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The Summer of "67 by Springman

The Summer of "67

In the spring of my fourteenth year my life changed completely. Firstly, my mother had died unexpectedly and my Dad was reeling from the shock. As the school year had just ended my father decided that I should spend the summer in Nebraska tended by his sister, my Aunt Franny and her husband Uncle Miles. I had visited their farm when I was a child, but only remembered it dimly.
The idea was that my mind would be busy with the new environment and my dad would have time to recover his stability. "Besides," Aunt Franny had pointed out, "we can use a little extra help around the farm."
It sounded like a good plan to them but, though my dad had left the farm when he was in his early twenties, I was a big city kid and the adults could only speculate how I might adapt to an entirely new lifestyle.
I did not remotely fit the picture of a farm kid in the late 1960’s. My hair was long, limp, dead straight and had difficulty covering my ears. My clothes mirrored the latest trends as closely as I could follow them meaning wide bell bottoms and wild t-shirts in psychedelic colors. I was just hitting a growth spurt and was reed thin. This look was not typical for the tiny farm community I was headed for, not by a long shot.
My Aunt and Uncle waved away any thoughts other than the experience would wind up being a positive one for all concerned.

On May 29th I stepped aboard a Greyhound bus headed from Detroit to Nebraska and in eighteen hours I was standing in a tiny bus depot with a suitcase in my hand greeting my Aunt. She put a hand on my back and ushered me out to her car keeping a monologue of light chatter going occasionally punctuated by my one word responses to her many questions. I felt alone and wished I was back in Detroit, the Detroit of a month ago when my mother was still alive.
Before heading out to the farm we stopped at the department store my Grandmother worked at and was fitted out in a strange new outfit that included bibbed overalls and chunky boots. They looked and felt like they were made out of iron but Aunt Franny said they would be nearly worn out by the end of summer. I sighed and a frown crept across my face.

When we got back to the car Franny turned in the seat and put her hand tenderly on my cheek.
"There’s one more thing we need to discuss dear. It’s your hair style, while I understand it might not be a problem back in Detroit it is not appropriate for farm life."
My shoulders started to heave as I choked back tears.
"Well," She sighed, "Lets get you out to the farm and make your room."

I struggled along for a couple of days getting used to Aunt Franny’s "ways." She was a stickler. I was told to keep my bed made, my cloths picked up and organized, how my dirty boots were to be cleaned and kept and how I was expected to help in the kitchen and around the house. I thought I would be helping on the farm and asked why I was working with her and not Uncle.
"Your not ready to take on that work, first you need to look after yourself and not add to the house work. You must live up to our standards and cooperate with our rules, this is the only way a farm can run and make a life and living for all involved. We are not trying to be hard on you, it is a necessity though, that you respect our wishes. Farm life has many dangers. If you don’t believe me, the next time you see a group of old farmers count how many fingers are missing."
I sensed the hair cut talk was coming again but it did not.
At the beginning of the new week I began to adapted to Aunty’s firm demands and worked at her side taking direction without audible sighs or slumped shoulder acquiescence. Actually, I found being a bit more organized satisfying. It took less time to do things right the first time than to make several sloppy attempts. Aunt Franny, I found, was also a joy to be around. I liked her outlook, conversation and clear expectations.
I was helping her cook the farm breakfast when Uncle Miles walked into the kitchen accompanied by a neighbor girl about my age. Her name was Addie and she was like no girl I had seen before. She was wearing serious work clothes like the kind I had folded up in my room but her’s were worn and faded by untold hours of labor. Her short blonde curls were brushed back and held in place with a head band. Addie looked farm strong and her bright face lit up the room.
She shook my hand and commented with a wry smile, "I like your apron!"
My face turned bright red and the three of them got a kick out of her joke.

Uncle Miles said simply in that Nebraska drawl, "You’ll be working with Addie today. Go up and get dressed."

