Reflections, Ruminations & Refractions
When my family and I moved to our new 20-acre spread on Bearpaw Ranch Subdivision, I soon grew hairy enough to need a scalping.
Our 4-year-old son Michael also began to grow shaggy around the ears, so I drove down into town remembering that I’d seen a sign in an old building on what I called “Main Street,” and everyone else called “Pike Avenue.”
We went on a Saturday since I was sure that in a rural Montana town the barber shop would be open just like it was when I grew up in a small south Texas rural town much like Columbus.
Sure enough, there was an open shop, and an elfin older man cutting hair in the same way he’d done since he’d barbered on a World War II Navy carrier in the Pacific.
I walked in to what could only be described as a male lair: guys talking while waiting in steel-padded chairs, with three barber chairs and a mirror lined up opposite the waiting customers. However, only one barber chair was being used by a gentle-looking, gray-haired man who obviously knew what he was doing.
Michael and I walked in, greeted the other customers and then sat down to wait our turn. Feeling comfortable in this hometown setting, I leaned back and watched Bob Harsha work.
I said he looked “gentle,” and indeed he was. In spite of working fast, he trimmed and cut his way through sometimes dirty hair, mustaches, and beards quickly and deftly, all the while talking soothingly and quietly to the man in the chair and occasionally responding to something one of those who sat waiting had to say.
As I grew to know Bob better and as Michael made that growth step from using a padded board to sitting directly in the chair, he too learned to relate with Mr. Bob.
He was an only child and usually had dinner with only us. Since Kathleen and I never tried to “childify” our conversation to match his level, Michael simply moved his level of conversation up to ours and to that of our frequent dinner guests, just as his toddler tastes had grown accustomed to first tasting and then enjoying the Turkish dishes our housekeeper in Ankara prepared for him when he was 3-years-old.
And even now as a 6-year old in Mr. Bob’s barber chair, he usually tried to have something to say. By this time, Mr. Bob was growing older and beginning to suffer some loss of hearing, so he’d often gently say, “I can’t hear you, Michael, can you speak up?” Again, not a bad lesson for a child to learn.
I remember when Bob told me how the best thing that happened to him was having a good woman.
He obviously loved Margarite deeply and after she died early, treasured her memory. So today at 93-years-old, Bob still holds court in his shop talking about the goings-on in the town, state and country. And he still goes out to Beartooth Manor once a week to cut the residents’ hair free of charge. Bob’s a good man.
A year or so ago, Bob was an instant celebrity after being interviewed by a radio program in Helena.
So more people now know that we’ve got a Montana treasure right here in Stillwater Country. His name is Mr. Bob Harsha.
Dave Grimland is a Columbus resident and former U.S. diplomat, having served as a cultural affairs officer in Athens, Greece, public affairs officer in Nicosia, Cyprus, Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey and Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was also the deputy director of the U.S. Information Office at the embassy in New Delhi, India. His career with the American diplomatic service spanned 28 years.