Barbershops and Bottles
An essay by Don Green, former Holliston Resident
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.”