November 18, 2012

Maine Observer: Shave and a haircut, plus gas and good stories

The proprietor of Townsend's in West Buxton could converse on an array of topics, usually while giving a very close trim.

By CHARLES WRIGHT Special to the Telegram

Stan Townsend passed away. I was saddened to hear the news. From the fifth grade until I left for the Army in 1962, old Stan was my barber. I was the only guy in the outfit who didn't look much different after the first GI haircut.


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His shop was in West Buxton on Route 112 in the village close to where the bridge crosses the Saco River.

Along with his barber business, Stan sold candy, cigarettes, ice pops, soda pop (tonic), newspapers, gas and oil. The store was in the front of a big house where he lived with his wife and mother. I recall a big cat that would sun itself in the store window.

He was a meticulous man. In the summer, his garden and lawn was a showpiece. In the winter, his shoveled drive and store entrance looked like snow sculpture. His pants were well pressed. He was trim and fit. He scrubbed carefully between each haircut. His Oldsmobile was garage-kept and spotless.

I remember him running a trap line on the Saco with another man, and I once watched him paddling upstream in a canoe in the river against the fast current from the power station. It was a sight of extreme difficulty, yet so very impressive in the teamwork and precise movement of each stroke.

If Stan was eating or napping or cutting hair, regular customers were expected to help themselves. You would just yell out what you were taking and leave the money. Cheating Stan was unthinkable.

All the neighborhood kids bought their first pack of cigarettes from Townsend's. It was bad enough having Stan hand over the Lucky Strikes, but even the most crazed nicotine fitter cringed when Stan's old mother waited on them. She had a way of making tobacco users feel guilty without saying a word.

Pulling up to the Flying A pump in that first car and pumping a dollar's worth of gas was a thrill. All those years of providing compressed air for our bikes and basketballs were finally paying off. But heaven forbid you got a drop of gas on Stan's asphalt. It was always fresh sealed and washed.

One of his greatest talents was storytelling. He had such voice and vocabulary control that he could tell a story well enough, through a store full of people, that only the people whom he wished to hear it knew what in the world he was talking about. Even with a cigarette in his mouth.

If it was slow and a person was lucky, Stan might spent up to an hour cutting and talking. There was no limit to the subject matter. I remember he had a small newspaper clipping of Grace Kelly taped to the mirror. He claimed she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I recall Barry Goldwater was a political favorite.

Stan sort of took over where school left off. Everybody took Stan's course for at least 20 minutes or so every two weeks to fill in the gaps in our young minds and put a gap around our ears.

His jokes were more than just humor. He read the morning and evening editions of the paper from cover to cover, being careful not to wrinkle the pages so they would still be sellable. No one knew more about current events and though a few might argue, no one lost to a man who trimmed with a single-edge razor.

Charles "Sandy" Wright is a Maine native who now lives in Cottonwood, Ariz.


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