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The Haircut

Here is a wonderful essay by Pat Jordan which originally appeared in The Southern Review


The Haircut

By Pat Jordan

Susie said I was starting to look like a French diplomat. She meant my hair. Long over my ears and swooping back on the sides like wings into a DA in back. I’d let it grow out of indifference ever since we left Fort Lauderdale three months ago to take up residence in Abbeville in the up-country of South Carolina. Abbeville was a small town of fewer than five thousand, a little bit old, a little bit worn, and a little bit out of the way. It was a “very Southern town,” code words of the locals which meant more than a few of its citizens had not yet reconciled themselves to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the War between the States. They referred to those not born and raised in one of the original Confederate states as “Yankees,” but tried not to do it to their faces. When they slipped up, they quickly apologized, “I’m sorry I called you a Yankee.” I told them I was a “Yankee,” a Connecticut Yankee, actually, and that only people from New England were truly Yankees. People from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, et cetera, were just northerners. They smiled, but did not accept that distinction.

There was a monument on the town square, a mini version of the Washington Monument, in Washington, D.C., but this one was devoted to the memory of soldiers who had given their lives for the CSA. On special weekends there were reenact- ments on the square. Men with beards, dressed in butternut and gray uniforms, rode tired-looking horses around the brick streets of the square to the strains of “Dixie.” The men carried flags, the Stars and Bars, which they waved at the townspeople, who waved back with mini flags. Last year, two black Abbevillians had donned Confederate uniforms and marched. Shelley, the owner of the Rough House, a local bar, told me Yankees didn’t realize that a lot of slaves fought and died for the Stars and Bars. I asked, “Why?” He looked at me and said, “Because it’s part of their heritage, just like ours.”

Shelley is very Southern. Over his bar he has a yellowed proclamation heralding Senator Strom Thurmond Appreciation Day, Abbeville, 1984. Shelley’s mother owns an antiques store and one of the items she had for sale was a painting of Abraham Lincoln. When Shelley saw it, he waited until his mother was busy, then took the painting and disposed of it. Shelley is a professional actor—stage, screen, TV. I told him he’d be perfect as Jeb Stuart for one of the reenactments.

Then I said, “I could play Grant.” He gave me a pained smile. And then he gave me some books to educate me about the War between the States. The books claimed the war was not about slavery, that was a pernicious Yankee lie, but was really about States’ Rights. He directed me around the corner to a bookstore that would further my education about the South’s insurrection. I stood in front of the bookstore window above which was a sign, All Things Confederate. It was closed. I saw a big Stars and Bars flag on a wall inside. On the front window was an ink drawing of General William Tecumseh Sherman over which was printed: Wanted For War Crimes.

The genteel ladies of the town who live in big, colonial houses on North Main hosted reenactment parties at which “Period dress is optional.” In Abbeville there is only one period of note, 1860 to 1865. Abbeville calls itself “The Birthplace and the Deathbed of the Confederacy.” When Jefferson Davis fled the Yankee army in 1865, he stopped long enough in Abbeville to sign papers dissolving the CSA. Five years earlier he had hosted a conference of South Carolina statesmen in Abbeville, where they signed the first articles of secession of any of the Southern states. That conference was held on a hill where our 1884 Victorian house sits. It’s called “Secession Hill.” Two concrete pillars stand sentinel on either side of Secession Hill, with plaques embedded in them that urge Abbevillians never to forget that once “no nation rose so white and fair” as the CSA. Our house is on top of that hill, on Magazine Street, named not for the magazines I work for, but a munitions factory that manufactured gunpowder as far back as the Revolutionary War. There’s a big old oak tree at the top of the hill. Rumor has it that during the great unpleasantness of 1860 to 1865, Yankee spies were hanged from that tree.


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