It was 1948, and after bartering for the piece of paper that made him legal, Pope began working in the profession that has carried him through 64 years. He turned 86 this year and is still cutting hair in a shop in Piedmont.
People don’t forget Pope’s City Barber Shop, the one on North Center Avenue that a Hollywood set designer couldn’t replicate with a month and a pile of California money.
When Tanner Latham found a small rubber change purse that advertises Pope’s City Barber Shop, given to him by Pope more than 25 years ago, he took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook. Latham, a Piedmont native who works as a reporter at a National Public Radio affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., recalled the barber shop with astonishing accuracy, even though he hadn’t stepped into it in decades.
“I remember the albino deer in the glass case. I remember we would park behind the shop in that parking lot and come in through the back door,” Tanner wrote in an email to The Star last week. “That entrance was so dark, and I would edge around an old sink, and then walk into the big room.”
The legendary white deer in its glass case against the far wall is not a true albino, Pope is quick to point out. It’s a piebald he shot in 1974. People tend to get the two confused, Pope said. An owl perched on another case was a gift from Pinky Burns, the local trapper and storyteller who died in 1999.
Latham remembered three barber chairs, the one in the middle never used. Pope said barbers must buy a license for each chair and he only pays for two.
Pope and his co-worker of nine years, Anita Williams, work among the bottles of emerald green Osage rub and Pinol pine-tar shampoo, and layers of news clippings a half-inch thick that paper a low wall with stories about the Piedmont Bulldogs and the Spring Garden Panthers.
“If it had been a big place I’d have filled it up,” Pope said of his tendency to keep things awhile.
On any given day, conversation inside the shop centers on a half-dozen topics: local news, sports, hunting and fishing, tall tales and straight-out lies.
“You hear everything. Some of it’s true. Some not. There’s some people that can tell some good stories,” Pope said. “Course I can tell some good ones myself.”
A decorated war veteran, Pope told a story about eating on a military base once, a meal he said was made of horse meat.
“Somebody asked me, how’d you know it was horse meat? Because a guy hollered ‘whoa’ and it stopped chewing in my mouth right away,” Pope laughed.
He reads the newspaper every morning, front to back, and can discuss every article, but Pope said politics and personal matters are usually best left alone.
“I get a big kick out of it. A lot of times it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Don’t talk about somebody because in Piedmont just about half of the people are related,” Pope said.
Pope grew up at the foot of Dugger Mountain, where in the winter months the low sun casts a shadow over his grandfather’s homestead and the cold stays until spring.
He grew up tending the family’s crops, and said they were as “as poor as old Job’s turkey.” His father died Nov. 20, 1925, of typhoid fever. He was raised by his mother, stepfather and grandfather.
His grandfather gave each of the six boys a nickname; Dutchman, Coot, Buckshot, Redhorse, Punkknot and Bozo. Pope got Dutchman because his great-great-grandmother was Dutch, and growing up, Pope’s grandfather couldn’t understand her when she spoke.
“And I jabbered when I was little,” Pope said.
He married his wife, Loretta, a year after getting his barber’s license. The two raised five children together.
“You caught up on them honey-do’s yet?” Pope asked a man in work clothes sitting in his Piedmont barber shop Saturday. “You never will be. We’ve got to have something to do.”
Loretta died in January 2011.
Pope fought during World War II in the Philippines, Japan and Korea.
He and a friend, Buford Sewell, bought a pool hall with three pool tables and three barber chairs in 1950 in Union Springs. After being called that year to fight once again in Korea, Pope finally returned a year later, left his business to his partner Sewell and barbered at Fort McClellan from 1952 to 1958. He opened his Piedmont shop in 1958.
When asked if he was among a mass of soldiers in a black-and-white photo hanging on a wall in his shop, Pope said no, “but them old boys kept me from starving.”
He still owns his grandfather’s homestead out by Dugger Mountain, but said this year something strange happened there: The spring that gave his grandfather the reason to build his home on the land has run dry.
“First time it’s ever gone dry, as far as I know of,” Pope said.
A larger creek nearby — oddly named Dry Creek — has gone dry a half-dozen times in his life, and after a good rain it always comes back, but the spring’s never run dry, Pope said.
“Cut it down pretty short?” Pope asked a man in work clothes Saturday as he climbed into the barber chair on the far left of three — Pope’s chair.
“Nice and short,” the man answered.
Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @burkhalter_star.