Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Measure twice, cut once

. . . In addition, I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded.
Exodus 31:

I’ve always loved watching an artist at work. To watch a skilled craftsman shape something with their hands—and heart—is a joy.

The work of a gifted craftsman is a gift from God as the above verse states. The fact that great artists have honed their skills with hundreds of hours of repetitious practice makes it no less a gift from God. In fact, it must please God greatly to see someone take a gifted skill and be a good steward in developing it.

Author Malcolm Gladwell ably sums this up, “. . . it takes about 10,000 hours to become really great at anything.”

In my hometown of Dry Creek, two artisans are my close friends. They both operate under the wise motto of “measure twice, cut once.”

Van is a carpenter. He is a tall sinewy man with a quick smile and strong hands.
He works hard and is known for doing good work and being dependable. As a carpenter, he knows all about “measuring twice before cutting once.”

Waste is not a quality for a good carpenter. Carefully measuring to get it right the first time eliminates a lot of grief later on.

Now you may not think of a carpenter as an artist, but they are. Webster’s defines an artist as “one who is adept at something.”

The other artist I want to mention is Van’s wife, Cathy. She operates the In Style Hair Salon in Dry Creek. As I go monthly to get my bald-headed man clipping, I’m amazed as I watch her hands move quickly as she cuts, styles, and shapes the heads of both the men and women of our community.

Cathy also operates by the “measure twice—cut once principle.” She recently told of a customer who made five trips in one day—each time wanting a “little bit more cut off.”

Knowing that “once it’s cut, it’s gone,” Cathy carefully trimmed a little bit more each time, knowing the customer was near the “I can’t believe I got that much cut off” line.

Measure twice, cut once. It’s a good motto for anyone, not just a hair stylist or a carpenter.

* * *
Cathy was the first woman to cut my dad’s hair at the age of sixty-three. He told me, “I did something today I’d never done. I had a woman cut my hair.”

A few years ago after my father’s death, as I sat in Cathy’s chair, she said. “You know, I still have a lock of your daddy’s hair. When he became so sick with cancer, I kept a lock in honor and memory of him.

That meant the world to me.
* * *

I’ve had haircuts in two foreign countries—Vietnam and Ethiopia. Both were events I won’t forget.

During my 2002 visit to Vietnam, I was amused at the barbershops in the capital city of Hanoi. In the parks, barbers would hang a mirror on a tree, pull a chair up, and cut hair with scissors and a straight razor.

I decided I wanted one of these outdoor haircuts. The only problem was that my barber didn’t speak English and I didn’t know Vietnamese. I figured sign language would work just fine. Holding my thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart, I gestured and said, “Just a little. Not much.”

The barber smiled, popped his apron, and put me in the chair. He quickly went to work. Because we couldn’t talk, there was none of the “story breaks” I was used to with Mr. Pete Harper (See next blog article below) who cut my hair for my first twenty years.

The Viet barber had me turned away from the mirror. Even without looking, I knew he was cutting off way too much. The amount of hair falling onto the apron and ground alarmed me.

When he got out the straight razor is when I’d had enough. He looked to be about my age and had probably fought with the Viet Cong or Communist army. There was no way he was going to put a razor on my neck.

Standing up, I looked into the mirror and saw that I’d been scalped. (At least on the sides. I was already scalped up top.)

I realized that my two-fingered gesture of “cut just a little” was interpreted as “leave just a little.”

I don’t recall how many 'dong' my haircut cost, but I definitely got my money’s worth.

When I rejoined our team, our leader exclaimed, “What in the world happened to you?”
“Oh, I just got a Hanoi haircut.”

Fortunately, we had another week left in the trip. By the time we re-crossed the Pacific and returned to America, my hair had mostly recovered from my Hanoi haircut.

You’d think I would have learned from my Vietnam experience, but in Ethiopia, I bravely entered a barbershop. DeDe was with me and probably thought I was crazy.

The shop was full of men laughing and talking until the “faranji” (the derisive term for foreigners) entered.

