When I was a boy, my father took me to the barber for a hair cut once a month. The barber threw the cloth around my shoulders and fired up his electric trimmer, and ran it all over my head, and never once said a word. Once he was done, he’d undo the cloth, give my shoulders a quick dusting with his brush, and indicate with a nod of his head that it was time for me to hop off. My dad paid whatever it was he paid. The barbershop was like a clubhouse, but one that still held all its secrets. You could sit in the chair, but you knew you hadn’t been allowed in. I got the same haircut every other boy got in 1959. Some boys I know went to Vietnam having never experienced more than a quarter inch of hair their whole lives. Some hadn’t even started shaving for real yet.
The women went to the salon. I don’t know what they did there.
My father was a man’s man. He wore a suit and tie every day of the year, even on weekends. The only time I ever saw him in anything other than that was in his pajamas and robe on Christmas morning, and again, when he was laid up before he died. My dad never said much. He went to work and wore a suit, and slicked his hair back with pomade and kissed my mother on the cheek and poured himself a whiskey once he got home. He read the newspaper and watched some baseball.
He barbecued. He bought himself a big round barbecue grill and a big sack of coals and he grilled steaks on his birthday. Mother would pretend not to do any work, but she did everything except put the steaks on the grill. She smiled a lot but she also fell asleep early.
My uncle got a new camera. In this photo, he asked us to pose. He asked me to hold the raw steak up for my dad, and so I did. My mother never drank beer, but my uncle thought she’d look less awkward with a drink in her hand. Some of the steaks had been glazed with a marinade — you can see them — but the rest we just laid on the cold coals. No-one had remembered to light them up before my uncle posed us all for the picture. That’s the only way I could hold my hands out so close to the grill; it was stone cold.
This is not the recommended way to cook steak.
I can’t recall the look on my father’s face. I mean, I can’t name it. I guess impassive is as close as I’m going to get. He was the sort of man who thought it was important to cut your hair once a month and to own a barbecue. I’m not sure what my mother saw in him. Perhaps she saw a man in a suit and apron standing in front of an unlit grill holding a spatula.
Yes, now that I think of it, that’s exactly what she saw.
Better Homes & Gardens Barbecue Book, Meredith Publishing Company, 1959