I did as I was told and put on my new bibs, though I felt like I was dressing more for Halloween than farm labor. I did not want to be seen by Addie as incompetent even though I looked and felt clumsy in my stiff duds. Addie ate her breakfast and rinsed her plate and silverware in the sink. I followed suit determined to keep up with her. Aunty asked for a picture of the two of us before we left for the farm yard.

First thing, we went to the coop to collect eggs. Addie moved quickly and stayed a step ahead of me. Next was feeding the pigs.

Addie lectured me non-stop about the duties she was performing letting me know in no uncertain terms that tomorrow these would be my responsibilities. By ten that morning I was beat. Addie got the water jug out of the house and we sat under a tree to cool off before the next round.

"I have something serious to discuss with you," Addie started, pulling off her head band and shaking out her short curls. "I am going to teach you how we live here. How things are done. It won’t always make sense immediately. You must learn to obey those who are responsible for you and do what you are asked to do. I am responsible for you and you must learn my way of doing things. Please submit to me with a happy attitude when I give you direction and you’ll help make the day pleasant for both of us and the animals."
I nodded my head. "You sound like Franny,"
"No wondered," Addie replayed, "We’re kindred."
"What does that mean," I asked.
"It’s like we share souls."
"And what am I then?" I asked.
"A project."
Addie reached over and grabbed the sweaty hair stuck to the side of my face.
"And I can see this being a bit of a problem too."
"Aunt Franny said I had to get it cut when I first arrived but hasn’t brought it up since and I hope she’s forgotten."
"Franny won’t tell you again. And I think you must be obedient to her wishes. It is not an outrageous request. Promise me you’ll tell her you're ready to get it cut and don’t pout about it."
"Okay, I promise." I was quickly falling under Addie’s spell and took what she said seriously.

Addie and I worked hard all day and at four thirty she brought me back to the house for dinner. I was a mess from head to toe. I washed up and at dinner Addie caught my eye and made a clipping sign with her fingers as if they were scissors. I nodded.
Quietly, under my breath I said, "Aunt Franny, when can I get my hair cut?"
"Uncle Miles is going into town after dinner dear, he’ll take you."
Addie tilted her head and squinted her eye brows at me.
"Thank you." I said distinctly looking directly at my aunt.
Addie smiled at me for the first time.
I took a quick shower and jumped in the truck with Uncle Miles. Uncle was a man of few words but now that we had this private time he tried to explain his sorrow for the passing of my mother. I thanked him for his kindness and left it at that. My mind was on what was about to happen to me. I was thankful my Detroit buddies would not be present to see me lose my signature hair style. The summer had just started so I reasoned that by the time I returned Detroit in the fall my head would have recovered sufficiently to quell gossip and snide remarks.
The barber shop was in the center of town which was only two blocks long.
Uncle Miles asked if I wanted to go in alone or should he go in with me. I asked him to please stay with me as my heart was beating out of my chest. I knew he was a little embarrassed to be seen with his long haired nephew but I needed his support.
The door jingled as it opened and closed behind us. Several old-timers sat on the benches and when they got a load of me the joint went silent for a good ten seconds.
Finally one old guy drawled he was surprised to see Miles had a pretty daughter he’d been hiding. Another quipped, "Hell, no. That’s a boy. Does he stoop to pee?"
The old fellas decided to let me jump the line and I instantly knew they wanted to see me defrocked. I was ready to get it over with and hopped up in the chair. The barber pumped the big chair up and from that height I did as Aunt Franny suggested and counted the fingers on the collection of old farmers gathered in from of me. She was on the money as usual, there were plenty of missing digits. I cringed.

