Shawn and His Memorable Year by Lox
It was 1975 – a big year for me. I had dreamed for ages about finally getting my driver's permit in April – even planning just what I would wear (a wide-collared floral, "groovy” shirt) and just how I'd comb my blond tresses for the picture (my signature center part, with thick "wings” of hair sweeping back to both sides, falling casually over my eyes in the process). My friends said that the DMV would make me comb my hair back from my face, but I was willing to give it a try anyway. My locks were exhibit A that I was a real "Joe cool” back then in at the beginning of my junior year of high school.
Well, I got my permit the day I turned 15, for sure. But not everything else turned out according to my long-made plans. And, compared to what I had gotten just a month before, the permit turned out to be an anti-climax – hardly the most important event of that year, 1975. Instead, March 1975 saw the fulfillment of one of my earliest childhood dreams and constant, unspoken desires…something I had wanted for earlier than to drive a car.
Examining my first driver permit now, it seems hard to imagine it was issued in 1975. The youthful, extremely clean-cut look screams out 1965 – or 1955 – not 1975! Hair darkened by heavy grease and shining, tapered short with a razor outline high above the ears, and angled bangs with a ramrod straight part on the left and slicked to the side. A white button-down collar shirt and skinny dark tie. Immediately to the right of that "square” image in the photograph was a documentary confirmation that the geeky looking boy was really me – Shawn Mark McCormack, born May 3, 1960.
Comparing the driver permit photo to the one of me in my 1974-1975 high school yearbook would make almost anyone doubt the two lads were the same. I had been so proud of that yearbook photo when I'd first seen the proofs. My hair was at its longest length ever – cascading down in thick golden waves that covered the collar and hung just above my shoulders. I'd spent an hour with the blow drier the morning that photo was taken getting my mane to shimmer and bounce at its fullest!
So, you probably want to know what happened between October and May that triggered such a transformation. His name was Bill Taylor, and the supporting players in my drama set in early 1975 were my guidance counselor Jim Johnson, and Bill's two sons, Dave and Pete. Oh yes, the other important figure was my mother Gloria.
My mother had always indulged me for as long as I could remember. She was the best of mothers and gave me everything I wanted, sacrificing dearly so that I could have the trendiest gadgets and clothing. I was indeed a mama's boy – out of necessity. There was no one else. My father walked out on us when I was just a few weeks old. It was just my mom and me, as a result. Back in the early 1960's the stigma was a lot greater than now, being a single mother. But she was a saint and made sure that everything else in my life compensated for the lack of a dad. Naturally, I was one of the few guys in my class that had no problem with hairstyles when the clean-cut look of the 60's began furiously losing ground to the Beatles moptop haircuts of the late 60's and then to the long, feathered look of the 70's. I remember how I pitied those boys whose fathers continued dragging them off to the barbershops to get shorn long after the taper cuts screamed out "SQUARE!” I was among the chiefs of those taunting cruel comments like, "Did you get run over by a lawn mower?! Ha ha ha ha.” They rarely replied, but a pit-like emptiness always rebuked me after the taunts were delivered – at least they had fathers. Having a father of my own was the deepest longing of my heart. I figured it was one thing my mother could never give me.
But I was wrong. It came as a bit of a shock really when my mother announced to me that the Taylors had invited us to spend Christmas Day with them. The Taylors?! The only kids I felt more sorry for, at times, than myself were Dave and Pete Taylor. Dave was a year older than I, and Pete was a year my junior. Their mother had died of cancer when I was in 10th grade. But, the worse part was that their father, who worked as a civilian on the army base in our town, made them get the most ridiculous short haircuts of anyone I knew. Clipped high up the back and all that grease to slick their hair to the side. Poor fellows! Even the other conservative folk that attended the church the Taylors and my mother went to had let their boys hair get a little fuller and fluffier, even if the guys still had to keep it off the eyebrows, collars and ears! (Fortunately for me, my mother stopped making me go to church when I was old enough to stay home by myself on Sundays because I said the service was boring.)
"Why are we going to the Taylors for Christmas?!” I stammered in disbelief.
"Because Bill invited me – invited us, I should say – and I think that was a very sweet thing for him to do. He's even going to cook us a Christmas dinner! Now that's what I think is the mark of a very caring person.” She said it with a finality that we were going. I hadn't seen my mother so excited in a long time. So I didn't protest, even though I did not look forward to Christmas for the first time in my whole life.
