Barbershops and Bottles

An essay by Don Green, former Holliston Resident

The current shop where Vic’s once was.

The following reflection, written by former Holliston resident Don Green, was sent to us by Donna Laronga. After obtaining permission to publish from the author, Ms Laronga forwarded the essay to us.  We thank them both—Mr. Green and Ms Laronga—for their assistance in bringing another memory of Holliston to our readers. —The Publishers

In these days of quarantine and social distancing, I’m surprised at how much I miss the barbershop.  It’s got nothing to do with getting my hair cut.  It’s about a social gathering spot called Anthony’s Barbershop here in my town.  It’s just down the street from the local hospital.  I remember seeing my orthopedist getting his hair cut there the week after Jimmy Garoppolo was injured playing for the Patriots.  I asked him what he thought about Garoppolo’s injury and it reminded me of the old E.F. Hutton ad:  The whole place, (four barber chairs and about ten people waiting) got silent.  Everyone wanted to know what the doc had to say.

But this story starts in a different barbershop.

I grew up in Holliston, about 30 miles southwest of Boston.  My folks moved there in 1960, when I was two years old.  It was a different world back then.  Put it this way: when I was six years old, I walked almost a mile to and from school by myself.  This story starts there.

I used to go to Vic’s Barbershop for my haircuts.  Vic’s was a barbershop like any other in a small American town.  Men congregated there, swapped stories, jokes, and gossip.  I loved being there.  It was safe and comfortable.  Looking back on it, Vic was the first adult I ever addressed by his first name.  At that age, everyone was always Mr., Mrs., Aunt, or Uncle.  I suppose that’s another example of how the world has changed. The plan was always the same:  In the morning my Mom would tell me to go to Vic’s after school.  She would stop in and pay him, then later, I’d walk there from school.  Vic would cut my hair (I got the same “whiffle” every other kid got), give me a lollypop, and since of course I wasn’t allowed to cross Washington Street, Vic would walk me across the street and send me on my way.

My Dad also used to get his hair cut at Vic’s, and I remember one day he came home with an old bottle of Wildroot hair tonic.  It had never been opened and had the original cork in it.  He said he had seen it on a shelf at Vic’s and he recognized the bottle as the same product he used when he was growing up in the 30’s and 40’s.  He asked about it, and Vic offered it to him out of friendship.  That bottle sat on a shelf in my Dad’s office for years.

After my Dad died and we had all grown up and were living our own lives, it came time for my Mom to move out of her house.  In helping her clean out the house, I found the Wildroot bottle and brought it to my own home, where it sat on a shelf in my office for another twenty-five years or so.

During that time, in 1990, my wife and I had settled in Needham, just west of Boston.  Eventually, I found Anthony’s Barbershop where I became as comfortable as I had been at Vic’s.  Anthony’s has a rotating cast of barbers, but there are two young guys, Joe and Sam, who recently bought Anthony’s Barbershop.  A few years ago, I was sitting in Sam’s chair getting my usual haircut, (my haircuts don’t take long anymore given how little there is to cut), and Sam pointed out a shelf where they kept a small collection of old-fashioned haircutting equipment; hand operated clippers, and things like that.  I told them about the Wildroot bottle, and asked if they’d like it on their “Nostalgia Shelf.”  They agreed it would fit in with the rest of the old equipment, and the next weekend I dropped it off.  I see it now whenever I’m there.

I can’t help but feel like that old bottle, (going on 80-plus years old now) belongs in a barbershop.  Especially one where people congregate and friendships grow.  I can’t wait to get back to the barbershop, see my friends, and check out Vic’s old Wildroot bottle.

A note from Ms. Laronga:

“That barber shop uptown Holliston was originally my father Tony’s shop, Vic’s brother.  My Dad passed away suddenly and Vic took over.  He lived his whole life in Milford but felt a strong connection to the town of Holliston because of his interactions with all of the local folks.  Most of your readers know of that shop and I’m sure can relate to the story.” 