A paper sleeve was fitted tightly around my neck and the cape billowed high and landed softly over my lap and chest.
"What’s your pleasure son?" Asked the barber.
I nodded at my uncle.
"He’s paying, his choice," I said.
The old men hooted and hollered. My Uncle was beginning to get a little steamed at their antics and responded that I should get what they called a "Regular Boys" hair cut. That was just tapered back and sides with enough hair on top to comb into a wave. It would mean a huge change and satisfy the local norms of appearance for a fourteen year old boy. The old men were not happy with this choice though and I wasn’t either. My hair would spike up at the cow lick and look totally hacked if it wasn’t plastered down carefully and often. A regular boys hair cut would be a disaster.
"Would you be happy with that son?" Asked the barber.
"No." I answered.
The old timers thought I was being obstinate and talked in hushed tones shaking their heads in disgust. They wanted blood.
"What then?" Asked the barber ready to go to work.
"I want what my uncle has."

This aroused the crowd because Uncle Miles wore a hair cut consisting of closely cropped back and sides combined with the shortest flat top one could imagine.
I heard some one say, "Skin the Hippie!"
The barber told his other patrons to hush up or leave. I was his client and would be treated with respect. Then he told me that my hair was to limp to hold a flat top but that he would tune me up regardless.
Out came the heavy clippers and after oiling, he fired them up and did a test stroke through my side burn and up over the temple. A long lock of brown hair floated to my shoulder. He felt the remnant and seemingly satisfied he continued shearing and exposed my right ear. I stared straight ahead at the big mirror on the opposite wall and watched my long locks gather on the floor. I gulped. The right side of my head was now closely clipped and made my head look lopsided and silly. The barber placed the clippers at the base of my skull and a shiver ran up my spin as he lifted off a swatch of hair up to my crown. I was startled how effortlessly the hair came off.
"How are you doing?" Asked the barber.
I took a deep breath and squeaked, "I’m fine."
"Head forward now." He said.
Again he drew the clippers up the back of my head and whisked away the detached hair. He quickly worked around the left side lopping off foot long strands until I was left with a floppy nest of hair resting on the top of my head in stark contrast to my now scrubby sides.
"Okay," said the barber, "here comes the money shot."
I clutched my hands under the cape and stared straight ahead into the mirror.
He positioned the humming shears on my forehead and in one smooth stroke harvested a wide patch down the center of my head. I saw it drop and I let out a sigh. Another stroke, then another and I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. I now had about a half inch of hair on my entire head. I shook it and the weird sensation of not feeling my tresses whip around my shoulders and face felt like an amputation.
"This is where most boys stop." He said, "I can clean up the edges and you’ll be looking the part of a sharp farm boy."
I looked in the hand mirror the kind barber was holding up for me to consider the state of my hair. In that moment I thought if a Nebraska farm was going to be my world for the next three months what point was there going half way? I would do my Aunt and Uncle proud.
"This is way to much hair, it’ll grow out in a week. I want my Uncle to get his moneys worth. How will I be able to work if I’m always having to fuss with it? I want the closest hair cut you can give me, can’t you shave up the back and sides and just leave a little light fuzz on top?"
I could not believe what had just come out of my mouth. I had written the check, now it was going to be cashed.
"Sure, this was just a stop along the way and I thought I’d ask." Replied the barber.
Out came a smaller set of clippers with very fine blades and he repeated the process he had performed earlier gliding the thin vibrating edge up the side of my head methodically. The difference between my half inch and this new buzz was dramatic. The remnant of light brown hair disappeared off my head until milky white skin dominated. I was getting dizzy and closed my eyes. The sensation of the clippers against my skull followed by his hand whisking away the loose hair felt unexpectedly intense. The barber worked the back and sides several times making sure no stragglers went unclipped.
