2020: B – April A to Z… Family Stories
I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…
Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!
From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat resembled Coney Island… but was even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories… remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!
My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
Come sit a spell and enjoy!
Buddy’s Barber Shop
Giuseppe “Joe” Cambino (Buddy)
This photo always sat on a shelf in my husbands home… and I always admired it as a great photo of his grandfather… sitting in his barber chair reading Click!
While this photo was always in my husband’s family… we only recently acquired the actual negative from the grandson of Ray Thomas… I’m amazed it survived through the years. Finally, the mystery of who took that picture has been solved – Ray Thomas took it! It surfaced when his grandson, Ken Thomas, was asked for information and photos on his grandfather’s car dealership on Washington Avenue. We also received photos that showed the first barber shop… photos that we had only heard spoke of… but never saw.”
In researching the magazine “Click” that Buddy is seen holding… I learned that it was known as “The National Picture Monthly“… a magazine depicting vintage WWII humor and pinups… typical barber shop reading! From my search on EBay… it seemed to have been published during the late 1930’s through the end of the 1940’s… and as of this writing, I have not yet found the one shown here… but my inner “Nancy Drew” will be on the hunt to find this exact cover… as Nancy Drew always gets her
“My grandfather, Joseph “Joe” Cambino, was a barber and owned Buddy’s Barber Shop at 666 Washington Avenue in West Haven, CT. Whenever I was sent for a haircut – it was an ordeal… and I didn’t dare complain… or else! I just sat there as he moved my head back and forth… exactly where he wanted it… often pretty rough with me at times. I remember sitting there watching the cat clock on the wall as he cut my hair… it was a black cat with eyes that moved as the tail swooshed tick-tock… back and forth… resembling Felix the cat. Uncle Johnny had brought it home from Korea to his sister Dolly… but my grandfather seemed to have taken immediate possession of it… taking it to the barber shop because he liked it; sadly it was left on the wall when he sold the shop.
When he closed those doors, he just left it all… the chairs, the clocks, the barber chair, the barber pole, even possibility his purple heart… nothing was saved! By the time the family realized he sold the shop with contents… all was gone!
“Giuseppe (Joseph) Cambino opened his barber shop not long after being discharged from the Army… with only one chair. No one in the family seemed to know exactly from where he first acquired his barbering experience, but Uncle Johnny said, “my father told me how he cut all the officers’ hair while in the Army.” It’s also possible that he even learned from a family member in Italy before coming to America at the young age of 18 in 1913… as it was the custom there for the sons to learn the family trade.”
“When Grandpa Joe first opened his barber shop just after 1920, he lived in the small back room of the shop until he married in 1924… then he and my grandmother Minnie lived there for a short time also, until he could afford to buy their first house at 294 York Street in West Haven.”
“His children remember him taking the family wash to work because he had a wringer washer at the barber shop… where he washed shaving towels; he later afforded to buy one for their home. Aunt Catherine usually brought the clothes there weekly to wash even after they moved to the farm house on Sawmill Road… as there was no electricity at the farm.”
“Most people in West Haven during the 50’s and 60’s knew my grandfather as “Joe” Cambino… also as “Buddy”… owning Buddy’s Barber Shop on Washington Avenue. I do remember hearing him called Buddy as I hung around the shop, but to his family… he was usually just known as “the old man”… and at one time when I was young… I even thought that was his real name!”
“Walking into Buddy’s Barber Shop, you first found a small table against the wall on the right that held an old wooden military radio… it was always playing. On the wall above were four or five S-shape coat hooks for coats. There were a few chairs for customers and the usual selection of magazines for reading, Life, Look and Post… and mostly likely a copy of “Click.” (The grandson of Ray Thomas remembers seeing magazines of Argosy and Field and Stream… and the Union sign posted on the wall with rules and pricing)
“Grandpa Joe’s radio that sat in the barber shop… he brought it from the farmhouse, where it had sat on a kitchen shelf. Somehow he didn’t leave this in the barbershop when he sold it.”
Aunt Nancy remembers the infamous spittoon sitting just inside the door… and how much she hated even standing near it. “The shop reeked of cigarette smoke… as back then, everyone smoked. My father always smoked a pipe… then later changed to cigarettes.”
“Grandpa Joe’s pipe rack… I remember it sitting in his barber shop!”
“As a young boy, the last place I wanted to spend my afternoon… waiting for a haircut in the barber shop… but having a grandfather as a barber… well! I hated hair cuts… but my mom sent me! Grandpa was tough when he cut my hair – moving my head exactly where he wanted it… and I knew I’d better keep still, or the haircut was more prolonged. I couldn’t wait to jump out of the chair and be on my way… Grandpa Joe was the only barber who cut my hair in growing up.”
