Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tony, the Barber

Tony the barber cutting hair 2004

Yesterday I learned from a friend of mine that my longtime barber Tony had died.  

His name was Tony Ursini.  He was born in 1920, the same year as my father.  Tony emigrated to this country in 1936 from Italy.  He came to the U.S. on the ship "Satumia" through Ellis Island in search of a better life.

Tony was my barber during my childhood growing up in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  I used to deliver newspapers to his barber shop which was a converted garage attached to his house on Lincoln Avenue in Downingtown. 

Tony Ursini

Tony was a force of nature.  Small in stature (think Danny DeVito only not quite that short but I doubt if Tony was more than five feet tall), Tony had a giant personality.  I loved delivering newspapers to his barber shop because I knew I would always leave with a smile.  There was Tony holding court and telling stories to his daily influx of customers.  

Tony with a customer 2005

Whenever I walked into his barber shop Tony would greet me with "Hey Tip!"  Like my father, Tony liked to tease.  A playful tease, never mean or nasty.  I never knew what to expect when I walked into Tony's shop.  

Ursini home on Lincoln Avenue - 2004 - the garage on the right was Tony's barber shop when I was a 12 year old kid in 1957 - as with everything else from my youth, it seems a lot smaller now

One day when he went to the cash register to pay me the weekly bill for delivering his newspapers, he said "Com'here Tip, I want to show you something."  I warily walked over, what was he going to show me? He pulled out a fifty dollar bill.  He said "Ever see a 'Grant'?"  Of course I had never seen a fifty dollar bill.  Standing there, with my jaw agape, I was awed.  Tony got the reaction he wanted from me.  I remember thinking at that time that someday, I'll have my own fifty dollar bill.  Want to know something?  I collect those old fifty dollar bills.  Yep, ever since that day whenever I see one of those old fifty dollar bills, I put it away (and no, I'm not going to tell you where I put them).  But I do remember how impressed I was to see BIG TIME MONEY.

The years went by.  I left Downingtown, joined the Army, got out of the Army, moved to different cities (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia).  Eventually, fifty years later I moved back to Downingtown.  I needed to find a barber.  Ironically over the years I've almost always had Italian barbers.  All the years I worked in Philadelphia I had an Italian barber.  I have one now.  But anyway I digress.  I asked around for a barber and was told "Why don't you go to Ursini's?" Coincidentally, Ursini's barber shop was now located almost right next to the bank where I worked.  I asked "Oh, whose is cutting hair there now?"  I was told "Tony and his brother Joe."  I couldn't believe it!  Tony was still alive and cutting hair?  I had to see this.

Ursini's Barber Shop on right - the bank where I worked is the building to the left with the tower - 2004

The next day I walk into the barber shop.  Tony recognizes me immediately and said "Hey Tip!" It was like the last fifty years didn't happen at all.  Amazing.  

Tony was still holding court and still telling stories and still teasing.  This was a man who loved his job.  Again, I always left his barber shop smiling.  

However, I did discover one thing.  I had Tony cut my hair.  After he cut my hair I couldn't do much with it.  Even though I had a lot less hair I was having trouble combing it.  I remember when I was a kid and Tony cut my hair I always came out with an Alfalfa cowlick.

"Alfalfa" I identified because I almost always had one of these growing out of the back of my head during my pre-teen years
My "Alfalfa Lick" - 1952

Here all those years I thought I had unruly hair.  Apparently not so, because the intervening years since I had left Tony's haircuts, my cowlick disappeared.  After going back to Tony, it returned!  So then I had to navigate the tricky waters of changing barbers without offending Tony.  That I did by getting his younger brother Joe to cut my hair. I hope I didn't offend Tony but I couldn't go back to work at my hoity toity bank job with an "Alfalfa Cowlick."  I don't think Tony was offended.

I continued to get my haircuts at Ursini's until I left Downingtown for Delaware in 2006.  

Tony's brother Joe and me at their barber shop in Downingtown - 2004 - NO COWLICK!

When I listened to the message of Tony's passing my friend left on my voicemail last night when I came in from work, I felt like yet another building block from my past was gone.  Little by little it seems as if my life is ebbing away.  Very sad.

A couple of memories that I will always remember from Tony's barbershop from my pre-teen days.  One Saturday as I was collecting my weekly bill from Tony (.45 cents a week - 5 cents for daily paper and 15 cents for the Sunday paper), he asked me "Tip, do you want to earn a little extra money?"  Sure, I was a typical, poor small town kid who could always use some "extra money" to buy more comic books and candy (my Wasteful Youth, what can I say?)  He said I could come in the next day (Sunday) and sweep out his barber shop.  I took the job and would come in every Sunday and sweep out his barber shop and mop the floor.  And I have a very fond and warm memory that his wife would often knock on the adjoining wall (his barber shop was a converted garage attached to his house) letting me know she had made a hoagie sandwich and was leaving it in the alcove that connected the barber shop to the house.  Oh those hoagies were SOOO good.  