It was at this moment that I bought in entirely to my new circumstances. I wanted to be part of the world I had so far experienced on the farm. Aunt Franny had a sensibility I wanted to emulate down to the last detail. We were all in it together and dependent on each others efforts. The things I did were important to the outcome. I mattered.
Losing my hair was, for me, a baptisms into this life, a clear line between what had been and what was now. Why should I maintain an identity in a world I no longer lived in? I wanted the hair gone. I was ready to submit fully and give myself over to a new life and wanted to look the part as well as live it. I needed to commit fully and mark my intentions.
I opened my eyes again and looked across at the big wall mirror. The barber had finished bringing the sides and back to skin and changed technique to blend the transition into the slightly longer hair at the crown. He carefully shortened the top leaving just enough to keep some color and texture to differentiate it from the nude side boards.
"Okay," said the Barber, "how do you want the front? Do you want a little bit to spike up or should it be uniform?"
The barber shop was still, the old men waited for me to answer like my decision about a minuscule patch of hair was something consequential.
I laughed out loud and with the zeal of my new resolution and I said, "Off with it."
I had a barley perceptible ridge along the top of my head and when he zipped off my fore lock I could see the hair was clipped a little closer along that rise and made a sort of landing strip not unlike my uncles squared off flat top.
I couldn’t stop smiling, the fear had dissipated and laid in the piles of brown hair everywhere around me. It was shocking how quickly and completely I had been transformed. I don’t think my friends would have recognized me.
The barber rolled the paper sleeve down around my neck and spread a hot lather behind my ears and around the nape of my neck. I could hear the flapping sound of the straight razor against the leather strop. He told me to hold very still and began scraping until there was a sizable band of baby smooth skin along my neck line that arched high above my ears and eliminated any hint of sideburns. He fussed again over the transition into the top with the fine clippers and a tiny comb. The cape came off and he brushed my head with a whisk.
"Your all set sir!" He said and handed me a hand mirror to inspect his craft.
I moved the mirror from side to side. The contours of my face and ears were starkly present and exposed. There were no foot long curtains of shoulder length hair to hide behind. The bulge on the back my skull merged with my neck in a smooth arc. I was transfixed by it. I patted the top of my head and the thousands of tiny hairs felt springy and alive against my palm. The naked skin around my neck and ears was exquisitely smooth and sensitive to the touch. My forehead was completely bare and looked as large as a drive-in movie screen. For a hair cut I had initially dreaded I had to admit was expertly achieved. Still, it was a relief to slip out of the oversized barber chair.
I could feel the eyes of the elderly men staring at me waiting for my response, perhaps tears or a tantrum. In their sad expressions I saw the envy old men have for the young. I did not feel sad though, rather a feeling of exhilaration had settled over me, all brought on by a simple liberating haircut. I shook the barbers hand and thanked him. I felt a sort of ecstasy standing next to my uncle and walking out into the town, my new buzz a beacon to every eye. The little breeze and change in temperature outdoors was acutely felt. We went into the hardware store and Uncle Miles introduced me to the proprietor as his nephew. I looked like I belong with him now and that felt good, I had a new persona and a clean slate. There would be no sweaty hair stuck to my face or dangling in my eyes for the foreseeable future.