“My grandfather didn’t actually own the building which housed the barber shop, he rented from his good friend, Ray Thomas, who owned the Thomas Garage next door. They often went fishing together, and once a year they went deep-sea fishing on Ray’s big boat. Aunt Nancy remembers them bringing back large baskets of fish and scallops. That amount of fish was a rare treat for them and they looked forward to their father’s yearly fishing trip. I don’t remember any of those fishing trips, but I did know he went fishing with him sometimes.”
Buddy’s Barber Shop at 668 Washington Avenue
I colorized the barber shop photo… gives much more definition!
“From the photographs given me, I saw that the original barber shop was much different than the one I went to. The first one opened in a two store-front building which sat directly in front of Thomas Auto and Garage. Ray Thomas owned the buildings as part of his family’s property. The original first barber building was later torn down when Mr. Thomas remodeled his car dealership… he built a smaller barber shop for grandpa on the opposite side… this was the barber shop I remember. I might have been in the older one when I was very young, but I have no memories of it… and no family members to ask now. We never even saw a photo of it until a friend, Dan Shine, wrote a story on Buddy’s Barber Shop in the West Haven Voice.” (The address changed from the original 668 to 666 in the later barber shop)
I remember large snow piles behind my grandfather’s barber shop on Washington Ave. There was never any sun behind his shop so it often took until June or July to finally melt away.”
Thomas garage can be seen behind Grandpa Joe’s barber shop… love the barber pole! Is that Grandpa Joe’s car parked on the side?
“Grandpa’s barber shop was where you heard all the current news… and you could count on… “He Knew” if something was happening; his paisans stopped during the day just to chat up the local news. My math teacher, Mr. Russell (7th grade) went there weekly, so I made sure I behaved in his class… or afraid he’d tell my grandfather. I remember one of his customers even being a singer from Monroe, Ct. Grandpa Joe knew “all” the news… he might not say anything to you, but he knew what was going on. I never went on Saturdays for a haircut as he charged more money on that day… and who wanted to waste a good Saturday sitting in a barber chair… when you could play football or hockey!”
“If I arrived early for my haircut, I sat quietly…listening to the conversations of the men. He never went to any of his son Johnny’s races at Savin Rock, but he always knew the outcome… and if there had been any skirmishes’ after the races… he knew that too!”
“Most all the men in my family had their hair cut at his barber shop… from young to old. The grandchildren didn’t have to pay for their haircuts, but usually the son-in-laws paid. His nephews, Michael and Bobby DeTulio lived just across the street and probably can still remember running over to Uncle Joe’s for a haircut. Probably the only men in the family who didn’t get their haircut there was my cousin Paul, and Uncle Gene (Cavallaro)… as his father, Gerry Cavallaro, was also a barber. He didn’t have a shop, but still had his barber chair in the cellar where he cut family and friends hair.”
“Like clockwork, I went about every ten days for a haircut when I was older… never waiting to be told to go. If I went on my own, I didn’t have to hear anyone yell “go get a haircut”… the dreaded words I hated to hear! I walked there usually from Thompson School… it wasn’t a far walk, and I had to walk home anyway… but it was never where I wanted to spend an afternoon. Grandpa was closed on Wednesday’s and usually only open a half day on Saturday’s.”
“Grandpa’s shop was a two-chair shop, but he was the only barber… he kept his older chair for naptime. I often walked in to find him napping in the older, probably the more comfortable chair. It was quite a beauty with porcelain and leather armrests and a comfy seat… filled with horsehair; the body of the chair was mostly porcelain. He kept the headrest on the older one just for him – it wasn’t kept on the newer chair where he only cut hair. The headrest was only needed if you gave a shave and most likely he gave a shave using the older chair. He didn’t do many shaves that I saw… I never had one.”
“I enjoyed sitting in the older chair while waiting for my turn as I could swirl ‘round and ‘round as it went up and down – no side step to crank the chair up like his new one. I never got many turns before he yelled “cut that out!” Then I knew to be quiet, just like I did when he cut my hair… he didn’t like fidgety kids! If you moved too often, his strong hands grabbed your head quickly… facing it forward… and then you were quiet until he finished. I usually sat still so it didn’t last long, as I wanted to be on my way… I always had plans for the rest of the afternoon… and it wasn’t sitting in a barber shop with cigarette smoke swirling around my face.”
If I wasn’t keeping still enough, grandpa quickly grabbed my head… placing it back where he wanted… and I didn’t dare move… or else be yelled at… and my mother told that I didn’t behave!”
“I hated going there after school… it wasn’t where I wanted to be, but he wasn’t going to give me a free hair cut on Saturday’s. He charged more money on that day, and it would have interfered with his regular customers; who wanted to waste a good Saturday sitting in a barber chair, when you could play football or hockey.”
“Prices were posted on the wall, but I have no memory now of what they were… as I never paid… grandkids were free. Uncle Frankie said he probably charged two bits for a shave and a haircut. He remembered one Christmas that his father made $40.00 with tips; that was a good week. He supported his seven children from the barber shop… plus gardening every square inch of dirt he owned. Uncle Frankie remembered seeing his father’s Purple Heart in the barber shop for the first time when opening a small cabinet in the back room; he found it lying inside on a shelf. Frankie said he’d never even known about it, or seen it before… and didn’t understand why his father kept it there. There was a framed certificate in their home from being wounded in the Army… and while I always saw it and liked looking it… I never associated it with him receiving a Purple Heart.”