The Publishers

11 Comments

  1. JOE COHEN on November 28, 2020 at 5:11 am

    I DO REMEMBER VIC AND THE BARBER SHOP. NOW THAT I LIVE IN FLORIDA I GET MY HAIR CUT BY A BARBER WHO WORKS IN A BEAUTY PARLOR LOCATED NEXT TO THE PUBLIX GROCERY STORE. SOMEHOW IT IS NOT THE SAME FEELING.
    JOE COHEN

  2. Kelly Church on November 28, 2020 at 8:14 am

    Really beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Warren Chamberlain on November 28, 2020 at 8:24 am

    That is weird. I grew up in Needham and moved to Holliston in 1966. I went to Anthony’s barber shop in Needham when I was a kid. Now I go to “Vick’s”

  4. Bill Wells - Hobe Sound FL on November 28, 2020 at 8:30 am

    What a great article. Our son Michael had his first haircut at Vic’s. Even back then, there was a nostalgic feel in that shop. Of course, I always thought that living in Holliston was a bit like living in a Norman Rockwell painting.

  5. Maryann Laronga Pattin on November 28, 2020 at 9:03 am

    Vic is my beloved dad. He truly relished his work as a barber and especially enjoyed the social aspect and the relationships and bonds he formed with his customers. People would be waiting in a line at his door in the early morning hours waiting for dad to open. He worked until he was 80 years old and would have continued if his health allowed him to do so. When he retired his customers held a party for him and we observed they were all good friends, not just customers. I helped dad close up his barbershop and is was difficult to see his sadness in saying goodbye. Fortunately, many of his barbershop friends remained in contact with him during his remaining year. I have some beautiful letters of remembrance from people whose lives he touched. I thank Don Green for his essay and shared memories and I especially thank my cousin Donna for bringing your words to myself, my brothers, and to Vic’s grandchildren.

  6. Robert Morgan on November 28, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Wonderful story, grew up in Holliston, graduated from HHS in 1962. Returned after serving four years in the USAF, but moved away in 1984. Fortunate to have been able to return on many occasions while still working, and still pick up “stuff” from Outpost Farm when i’m in the area!!

  7. Brett Morrison on November 28, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    I went to Vics for ever. He knew exactly how to cut my hair-per dad and mom. Either Vic or Rod ? Cut it. I can still smell the shop and remember sitting on the ledge at the front window. And the old green and yellow radio. Memories.

  8. Teri Mcgill on November 29, 2020 at 7:42 am

    Tony laronga was my grandfather, and that is my uncle Vic

  9. Thomas Laronga on November 29, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    I go way way back to 1940 when my father Tony opened his shop. That was a big deal for a man to take when he was only 31 married and had 3 children. He opened the shop in the winter and we stayed in Framingham to finish school then moved to good old Mudvile the famous portion of Holliston. The three children and a fourth all finished 12 years of school in Holliston. That is except for my oldest brother who was already in the 3rd grade. Back in those days some men would come in early in the morning to get one of those great straight edge razor shaves. Actually men used to come in at times for a shave and a haircut at the high cost of .25 cents. Yes and I do remember the wildroot cream oil bottle. My father had purchased two of them from the barber supply as it was advertised as the product for men to use. Unfortunately they didnt. so one of the bottles was given to me, which I used. We needed that greasy look back in the 40 s and 50 s. So Dan Greens bottle is older than he thinks. Ah yes there were many stories and arguments at the shop. Mostly about sports, as the radio was always turned to the Red Sox or the Boston Braves, whatever was on. Heaven help you at holiday time as my father had a bar set up for the customers to have while waiting, plus for himself. There were some great times at that shop. Of course my first haircut was by my father and it certainly continued with my favorite uncle Vic. I was almost 80 when I had to get a haircut from someone else other than my father or my uncle. Of course it was in the same barber shop in Holliston. Thanks Dan for bringing this up. Just for the record, I am a Holliston High School graduate in the class of 1953.

  10. Michelle Mehigan on November 29, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    I heard on social media that Anthony has started working at another nearby shop but can’t find the post. Nobody gave my covid-shaggy son a better cut!

  11. Thomas Laronga on December 9, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    Actually Anthony (Tony) was born in 1911 and opened Tony s the F amily Barber shop in 1940. At that time he was in his 30 S. After WW2 his brother Vic joined him in Holliston. Tony (my father) died in 1972 at the age of 61. His brother (my uncle) kept the shop for many years until he was in his 80 s. So I guess Michelle must be thinking of another Anthony.

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