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Jan 03

Miller Family Haircuts

To the average person these two items simply look like a pair of old rusty hair scissors and clippers, but to the Miller children living on Sipe Road in the 1930s they were considered instruments of torture.

Old Miller scissors and clippers.

Carl and Gertrude (Brewster) Miller, my grandparents, raised their family of eight children on the family farm a couple miles north of Chattanooga, Ohio. Just about everyone in the area was poor during the depression and going to a beauty shop or barber shop would have been a luxury. Instead, Carl, not his wife Gertrude, always cut his children’s hair himself.

The thing was, Carl was a farmer, not a barber. Carl’s brother-in-law and neighbor Howard Caffee was a barber in Chatt, but Carl took on the job as the Miller family barber, much to his children’s dismay.

My aunts and uncles have never forgotten those haircuts. And their memories are not fond ones.

Someone saved these old scissors and clippers all these years and I ended up with them. They are rusted, frozen up, and will not move one little bit. I showed them to my two uncles a few months ago and they recognized both items right off. The first thing they said was, “Dad cut our hair and it hurt!”   

The classic Miller haircut. Herb, Ann, Keny, & Vernie.

Their father Carl was a busy man. He was a farmer with many chores to tend to and he also worked at Central Soya in Decatur. He was handy and could build and fix things around the farm. All this kept him busy and he likely didn’t have a lot of time to spend as the family hairdresser.

It probably took a while to cut the hair of eight children. Carl likely didn’t like the monthly family haircuts any more than his children and I am sure his young children tried his patience. But he was strong-willed and you couldn’t get away with much when he was in charge.

Carl had a routine for his haircuts. First he would place a crock or some other item on a chair to elevate the child to a comfortable hair-cutting height for him. Then he began.

He was in a hurry to get the job done and his haircuts hurt. My uncles said the main reason the haircuts hurt was because Carl pulled the clippers away before all the hair was cut. The clippers pulled their hair and it hurt!

And they dared not complain about any discomfort or pain. Complaining would just perturb their father and make the whole procedure even worse. 

Carl had his own particular haircut style for the boys–his signature haircut–crooked across the forehead, slanting up on the right. It looks somewhat like a bowl-cut, but he did not use a bowl. The boys’ hair was cut shorter than the girls’ and the girls got bangs.

Carl Miller family. Boys with Carl’s signature haircut.

All the Miller children had straight hair and my Aunt Ruth recalls that their father complained that her hair was like wire. Although Carl also cut the girls’ hair, they did not get perms back then.

When one of Uncle Vernie’s grandchildren saw the above photo he asked if the Millers were Amish back then. I can see why he asked that. The boy’s haircuts and clothing do bear some resemblance.

Old Miller hair clippers.

My Uncle Kenny, like all the Millers, believes that anything can be fixed and thinks that with some WD-40 he can get the scissors and clippers working again.

Seriously? Does he really want them to function again?

I can almost hear my grandfather Carl saying, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

This could be the reason no one in the family went into the hair-dressing profession.

4 comments

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  1. Marie Bernadette

    J’ai les mêmes outils qui me viennent de mon grand-père… c’était l’époque où tout ce qui pouvait être fait à la maison l’était. On ne peut que rendre hommage à ces personnes qui, par leur courage, leur travail et leur débrouillardise élevaient dignement leur famille et veillaient à une rigoureuse économie domestique. Merci chère Karen pour ce sympathique témoignage. Je vous souhaite une belle et bonne année 2020 pleine de santé, bonheur, énergie et de riches découvertes généalogiques. Bien amicalement

    1. Karen

      Hello Marie! So nice to hear from you again and Happy New Year to you, also! You are correct, our ancestors were very resourceful, did what they had to do, and made do with what they had. We can learn many lessons from them. [Translation of original message: I have the same tools that come to me from my grandfather … it was the time when everything that could be done at home was. We can only pay tribute to these people who, by their courage, their work and their resourcefulness raised their families with dignity and ensured a rigorous domestic economy. Thank you dear Karen for this nice testimony. I wish you a happy new year 2020 full of health, happiness, energy and rich genealogical discoveries. Sincerely]

  2. Brian Brewster

    If you used those things now you might need a tetanus shot afterwards.

    1. Karen

      Ha! You are so right. They are very rusty.

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