If I had had my Nancy Drew hat on back then… I would have realized that this certificate was given to those who were awarded the Purple Heart.
“Grandpa Joe had been wounded in the Army and because of that wore a half brace around his side as he worked, so he didn’t press his side against the chair… of where the wound was. He never liked talking about either being in the war, or being wounded. He was sent back to the states after his injury, and spent about two weeks somewhere in Connecticut before coming home; Uncle Frankie thinks it was a hospital in Newtown, CT. Frankie later looked for his father’s Purple Heart after his father’s death, but never found it… probably another one of those things left in the shop. He retired from barbering after injuring his shoulder in a fall during the 60’s at home, and never stepped foot back in the shop after that.” (I mentioned the Purple Heart to Aunt Nancy and Aunt Dolly, but neither knew anything about it.)
Aunt Nancy says… “My father was mad when they forced him to join the barbers union, pay union dues, work less hours, and actually have to take a day off from work… now he had to close on Wednesdays! Before he joined the barber’s union, he worked long hours, sometimes up to 11 o’clock at night… and never took a day off from work; any free time at home was used for growing vegetables to feed his family… every inch of land was used to grow something. He loved spending time in his garden… I remember seeing him in the garden whenever he was home.“
“After a small remodel in the barber shop, his children bought him an air conditioner for his birthday. Grandpa’s shop was one of the first businesses in West Haven to have air conditioning installed – my father built the metal brackets that held it in place over the top of the door and installed it in place. Grandpa replaced his older wood radio on the table with a wall shelf for the small plastic radio that had set on a shelf in their kitchen at the farm; I have that very radio today as I rescued it from my grandmother’s cellar one day. I remember my father and everyone being upset when he left everything in the shop after closing it… especially the air conditioner, as it had been a birthday present… but he was very stubborn… and sold it all to the guy who bought the business. It continued to still be known as Buddy’s Barber Shop for several years.” (He probably had brought the small radio there when they sold the farm and moved to 1st Avenue)
“Everything was left in the barber shop when he closed shop in the late sixties, about 1962. Grandpa had fallen off a ladder and hurt his arm while trimming trees at their First Avenue home; his kids soon forced him to finally retire. My father even wanted me to quit school when I was 16, go to barber school and take over the shop, but I didn’t want to be a barber. Grandpa wanted someone to take over his barber shop before giving it up, but no one in the family wanted to be a barber. He had also tried to convince Frankie to go to barber school when he was younger, but he wasn’t interested either. At that point, the doors were closed and no one spoke up that they wanted anything, or even thought about saving the contents of the shop; people didn’t often think of saving things back then. His favorite old barber chair, the clocks, even the barber pole outside, seemed to have been just left there; he retired from barbering around 1965. Only much later did family members question, “whatever happened to?”
By that time, it was too late to question where it was… it was gone!
Treasured heirlooms from grandpa’s “barbering” days. If only these tools could talk… what barbershop tales they’d tell. But most stories told in Grandpa Joe’s barber chair… stayed in the barber chair!
In stopping at Uncle Frankie’s one afternoon, he showed us his father’s razor and said… “This is the razor my father used daily in the barber shop – it was made in Germany. I never knew exactly how he became a barber, and he never said… maybe he was trained in the Army as he seemed to be a barber when he came home. It wasn’t long after returning from the Army, that he opened the barber shop. He always wanted me to become a barber when I was young, but after discovering that I’d have to travel to Hartford every day to barber school, I said, “No Way!” When my father closed the barber shop, I remember wanting the barber pole out front, but someone stole it very quickly before I even realized the shop was sold. He didn’t seem to bring anything home when he closed the shop – he just left everything! I have the carved pipe he smoked – it’s broken now and I threw away the piece he smoked through, but I kept the carved bowl. I don’t know where it came from, but I remember him smoking it.”
Grandpa Joe’s pipe bowl that Frankie remembered his father smoking until the pipe broke. (What awesome carvings… wonder if he bought it overseas?)
“Aunt Nancy was old enough to know that the barber shop next to the garage wasn’t the first one he had… she remembered him having another shop, but still also on Ray’s property… it had front steps you walked up. When her father’s friend Ray tore down that building, he then built the small shop as an attachment to the two-door garage on the opposite side. The actual building and two-door garage still stand today, but boarded up so you can’t see inside.”
I stopped to look inside grandpa’s barber shop many years ago… In peering in the attached garage I saw an old car still inside… within a couple of weeks of that day, someone boarded up those windows so you could no longer look inside. Maybe that old car is still sitting in there today!
Continue reading 2020: April A to Z: Family Stories… click HERE
To read more Family Stories… click HERE
© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved