clear that these men were doing more than saying goodbye to Harry. They were saying goodbye to a time. It was a changing of the guard. Everyone’s life shifts a little when a close friend dies but they were saluting something most couldn’t put words to. They knew that Nelson wouldn’t keep the shop going. Their lives were about to change. Saturdays just wouldn’t be the same. ©

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