In the Orthodox Jewish tradition a young boy’s first haircut is a special occasion called an “Upshearin” [literally “cutting off”]. This tradition goes back a multitude of generations. It’s roots lost in medieval European history. The event usually takes place on or close to a boy’s third birthday and signifies that he is leaving the world of babyhood, diapers, and mother and slowly transitioning to his fourth birthday when he would enter a special, boys only religious school to begin study of his ancient religion and its history. In the small towns and cities of Old Europe, this path was strictly followed.
Both of my parents were born in the same small city, Mielec, Austria [now Poland] before World War I, although they first met in the nexus of the new world, New York City.
Mielec was a regional market city. In the old country this meant that all the farmers, artisans, and tradesmen in the surrounding small towns, villages, and farms would bring their produce, crafts, and wares into Mielec to sell on the two market days of each week, Monday and Thursday. On those days, stalls were set up in the marketplace at the center of the city, where the buyers and the sellers transacted business.
Obviously both my parents knew this hair-cutting tradition well, but in this country ritual, as well as many other things, were strictly followed only by the Haredim [ultra-orthodox]. Furthermore, there was more importance attached to this observance when the young boy was a “late talker.” I was a late talker.
I was unaware of all of this and was only happy for the chance to dress up in my new sailor suit, have my mother lovingly brush my long naturally curly golden hair [my three older sisters all had straight brown hair] for the trip to the photographer’s studio, and for the party to celebrate the joyous occasion. Of course being the center of attraction also helped.
We were in the photographer’s studio to commemorate this auspicious occasion when the photographer picked me up and sat me on a small table. He adjustedmy clothes and then handed me a large magazine, which was probably The Saturday Evening Post. He then picked up something that looked like a window wiper, sprinkled some whitish powder on the horizontal bar, carefully admonished me to sit still and smile, then stuck his head into a box mounted on a tripod, covered his head with a piece of black velvet, and then finally, a brilliant explosion of light filled my eyes.
That picture, of a smiling, longhaired boy, was seared into my head for all of my life on that singular very bright afternoon in October 1927.
This is Milton’s 21st year as a senior auditor at Hunter College in New York City. Three years ago, Milt took several writing courses and was turned on to a new world. To date he has completed over 160 short autobiographic pieces [most of them under 1,000 words each], over 140 poems, and one personal verse epic regarding World War ll. in the past year, 20 of his poems have been published in 9 literary magazines. He is now concentrating on his non-fiction.