A few years ago, I found myself hurrying to get my son to one of his sports practices. As I ventured through the unfamiliar streets of Depew, I noticed an antiquated barber shop and made a mental note to go back if time permitted.
With my son dropped safely at the practice field, I made my way back to the shop. As I walked in, I saw a little old man, alone in his shop, seated behind a newspaper. With a smile on his face he gestured for me sit in his chair. In a thick Polish accent, he laughed as he declared I was about to have the best haircut “you eva have.”
We engaged in the usual small talk as our conversation drifted from one subject to the next. Knowing he had been a barber for many years, I asked how long he had been at this location. He responded 16 years and then went on to say that he had been a barber at the Buffalo Athletic Club for 26 years. It reminded me of the days when my brothers and I used to go with our father back in the ’70s, when it was a men-only club.
As we talked, it dawned on me to ask if he knew my father, who passed away in 1997. “You may know my father,” I said. “Who your fauder, what his name?” I replied, “Ed Casey,” and without hesitation he said, “I know Ed Casey, of course I know Ed Casey.”
Not fully convinced that he knew my father based on his quick response, I sat there in stunned silence. As I pondered this possibility, he opened a drawer and pulled out a tattered, old magazine. “Your fauder in there,” he said in his think accent as he handed the yellowed document to me. It was a member roster from the BAC dated 1965. I flipped to section C, and there in bold black type was my father’s name, Edward S. Casey.
Now, the last time I recall shedding tears while getting a haircut was when my sister Didi would butcher it when I was very young. I could barely contain myself as I stared at the page and wondered, “How could this be? How on earth did I end up here in front of this man telling me how well he knew my father?” The gentleman put his arm around me and said, “I told you I know your fauder. He was a great man, very kind, and a good-looking man, too.”
He then raised his other hand high, looked up and said, “I can see his face now, smiling.” Upon hearing that, I went from being barely in control of my emotions to let’s just say less so. I was a mess but I still needed my haircut!
I regained my composure and continued to leaf through the roster. After stumbling upon one of my father’s best friends, I inquired, “Do you know Jack Connelly?” The barber enthusiastically replied, “Get up, come, get out of de chair” and he walked me to the wall, pointing to a picture. “There, do you recognize that man?” Sure enough, there was a photo of my father’s dear friend, having his hair cut by the old man before me.
That afternoon, I learned a great deal about the man with a serendipitous connection to my past. His name was Leon and he has been a lifelong barber, with stints in Buffalo and New York City, where he cut the hair of Nelson Rockefeller and President Gerald Ford.
Leon reaffirmed a long-held belief of mine when he said, “And that, son, is why you should take the time to talk to people – because you just never know what you might learn.” With a big smile, Leon said, “You make me happy, you make my day.”
As I was leaving, I told Leon he was right. It really was the best haircut I ever had.