Probably the best thing to happen in my hometown during October 1998 was the arrival of Frank Bell. Most folks living in the Valley at the time probably wouldn’t feel this way, but to teenage boys Frank was a godsend.
If you grew up in a big city, any place with a population greater than 3,000, you probably wouldn’t understand the complexities of being a 16-year-old boy in a place like Lennox Valley. There was literally nothing to do most of the time.
Since many of us lived on farms, we had our chores and we had school. But since Lennox Valley High School merged with West High in Springfield to form West Valley High School, extracurricular activities were kept to a minimum. It was an 11-mile drive and most of us didn’t want to use up our gas by taking extra trips back and forth from the school.
Those of us on farms woke up early to do chores. Once the school year began, most of our parents let up on afternoon chores so we could enjoy an hour or two of free time after classes. Our problem was obvious. There was nothing to do. That changed when Frank Bell moved to town in October.
Frank came to The Valley from the big city, Terra Haute, Indiana. There, he was the third ranking barber in a three-chair shop. He saved his money, knowing the day would come when he would leave to start his own business.
That day came in August as he read a story in American Barber Magazine titled, "Towns Without Barbers." Apparently Lennox Valley was featured, along with a dozen or so other places, as a town with no barbershop. "True," the writer mentioned, "they have Caroline’s Salon, but according to the owner, there are only two men in town who frequent her establishment."
It wasn’t always this way. For four decades, Bill Curtis cut hair in his shop on the town square. After his passing in 1996, most folks either went to Springfield or had a family member cut their hair at home.
Frank, a sophisticated, good-looking 38-year-old, came into town unannounced and set up shop in the space previously occupied by Bill’s Barber Shop. With one barber’s chair, eight chairs for customers, a table for checkers and a window overlooking Main Street, Frank had all he needed.
It didn’t take long for my friend, Marty, and me to find "Frank’s Haircuts." My dad told me to get a haircut, and Marty tagged along. We were enamored with Frank right away.
He was funny, but in a sophisticated kind of way. He was very polite and even called us by our last names.
When talking to Marty, he’d say something like, "Mr. McPherson, did anything interesting happen at school today?"
He had a big-screen TV, bigger than any of us had ever seen before. The screen was 34 inches, and it sat on a wooden stand to the left of the customer chairs.
There were two rules when we visited Frank’s. First, we were always to be polite to customers who came in while we were there. Second, we weren’t to touch the TV.
Most days, we hung out at the barbershop from 3:45 until 4:30, when Frank closed. That meant we saw the last half of Mayberry RFD and an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Frank’s favorite program.
None of us had ever watched Andy Griffith before Frank came along. It was something our parents grew up watching, but we were members of the MTV generation.
Once, during Frank’s second week in business, just as Gomer was screaming, "Citizen’s arrest!" on the TV, we turned to see Sarah Hyden-Smith, pastor of Lennox Valley Methodist Church, enter the barber shop.
Frank, who was cutting Earl Goodman’s hair, stood silent for a moment before welcoming her to the shop. "Hi, I’m Frank Bell. What can I do for you?"
Marty spoke up, "Do you need a haircut, Rev. Smith?"
Sarah laughed with us, then explained she dropped by to meet our newest citizen.
"We’d love to have you visit our church sometime," she said.
She sounded different than usual. Her voice seemed more girlish, less ministerial. She fiddled with her hair as she waited for his response.
Thankfully, Barney shouted something funny to Gomer on the TV.
Finally, Frank answered, "I think I’d like that."
As Sarah made her way down the sidewalk, Frank stood, with a stunned look on his face.
"Are you OK?" Marty finally asked.
Frank smiled and responded, "Boys, I’ve never been better."