I didn't know Mr. Taylor very well – the man was friendly, and his boys always seemed happy despite their ridiculous looks. I remember how much everyone in the church supported them during the cancer situation and after the funeral.
At Christmas, Mr. Taylor was as nice as could be to me. I started getting inklings, watching him and my mother that something personal was developing. I was happy to see her so – should I say "in love”. It couldn't be, I kept telling myself. She'd never said anything! Then, Mr. Taylor gave me a fishing pole for Christmas and said that he was taking me out with his boys just as soon as the season started.
Needless to say, things went very quickly between my mom and Bill Taylor. We saw more and more of the Taylors. After they announced their engagement, my mom and Mr. Taylor sat down with me for a serious talk. I remember Mr. Taylor saying, "Shawn, I'm not asking you for your permission to marry your mother. But, I do want you to know that we are both very anxious for you to accept me and my boys as part of your family.”
My mother quickly added in, "Shawn, I'm the one marrying Mr. Taylor, not you.” Then, inadvertently stroking my long blond hair she added, "Nothing is going to change for you about yourself. It's not fair that suddenly, a boy who's almost old enough to drive, gets slapped with a new set of rules. For instance, when we live together, the Taylor boys will have their existing bedtime (8:30 p.m.!!), but you'll put yourself in bed whenever you feel sleepy -- just like now.”
Mr. Taylor took over again, "And when I take my boys to the barbershop, you're welcome to come along – or just keep on going to the same salon with your mom like now. Or not cut your hair at all! You see, Shawn, it's up to you. I want to be a father to you, but only if you want that and within the framework you establish – not me.”
I said I understood and felt very relieved. I even got emotional at the end of the family powwow and said that I was happy for them and knew that Mr. Taylor would treat my mother with respect and kindness, which is what she deserved. I felt great, when the three of us embraced – and a man's hand, for the first time, stroked my long golden locks and patting me on the shoulder.
My emotions were in upheaval during those next few months – the wedding was scheduled for March! I felt odd about the new dynamic. There would be the Taylor boys going to bed at 8:30 p.m. and getting up at the crack of dawn to do exercises, followed by a shower and squirt of brylcreme! I would be living under the same roof but in a completely different world. It didn't seem normal.
Despite his being old fashioned, I liked the way Mr. Taylor treated me. I found myself longing for a time when I could call him "dad” instead of "Mr. Taylor.”
Finally, I decided to speak to my guidance counselor, Mr. Johnson, about my inner conflict. There was something about Mr. Johnson that reminded me of my soon-to-become stepfather. They were both caring individuals who could communicate with the younger generation – while looking completely 1950's, and acting that way too. Mr. Johnson still wore a flattop. It was 1975, after all, I would think to myself when I saw him in the hall!! No big sideburns either.
In his office, I remember telling Mr. Johnson how confused I was and how I really wanted us to be one family – of five! Not a happy family of four with an extra appendage (or ulcer!) like I was a freak of nature. Mr. Johnson talked me through these feelings and noted that I was in control and could steer my future. He pointed out that I was lucky, because many kids went through a traumatic adjustment which they had no control over when a stepparent came into their lives. Mr. Johnson said I'd have to choose between fitting into the new "Taylor family” or just treading water until I would be on my own after graduation.
"What would you do?” I asked Mr. Johnson point blank.
He didn't bat an eyelash. "I'd tell Mr. Taylor you need a haircut and ask him to take you with him next time he and his boys go to the barbershop.” My eyes grew wide as saucers. Secretly, I had thought about doing this on my own, ever since it was certain my mother would marry Mr. Taylor! Mr. Johnson's suggestion was a confirmation of this impulse. It had to be! Before I could respond, Mr. Johnson reached over and stroked my long hair, pushing it back from my eyes in a loving, caring way.
I stammered, feeling embarrassed yet grateful. "That's what I think I'll do, Mr. Johnson. Thanks for listening to me.”
"Oh, I'm really happy for you, Shawn. Mr. Taylor's a great man – and his kids are too. I know they might not be in the cool set you hang around with now, but give them a chance. They've got hearts of gold,” he said in conclusion.
As we stood, I suddenly hugged my guidance counselor! I imagined he was Mr. Taylor as I closed my eyes. He tousled my hair as we pulled apart. "I always thought you'd look great with a clean-cut look, Shawn. I'm just sorry that the flattop has fallen out of favor. When you were a wee boy and I was just beginning my career, they were all the rage.” In 1975, though, they were on the "endangered species” list!!
Once I left the guidance counselor's office, I quickly developed cold feet about getting a haircut with the Taylor boys. I hustled into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror for a few minutes. How could I give all that up – just to fit in with the Taylors? What would my friends say? I brushed my long locks and felt like crying. It was so unfair! Why hadn't my mother fallen in love with someone whose kids looked "normal”?
During the next weeks, I continued to mull over my future. No real decision would have to be made until the wedding and we had moved in with the Taylors. Dave and Pete were to share a room and I would get Dave's old room (the larger of the two). I knew they were really trying to make the transition as easy for me as possible. The boys told me how much they were looking forward to sharing a room. Their kindness almost seemed fake! I considered asking my mom to let me move in with my best friend – whose hair was as long as my own – instead. But the memory of embracing Mr. Johnson, imagining him to be my new stepfather, always triumphed over any other plan. More than anything, I wanted a father!
The week before the wedding, I heard Mr. Taylor telling his boys they were all to get haircuts on the base the following day. A very strange sensation pulsated through my whole body – excitement and dread all rolled into one. As soon as Dave and Pete left the room, I said to Mr. Taylor, softly but determined, "Mr. Taylor. After you marry Mom, can I call you Dad?”
"Shawn, that would be a privilege for me. I already think of you as my son,” he replied, giving me a very slight hug.
"Then, why didn't you include me when you told the boys you were taking them to get haircuts tomorrow….”
"But Shawn, you know that I don't want you….”
"Dad, I want to go along with you – to the barbershop. I really have been needing a good haircut for quite some time!” We looked at each other and the slight hug became a tight embrace. The deed had been done – and the bond firmly cemented in our new relationship.
Friday night, I found it very hard to sleep. The next thing I knew, the horn of a car was sounding in the driveway. I looked at my blond tresses one more time before pulling on a baseball cap and rushing out to the car. Dave and Pete were in the back seat and Mr. Taylor – Dad!! – leaned over and threw the door open on the passenger side. "Hop in, Shawn,” he called out cheerfully. There was only pleasant chatter in the car; talk of the wedding and school – but no mention of the impending haircut.
Mr. Taylor signed me onto the base and it suddenly felt like we were in a different world. Dave and Pete belonged to this world – but I looked like a freak. The sidewalks were crawling with men sporting crewcuts, flattops and other shorn styles. Then we pulled slowly past the base barbershop with its huge panes clearly letting passersby see the row of old-fashioned chairs coupled with barbers in matching white smocks. Everyone in the shop, barbers included, sported ultra-short haircuts. Not a woman in site either.
The four of us took seats in the empty chairs of the waiting area. I was mesmerized by the unfamiliar smells and spent all my time examining the various clippers and jars of scissors and razors and all the other barbering paraphernalia that adorned the counters. I thought about everything except the fact that I was soon to lose my long hair. I squashed down every type of "you can still get out of this” doubt that tried to creep in.
Suddenly, one of the barbers snapped open a white cape while calling out "Next! Which of the four of you will it be?” he asked looking in our direction. "Or is that a little girl under that baseball cap?” he said with a bit of a smirk.
Dad charged to my defense, "Kent, that's Shawn McCormack, my new son. A little respect, please!”
"I'm sorry, Mr. Taylor,” the barber replied duly chastised. "Nice to meet you Shawn. Are you here for a haircut, or just along for the ride?”
I boldly stood up and pulled off my baseball cap. All eyes were on me. I shot a glance at myself in the neon-lit mirrors. "I'm here for a haircut, sir,” I responded solemnly – and for the first time in my life tacking on the "sir” which I heard everyone around the base using, not to mention that saying "sir” was Dave and Pete's constant habit as well.
"Then have a seat, right here,” the barber replied in an animated tone, patting the vinyl upholstery on his huge barber's throne. I could tell he was itching to get the cape fastened around my neck and start chopping away. And, oh, did he get that starchy white cape in place every so quickly and ever so tightly! He brushed out my long locks and smoothed them down as best he could. "Been a while since you've had a haircut?” he ventured stating the obvious.
"A very long while,” I answered. "Actually, I can't remember the last time I was in a barbershop like this.”
"So how much of this comes off today?” he asked.
I looked back at Dad and the boys in the waiting area. I paused, gathered courage and them gave the determined instruction: "I want you to cut my hair just the way Dave and Pete get their hair cut.” I saw a big smile creep across Dad's face.
"Okay, then one ‘short back and sides' coming up.” The barber reached for a large set of black electric hair clippers. I caught a final glimpse of the old me as he spun the chair away from the mirror and faced me directly towards the Taylors. They all looked proud and happy. Then the barber firmly pressed my head down until my chin almost touched my chest. I cannot describe to you the sensation of the clippers first plowing into my long tresses at the nape. The barber and his machine had undoubtedly seen a lot of action in mowing down mophead recruits! He drove the clippers forcefully up the back of my head with a pumping motion that reached greater heights with each drive. I could only imagine my long, feathered hairstyle giving way to the tight taper.
The barber suddenly shoved my head to the side and quickly took the clippers right around my ear. I could almost hear the huge clumps of shorn hair hitting the cape. Then the evidence came into sight as a mound of the glossy locks slid down the cape into my lap. The barber drove the clippers high up the side of my head towards my temple. He was quick at his work. Within short minutes the sides and back were divested of any significant length.
Then the barber tackled the top with a clipper over comb action. For this part, I could finally sit up straight. My dad called out to me, "You're looking good there, Shawn!” I smiled broadly. Glancing down, I could hardly see any cape left – just massive amounts of shorn blond locks. My former pride and joy, lovingly and willingly sacrificed for my new family.
The climax of the haircut came when the barber combed all the remaining hair forward and brandished a shears a few times right in front of my eyes. Although the massive forelock had suffered greatly during the clippers over comb phase, a few vestiges still hung like bothersome twigs in front of my eyes. But the shears put a quick end to them. I felt the cold blades begin at the left side of my forehead, a bit above the eyebrows and shear a straight path diagonally upwards towards my hairline on the left. Then barber Kent swiveled the chair around and I saw for the first time myself with an extremely short traditional boys' haircut -- the signature angled bangs, still dry and blond (although darker now that my hair was so short). I was flabbergasted by the transformation. Shawn McCormack was unrecognizable!
"How does it look, Mr. Taylor?” the barber asked.
It was a bit of a jolt – hey, why isn't he asking me, I thought?
Dad got up and walked over to examine the cut. "A bit bulky on top, Kent. I think Shawn's hair is thicker than my boys. Uh, I mean than Dave or Pete's.” Quickly the barber reached for a pair of strange looking scissors (that I later discovered were called thinning shears). He thrashed away for a few minutes using them to take the top down to a more streamlined look. "That's more like it,” my father pronounced in a satisfied way.
Then the barber applied some warm lather around my denuded ears and neck and scrapped it away, leaving a soft – gleaming white band of skin where my locks had previously hung. The final touch was a huge dollop of hair grease that allowed my hair to be slicked firmly to the side. When he held up a mirror so that I could see the new me from behind, I couldn't believe it. The haircut had made me look just like a Taylor!
When I descended from the chair, I couldn't help but notice the huge collection of shorn hair at the barber's feet. Several people in the shop, including my new dad, congratulated me on the cleancut look. I felt a huge relief that the haircut was over – and just a tinge of remorse as the barber swept the shorn locks into a pile for later disposal. Mental images of me arriving at school an my old friends taunting me with "you got your ears lowered” calls spooked me….but were quickly followed by a comforting hug from my parents once home.
While the other three Taylors had their haircuts tightened up, in my mind I relived my own experience in the chair. I concluded that I liked the barbershop. And, I liked being part of a real family. Coming to the base every three weeks with the Taylor men would be a real treat!
As we got into the car, dad announced, "Now a quick stop at the tailor's shop to try on the new suits you're each getting to wear at the wedding! I've had them custom made because the only styles I found at the store where those awful polyester leisure suits.” I could hardly believe the way I looked as I slipped into the suits that were made of a small hounds tooth wool pattern with extremely narrow lapels and peg-leg pants. And the tie – it was only an inch wide! The transformation was complete.
The new family photo taken on the day of the wedding was precious. Who would ever have known that the five of us had not spent our whole lives together? We looked like a close family unit – with Dad's hand resting lovingly on my shoulder! I was happy to be Shawn Mark McCormack, an integral part of the Bill Taylor family!!