In 1980, downtown Joshua was still on Main Street, which a few decades before had been part of the main road from Cleburne to Fort Worth. Most of the businesses were on the west side. The Owl Inn Café was where you could find the old timers (who still said “Josh-u-way”); it was the only restaurant in town other than Dairy Queen. White’s Auto was next door. Over the years, whether I was fixing my bike as a kid or my pickup (as a big kid), I gave them a lot of business. And more than once they got me back on the road with no more than a promise that I would pay when I could. Mott’s five and dime was where we got our school supplies, toys, candy, and other essentials. I hadn’t heard of Wal-Mart. And last on that side was B&W supermarket. The only thing I remember about B&W was the peach Hi-C that Mama bought and the smell from the meat counter in the back.
Right across the street from B&W, between the volunteer fire station and Ray Watson’s TV repair, was Virgil Aulds’ barber shop. Virgil was the classic barber—a little plump, mostly bald, with a dry sense of humor. He teased my little sister and me without mercy. The floor of his shop was checkered, and the furniture consisted of old vinyl chairs and the tall, copper-colored pole ashtrays. I remember two pictures that hung on the wall. One was the familiar picture of two little boys wearing overalls with the caption, “You been farming long?” The other showed a surprised looking barber holding a razor over a customer whose head was sitting in his lap with the caption, “Mistakes do happen.”
Sitting on a board across the arms of Virgil’s barber chair is one of my earliest, and favorite, memories of Joshua. Mama would drop me off after school while she went across the street to buy groceries (except for meat; she would wait until the next trip to Burleson for that). No need to give Virgil any instructions. There was only one “boy’s haircut,” unless you wanted a flat top. After his clippers pulled out all but a quarter-inch of my hair (and a little patch a couple of inches long right on top), Virgil would pat hot shaving cream on my neck and nick me up with his razor. He occasionally interrupted his talk with the old men, usually talk about the crops and rain, to tell me to sit still. After that he rubbed some green water on my head, gave me a piece of Super bubble, and took my three dollars. If we were lucky, we would have some change to get a glass bottled coke out of the chest cooler, and then my sister and I would run across the street to B&W.
There were years while I was growing up that I thought I was too cool to get my hair cut at Virgil’s, but eventually I came back. The haircuts weren’t as good as they had been, but since I wore a cap anyway, I could live with them. What made me go back was the barber and the atmosphere. Joshua was already changing. I began to see the value in the things that hadn’t changed, and I wanted to hold onto them. Virgil’s shop was exactly the same as it had been for years. And, besides cutting my hair, he usually had a good word of advice for me. It turned out he was much kinder and wiser than I realized when I was a kid.
One day I was sitting on the curb in front of Virgil’s shop waiting for him to open. His good friend Earl came up from the mechanic shop a block down. “Whatcha doing boy?” he asked. “Waiting for Virgil,” I answered. “Virgil’s not coming back, son. He’s had a stroke,” he told me. I drove the pickup to Fort Worth that day to see Virgil for the last time.
Little is left of the Joshua I grew up in. Even our football field has been replaced by a huge, college-like stadium with Astroturf and big screens. “Town” has moved from Main Street to 174, where there are lots of restaurants, but no Owl Inn Café.
The old barber has been gone for years; I sometimes wonder why he made such an impression on me. There are a lot of people from Joshua who I don’t remember at all—even many of my teachers. But I can’t go into Joshua, or smell hair tonic, or chew a piece of Super bubble, without remembering Virgil Aulds. Though I’m sure that he wouldn’t have thought so, he is part of the history of my town, part of my childhood, and part of what shaped me. And he reminds me that we never know how someone will remember us, or what kind of influence we might have on others.