Williams column: Coonskin cap covered up hair cutting accident
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Just the other day, I saw a reference to the late actor Buddy Ebsen. I thought back to his “Jed Clampett” days, and further back to the time when he danced with Shirley Temple in the movie “Captain January.” Somewhere in between those two stops on my “reverse reverie,” I recalled the time that Buddy Ebsen played Davy Crockett’s sidekick George Russel in the Disney-produced “Davy Crockett” miniseries starring Fess Parker. I thought about Davy Crockett’s (Parker’s) coonskin cap with its iconic striped tail identifying it as such. I then remembered my Davy Crockett hat, mass-produced of man-made materials for children who watched the medium of television in the late 1950s, which like them, was also young and growing.
At the museum where I work, we have full-bodied and head-mount taxidermied animals which the children (and adults) may not touch, due to the natural oil in the skin on our fingers. I always tell the school groups that if everyone who came through the museum were to touch the animals’ fur, that oil would build up, making the fur an inviting home for very tiny creatures to live, such as mites. The mites would then probably start chewing on the hides, leading to the fur’s detachment, winding up in piles on the floor. Not meaning any offense to the owners of hairless dogs and cats, but to me they look sickly, and although our taxidermied creatures in the museum’s collection have been quite dead for 60 years, if their fur were to fall out, to me they would be worse than dead; they would look sickly.
The museum has an animal fur touch table for the public with which they can satisfy their tactile urge. While pointing out the touch-table furs to today’s electronically encumbered children, I will sometimes pick up the raccoon fur and wrap it around the top of my head, with its tail hanging down in back. I then inform them that I had a hat like this when I was a child (making quick mention of the Disney-produced miniseries so they don’t think that I’m a double-centenarian). When I was a youth, we were only visually electronically encumbered with cathode ray picture tubes, since joy-sticked games had not yet entered our childhood, and the only existing keyboards were those on the typewriter and the one of which Mrs. Herbert Jones taught her piano students at Granite Quarry School. We did have some audio electronic encumbrance though, since “The Ballad Of Davy Crockett” was the first remembered record that I begged my father to purchase for me at Spence Hatley’s Music Mart (where there were also some keyboards available for purchase). That record was subsequently given much spin time by me, with its adaptation to the record player’s spindle being made by means of the little plastic 45 rpm adapter, which in retrospect, resembled a poker chip stamped with a hole and a design, the design being just as without substance as was the hole.
I have enclosed with this article a “menacing” picture of me wearing my Davy Crockett hat, aiming my cap-rifle at the photographer, most likely my brother Joe (and from this angle, the cap-rifle seems just seconds away from being alarmingly aimed at the reader, as well). Judging from my size, the picture most likely dates from about 1957, when I was 6 years old.
In this old snapshot, I am pretend frontiersman Davy Crockett, but beneath the film was a shy little boy whose hair had not long before suffered a barbering accident. With close attention to this picture, I detect the presence of a regrown sideburn, so the picture was made sometime after my hair “trauma.” Before I started getting my hair cut at College Barber Shop, my father was not only my father, but he was also my barber. As I sat in a kitchen chair, he would trim my hair (actually, back then, it was much more than a trim; it was a crew-cut). Sometimes I would squirm about as he was barbering; and one time I squirmed a bit too much, causing him to accidentally plow a section of hair through the center section of my head right down to the scalp. If instead each side of my head had been similarly plowed, leaving the middle, it would have been cool by today’s standards, a mohawk.
What my father had accidentally given me (with the aid of my squirming), was something that could have possibly been referred to as a reverse mohawk. Such a hairstyle would be considered very strange, even today; and imagine how it would have been greeted back in 1957. There was nothing left for him to do but to completely shave my head so that my hair could start over. It didn’t take very long for it to grow back, only the amount of time needed for hair to grow from a state of baldness to the length of that most popular children’s hairstyle of those days which I mentioned previously: the “crew cut “ (no great length, in either time or linear measurement).
In order that the school children wouldn’t make fun of me, I was allowed to wear my Davy Crockett coonskin cap on the school bus and at school for a month while my hair grew back. On the old television show, Davy Crockett would encounter Native Americans with whom he was great friends, and some who were hostile to him, the same as were his encounters with fellow countrymen of European extraction. He wore his coonskin cap for the protection of his head from the elements, and carried his rifle “Old Betsy,” with which he hunted and could also use for defense against natural or human foes.
My Davy Crockett hat of make-believe frontier play, in that present time of 54 years ago, became something truly useful for the month or so that it took my hair to grow back. It protected “this” Davy Crockett from the sort of “hostiles” whom he was most likely to encounter in his daily school bus travels, and upon each arrival at his morning destination: the classroom.