Now I can make a small confession.  While I was in Tony' barber shop, alone on those Sundays I would search through the magazines that were piled on one of the several low tables for Tony's customers to read.  I knew there were some sunbathing (NUDES!) magazines in that pile.  Back in the day, that was as close as I could get to porn  something to stimulate my hormones (like they needed stimulating).  Of course most of those magazines had the "good parts" airbrushed out but every now and then I would get a magazine that showed the "the goods" or the Full Monty as the English call it.  Oh yes, I got a lot more out of that job than a little "extra money." 

My friend Larry finds a nudie magazine  - 1957

My friend Larry looking at one of THOSE magazines we found - verboten!

Tony, part of my growing up experience and part of my life.  Another building block of my life now gone.  Little by little, living connections to my past life are disappearing.  I feel as if I am being prepared for my Final Journey.  However, I am so thankful for so many warm and rich memories and I am thankful to men (and women) like Tony who have made my life so happy and memorable. 

God bless you Tony. May you rest in peace and thank you for making my life and so many others richer and happier for having known your kindness and generosity. 

Tony and Joe Ursini - 2004 -
Dowingtown, PA


coiffeuse montreal said...

God bless you Tony. May you rest in peace and thank you for making my life and so many others richer and happier for having known your kindness and generosity.

Amanda said...

That is a really nice tribute to a wonderful friend. I would think you will be able to see all those great people who passed on. In the meantime, you are lucky to have known them and be left with wonderful memories.

Jon said...

You've sure resurrected a lot of old memories of going to the barber shop (most of mine were unpleasant since I hated to get my hair cut).
It's sad when someone like Tony dies because it's the end of an era. There seem to be fewer & fewer people left who dedicated their entire lives to a humble but proud profession.

Wow, does that hoagie look good!!!!!! That's my favorite kind of food. Years ago in New Jersey they used to call them submarine sandwiches.

By the way, I COMPLETELY agree with your recent comment on my blog!

anne marie in philly said...

not many of those guys left, that's for sure! sounds like a rare gem of a man. and you were lucky enough to know him all those years.

Ron said...

Anne Marie,

I've been very lucky in that I've known a lot of cool people over the years, including you!


Ron said...


Yes, that hoagie does look good. I remember when I was a kid they used to cost 25 cents and looked just like that. I used to love hoagies. Unfortunately my stomach can't take them any more. All I can do now is look and remember how wonderful they were. They were indeed a "Party In Your Mouth."


Ron said...


I'm becoming more and more reflective the older I get and the more people I lose from my life. Soon it will be my turn. I have no regrets. Only good memories.


Ron said...

coiffeuse montreal,

I never forget those people who have been kind and generous to me during my life. Never.


Anonymous said...

The day of the barber shop is waning. I remember Saturday morning trips to the barber next door to the dairy bar. If I was very good, we would go get an ice cream cone after my haircut. The only barber near me is quite good, but quite eccentric, and seldom in his shop when I need a haircut. Yes, the end of an era.

Peace <3

anne marie in philly said...

awwwwwwwwwww (blushes).

Ron said...


Ah yes, those Saturday morning haircuts when we were kids. I also have a barber near me now who is quite good. However, he is seldom in the shop too. Hard to catch up with him. I've had to use a lady barber, my first non old Italian man barber in my lifetime. She's also very good but hard to catch up with also. Oh, she's also Italian. Her father was a barber and taught her the trade. Yes, it is the end of an era.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,
I am Tony's daughter Teresa. I want to thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of my father. It was so kind of you to take the time to do this. He truly was a giving man and I know there are many other stories out there of his generosity. My mom, sisters and I really enjoyed reading what you wrote. We cried too. We miss him so very much every day. Again, thank you for all those great memories. Teresa

Ron said...


At my age I find myself often reflecting back on my past 71 years and those people who were a positive influence on my life and who treated me with kindness and respect. Your dad was one of those people. By the way, your uncle Joe is too. I will always, always remember your dad's kindness to me and what a wonderful example he set for others by the way he lived his life. Your dad was one of those people who I emulated to be when I grew up; honest, trustworthy, down to earth, loving, and kind. Truly, a wonderful man and you were so fortunate to have him as a dad.

When I wrote my blog post I didn't think about any of his family reading it, I hope I didn't embarrass anyone by the "cowlick" or sunbathing magazines part. However, I did sneak a look at those magazines when no one was looking.

Thank you again Teresa for your kind comment and my best to you and your family. Say "Hi!" to Joe for me. Tell him I still don't get as a good haircut as he gave me.