Occasionally, and often spontaneously, a total stranger will open a little window on his or her life and let you look inside. Such was the case the day I stopped into a unisex barbershop in Sebring, Florida for a much needed haircut.
The barber's name was Virginia, and as she began to cut, she also began to chat.
Virginia is a 51 year old "Florida Cracker" -- a term used to describe someone born and bred in the heart of ranch country. "Cracker", I am told, refers to the ranchers who cracked their whips to herd cattle across Florida's savannah grasses in search of ideal grazing and watering sites.
One of those ranchers, Virginia said, was her daddy, and to hear her talk about him, it is quite clear that she loved him dearly.
"My daddy was somethin'," she said, as she clipped and snipped. "He owned 18,000 acres and thousands of head of cattle in Okeechobee and Avon Park. My brothers were all cowboys on the ranch. Still are -- always was cowboys, always will be cowboys," she drawled in that distinctively southern accent.
"And he taught me a lot of things, my daddy did. One day I asked my daddy, 'Daddy, why do you let them Mexicans run up a tab for the meat they buy from you? They never pay you!' And he said, 'Virginia, you look out there. How many head of cattle do you see?' And I said, 'I don't know, daddy.' And daddy said, 'That's right Virginia, you don't know. There's a thousand head of cattle out there, so if I want to give someone meat that they can't pay for, I'm gonna give it to 'em because all I have to do is just go out and slaughter another cow. Do you understand me, Virginia?' And I said, 'Yes sir, daddy, I understand you good.' And he said, 'Well don't you ever forget that.'"
By this time, I noticed that Virginia had stopped cutting and was standing in front of me waving her scissors. I had the feeling she was just getting warmed up on her favourite subject.
"When my daddy died, I couldn't get all the people in the funeral home. They come from all over," she continued. "By the time the funeral was over, people had given me almost $30,000!" she exclaimed. When I asked why they did that, Virginia said, "Because they loved my daddy! One man said, 'Your daddy made sure every one of my boys had a job on the ranch, so I owe your daddy. Here's five thousand dollars.' And another man came up to me and said, 'Your daddy gave me enough money and meat to feed my family when I didn't have a dime, so I bought six plots at the cemetery for all your family.' Everyone loved my daddy, " Virginia said, "My daddy was somethin'".
More stories followed the ones about Virginia's daddy and his generosity. Seems Virginia has been barbering since she was 18, has been married and divorced twice, raised three boys and a grandson mostly on her own, and not one of those three boys became a cowboy.
"I told my boys, you ain't never gonna be no cowboy, so you better sit up straight in school and go to college. And I sent them all to college!", she proclaimed triumphantly. They must have paid some attention to their mother, because Virginia said one was a contractor, one was an architect and one was a pharmacist. "And I told 'em all, you can't get married until you're thirty-two because you ain't never gonna find a woman who's gonna love you as much as your momma! And when you do find someone, she ain't gonna be no waitress or work in some convenience store, or be a hairdresser like me. She's gonna graduate from college and have an education and a good job!"
An hour later, Virginia was finished. My hair was cut, moussed, blown and curled. On top of that, she pulled out a hand-held massager and gave me a five minute neck and shoulder massage. I not only looked and felt much better than when I had strolled into the shop, but I had been given this little peek into someone else's world -- a world that reminded me of Southfork and the Ewing family on that old 70's TV series "Dallas".
What a marvellous deal for only ten bucks!