The young barber who motioned me into his chair was obviously nervous. I knew he’d never cut a white man’s hair from his trembling hands and the sweat popping out on his forehead.

He poured alcohol on his clippers, struck a match, and placed it in front of my face. I probably should have run right then.

However, I realized he was only showing me that he’d sterilized his clippers. Those clippers buzzed loudly around my ears as he went to work. I noticed that everyone in the shop stopped talking and the other barbers quit cutting.

They were intent on watching my haircut. I felt sorry for the barber. He was under the gun. As I watched the mirror, I would smile and approvingly shake my head in encouragement.

He finished and the entire room, including DeDe, seemed to exhale together. I paid my money, left him a good tip, and waved goodbye to the audience who’d watched my Ethiopian haircut.

The young barber walked us to the door, shaking my hand and talking in Amharic. I’ll always wonder what he was saying.

As I put my ball cap on and we strolled away, he looked up and down the street as if looking for the next furanji who might invade his barbershop.

A Dry Creek Haircut

This excerpt is from the Curt Iles book, The Old House. Visit to learn more

Pete Harper, who lived in the nearby Shiloh community, was a circuit-riding barber. By this, I mean he cut hair weekly in Reeves, Longville, and every Monday in Dry Creek.
When I first started being sheared by Mr. Pete (I use that word “sheared” literally, Pete’s one style was a crew cut.) he was located in Elliott’s Store across from the old Dry Creek School.
I was so small that I sat on a board placed across the chair. Years later as an older teenager, when I got my last Pete Harper haircut, he was still favoring the close cut haircuts of my preschool years.
* * *
One of the wittiest guys who ever grew up in Dry Creek was Mike Barrett. Mike, the brother of Jimmy and Don Barrett, always had a funny story for every situation. I didn’t personally witness this event, but Freddy Roy Atkinson did and related it to me.
One Monday, Mike, then a teenager, stepped up to sit in Pete’s chair. Pete said, “Mike how’d you like it cut today?”
Mike’s reply was, “Well Pete, I’d like it cut short on the left side and leave it longer in the back. I want this sideburn left longer than the other does. Then I’d like the front gapped up.”
With a puzzled look, Pete said, “Now Mike, I can’t cut your hair like that.”
Mike’s quick reply was, “I don’t know why you can’t, Pete. That’s how you cut it last time I was here.”

* * *
The second haircut story involving my dad occurred several years later. The fads and changes of the 60's had finally found Dry Creek. Boys were now wearing their hair longer, bushy sideburns were in vogue, and the lines weren’t as long on Monday afternoons at Pete’s shop.
During the late 1960's, my dad, as most men his age, hated the longer hair that was coming into style. His favorite saying was, “When you turn eighteen, you can grow your hair as long as you want, but for now, you’ll keep it short.
I was about fourteen and as I plopped down in Pete’s chair, I instructed him, “Leave it longer on the sides.” To my dismay I left the shop with the same old short butch haircut I’d always gotten.
Years later, when I was in college, Pete told me this, “Curt, your dad came in and said, ‘Pete, that boy of mine is going to come in and want one of those long-hair hippie haircuts. Just give him a crew cut no matter what he says. It’s my two dollars and not his.’ So Curt, I was just following orders from your dad.”
Maybe that was why after several of these short haircuts in a row, I rebelled and refused to go back to see Pete.
* * *
I don’t remember exactly when Pete Harper closed his shop in Dry Creek. The small white building is long gone. I believe it serves as a tool shed in Arthur Crow’s front yard. Pete is retired and has moved to DeRidder. The days of Pete Harper’s barbershop are long gone. From time to time, I still see Mr. Pete, and when I see him, I think to myself, “There is a very rich man. He is a man with so many friends and so many stories- how could such a man as this be considered anything but wealthy?”

This excerpt is from the Curt Iles book, The Old House.
Visit to learn more.

PS Mr. Pete, who had a great self-effacing humor, laughed hardest when I read this story at his 80th birthday party. Although he now been dead for many years, I still can hear his clippers buzzing in my ear, as I mentally my many Dry Creek haircuts.



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