When we got back to the farm Aunt Franny was not as excited with my crop as I expected. She gave Uncle a sharp look and said she didn’t mean for me to get scalped. Uncle Miles explained that I had insisted on it. Franny turned her inquisitive look toward me.
"You asked for this because you wanted to please us?"
I nodded yes.
"And how does it feel?"
"Itchy." I said.
"Better take a shower then."
"You don’t like my haircut?" I asked her.
"It’s astonishing! We will find a hat for you until your noggin browns up. Now, go on."

At 2 am Aunt Franny shook me awake and told me I was needed in the barn as Betty, the cow, was calving. I grabbed my bibs and boots and scooted across the yard ran to the barn. Uncle Miles and Addie were bent over Betty. Addie’s arm was inserted into Betty’s insides.
"I’m sure there’s two," she shouted, "and the first ones ready to come!"
Addie strained until slowly a calf emerged. She and Miles cleaned the calfs face and got it breathing. Addie went back to Betty and told me to join her. She was up to her shoulder in blood.
"Put your hand in here, it’s the birth canal, when you get deep enough you will feel the calf."
I pushed my hand into the goo. Betty shuddered and I pulled my arm out reactively.
"Reach back in and find the hooves, when Betty contracts you pull." Ordered Addie.
I did as I was told and was rewarded with a new born calf slithering out onto my lap.
"Oh, he’s a natural!" Laughed Uncle Miles
Addie and I spent the rest of that night in the barn looking after Betty and her calf’s.
Morning came quickly and the chores had to be completed sleep or not. I went after the eggs because I now knew the chickens by name and personality. Addie called me the chicken whisperer. As the sun swept high and noon approached Franny suggested Addie and I take the old plow horse up to the swimming hole and cool off for a couple hours. Addie decided we would go bareback. She mounted the strapping horse in a flash and motioned me to get up behind her. I did not see how I was going to achieve that. Finally Addie reached her hand down for mine and I managed to get a leg over the horses back with her assistance. It was a precarious perch and I held on to the back of her bibs tightly while bobbing up and down on the mares wide haunches.
The swimming hole was a little twist in the creek that was dammed up and formed a sizable pool. Addie slipped off the horse, un-did her bib overalls, shed her underclothes and dove in buff naked. I stood by the edge of the pond stunned by her nonchalance. Her head popped up in the middle of the pond.
"Come on in," she yelled.
"I can’t swim though!" I yelled back and pulled off my britches. I felt like a scarecrow racing into the water bow-legged from the strain the horse had exerted on my thighs. The cold water shocked my sweaty body when it rose to my middle and stopped me dead in my tracks. I shuddered. Addie swam over, stood directly in front of me and poured water over my head with her cupped hands and patted the top of my head.
"Your hair feels good, I wish I could cut mine like that. Do you like it?"
"Weirdly I do like the way it feels. Jury’s out on how it looks though. What do you think?"
"Like I said, I’m jealous of it. Now, come here, get on your back and float. Please don’t say you can’t. I will hold you up."
I leaned backwards and she caught me up, one hand on my shoulder blades, the other on my butt.
"Have you ever skinny-dipped before?" She asked and not waiting for conformation continued, "This will be a lesson in trust. You can’t fake this. You're going to float and then swim."
As I slowly relaxed I felt my head lower into the cool water. The sensation of it against my skull diverted my attention and I forgot about my nervousness. My head tilted further until only my nose pierced the surface of the pond. I could not hear or see and hung weightless in the quiet, dreamlike moment. Time ceased until I felt Addies hand push me across the surface of the pond. I was really and truly floating, but the second the realization struck, my weightlessness ceased and my feet sank.
"Let me show you," She said and leaned back until she was floating on her back. "Hold me up." She whispered. I held her body at the surface with my finger tips.
Who was this beautiful, naked girl balanced on my fingers? Her body glistened with the little water droplets reflecting sunlight, her blond curls floating like a halo around her head. Suspended on her own now she splayed out like a starfish and I gently spun her lithe body as if it was caught in a whirlpool. Addie was perfectly calm and resplendent. I was raptured with the perfection of this angel.
"I like you," Addie said and lowered her feet. She placed her hands on my cheeks and gave me a peck on the lips and then gently moved her grip to my wind pipe and squeezed ever so slightly cutting off my wind and letting me know who was in charge and how quickly I could be throttled.
In half an hour Addie had me doing the back stroke like an expert. She was so sure of herself and comfortable in her own body. That confidence was infectious and we horsed around like the innocent children we were.
Addie and I rode back to the farm comfortably rocking together to the rhythm of the horses stride. It felt like we were dancing.
That Sunday after chores, I saw Addie at a picnic. She was running after the smaller children in her bare feet. A red sun dress caught the summer breeze and swirled around her body as she raced around. She was gorgeous. It was a shock to see her in such a different light, that of a young woman and less the tomboy. I rubbed the back of my shaved neck and trembled at the sight of her. My breath wouldn’t come. Was it Addies hand gripping my windpipe again or perhaps her hand clutching my heart?
I took a calm, deep breath and ran over to join her.

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