Of haircuts & history, war & Peace

Northfield barber Randy Peace recalls ancient Iraq, hitch in Air Force

by Peter Fernandez

In 2006, US Airman & Senior Master Sergeant Randy Peace climbed the Great Ziggurat (rectangular shaped tower) of Ur near Nasilayah, Iraq. This once mighty pagan temple to Nanna, the moon god, was built in the 21st century BCE. Just for context, that was eleven centuries before Judaism came to Canaan, Palestine, Israel and 2100 years before Christianity. Islam arrived in 656 ACE. “Ur is the world’s oldest known city and it was also the birthplace of Abraham,” stated the North- field barber. “The view from the top of the ziggurat was awesome,” he explained.

When Peace was asked about being stationed in Iraq for four months, he replied, “It was hot, dry, dusty, with temperatures at 100-120 degrees, and there were camel spiders.”

Randy Peace (Northfield American Legion Post 63 photo)

This fecund landmass representing Egypt, Israel, and the rest of Mesopotamia, or present-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq was first coined “The Fertile Crescent” in 1914 by American archaeologist, James Henry Breasted. “Mesopotamia, the Euphrates, and Tigris Rivers,” adds Peace, “are where recorded civilization started and Ur is even mentioned in the Book of Genesis. “Ur” meaning light in Arabic. Mesopotamia is the ancient Greek name given for “between two rivers.”

No, Peace didn’t teach world history, but he has been barbering for thirty-seven years, getting his “head-start” at Norwich University. The Senior Master Sergeant helped to maintain an Air Force base in Iraq. The subterranean barbershop he has owned and operated for 14 years is located on the not-so-common Northfield Common beside O’Maddi’s Cafe and just below Ralphie’s Fun House, a retail shop featuring novelty items.

Through the years, Peace’s hairport has become a popular meeting place for men (and women) in need of inexpensive grooming.

Teetering beside the customary barber shop mirror and before the iconic barber chair is a yellowing map amongst old-school hair tonics that details ancient Biblical patriarch Abraham’s journey from Ur to the land of Canaan. Dinosaurs, doctors’ house calls, Corvairs, and eight-track cartridge music boxes are extinct, but there are still traditional businesses here, like Peace’s Northfield Barbershop, where the 1982 Northfield High School graduate welcomes a study flow of walk-in customers.

According to Wikipedia, “The first one-piece reclining barber chair with an attached footrest was patented in 1878 by the Archer Company of Saint Louis, and in 1900, Ernest Koken, a German immigrant, created a hydraulic-operated chair and also patented the ‘joystick’ side lever, which allowed a barber to control all the mechanical functions.”

However, Wikipedia lacks the arcane history of Northfield’s hair trimmers of yesteryear. Since the forties, there has been George DeGeorge, Leboir Deslauriers, Jim Gaudreau, and the late proprietor of Peace’s barbershop, Jim Martin.

Peace served actively in the Air Force for 5 and a half years, and with the Vermont National Guard for a total commitment of 21. He has since delved into the origins of his profession. “The colors of the barber’s pole have different meanings depending on the country,” explained Peace. “In Europe, barber poles are traditionally red and white, but in America, they are red, white, and blue.” One theory, Peace explains, “says that blue is symbolic of the veins cut during bloodletting, while another interpretation is that blue was added to the pole as a show of patriotism. The red represents blood and the white symbolizes the bandages used to halt the bleeding.”

Peace noted that from about 1000 AD into the 1800s, most barbers were also surgeons.

Barber shops may not possess the mass popularity of modern hair styling, but barber shops have not yet gone the way of other iconic relics of Americana, like the drive-in movie theater and A&W.

In Peace’s chthonic establishment await magazines such as People, Archaeology Today, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Civil War Illustrated, a number of books, including Combat Commander, a biography of former Norwich President, General Ernest Harman. Then there’s The Vanishing American Barbershop, an illustrated history of Tonsorial Art, 1860-1960. “Young Romans of 300 BC. were anxious for the appearance of mustaches as are today’s youth,” writes its author Ronald S. Barlow. “When the silky down on their lips first sprouted they were entitled to be called barbatulus – the slightly-bearded – and later on came the proud distinction of being known as barbatus – the full-bearded.”

The origin of the word, barber, is ancient. The author explains that to the Greeks and Romans, “all bearded and unshaven foreigners became barbarians solely on account of their beards…and then from the Latin word barba – the beard – came the word barber.”

What’s tonsorial art, anyway? It means “shearing,” explains Peace, who hopes to be cutting hair into his nineties. Sitting in his barber chair just a story below Ralphie’s Funhouse, Sergeant Peace chuckles about that looming 10th decade, “it’s not as far away as it used to be.”

The author is a children’s book author and Vermont resident.

Categories: Biography

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