Jim Ryan’s Barber Shop, an excerpt from The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA

This post was inspired by an article in today’s Charleston Gazette about Jim Ryan.

Today, March 15, 2012, I was having trouble organizing my thoughts for this memoir The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA. I decided to take a break and follow my wife’s suggestion and get a haircut. I probably had no more than four or five barbershop haircuts since 1968. I drove through a magnificent lightning-blasting rain storm out to Lincoln County to Jim Ryan’s barber shop.

Jim has cut hair in Alum Creek for over fifty years and his skill attests to that. He is good. Jim and Sharon raised two girls both of whom were in my classes at Duval. Jim is good, Sharon is good, and the girls are good. Jim wrote three good books of short vignettes of Lincoln County life. They are all stories he heard cutting hair, being a leader in the Lions Club and as the unofficial “mayor” of Alum Creek.

Jim’s barber shop is a comfortable story swapping place with a kind, smart, well informed local historian, and Democrat barber. Every time I go there, and I have been going more often lately, there is at least one other customer I know from my twenty five years in Lincoln County. Today it was “Duck” Mosteller and I immediately remembered his name. In twenty-two years of teaching at Duval I had about four thousand students so I don’t always remember the names of former students or their parents. For an additional excuse for my bad memory of names there are the close to a thousand foreign student names somewhere in my brain from the three years as foreign student advisor at WVU.

Both of Duck’s girls were on my junior high basketball team. They were good at basketball and, like Jim’s girls, they too were good girls. I told Duck of remembering that during our state-wide teacher’s strike he declared to us on the picket line that if the state government followed through on threats to hire scabs[1] that he and his fellow union members would make sure they didn’t cross the picket line. I thanked him again for the support.

Duck told of the time I jumped across the fence and onto the football field during a Lincoln Raider game between the younger players. An opposing player grabbed my son by his face mask and jerked his head back and forth several times so hard it looked like it could have broken his neck. I ran out on the field to where Luke was holding his head and crying. I yelled at the referees, “Didn’t you see that?” No they hadn’t seen it and sir you need to get off the field. One of the other referees vouched for me that I was Luke’s father so I wasn’t physically thrown off the field by the sizeable referee whose day job was deputy sheriff in Boone County. I did leave the field as the big guy suggested. That event was obviously memorable—it was the first thing about me that came to Duck’s mind.

I was guilty in two other similar events, one during a baseball game and another at a basketball game—I was a three sports star! It only takes one outrageous act to get labeled as a hot head, and I had three. I am amazed at from what deep and unconscious or subconscious animal level the instinct for protecting my offspring rose up without the interference of reason.

Duck told one on himself. When he went out for the football team at Duval he made the mistake of calling the coach by a nickname he had heard. The coach did not like being called “Puss.”


The Day the Arab Students Came to Duval

I told Duck and Jim and one waiting customer about the day the Arab students came to Duval. The story appeared as my op-ed in both the Lincoln Journal and the Charleston Gazette so I was surprised that neither Jim nor Duck knew about it. Here is the op-ed:

          This is a true story. It happened a long time ago at Duval High School. For three weeks representatives of an oil-rich Arab Sheik telephoned Duval High School to make arrangements forhis two sons to attend Duval.

The Sheik was moving to West Virginia to get into the coal business. He didn’t want his teen-aged sons going to school in Charleston. He wanted them away from the drugs and violence of big city schools. One Wednesday near the end of school the principal announced to the teachers over the sound system that there would be an emergency faulty meeting immediately after school. So far the faculty didn’t know about the negotiations to enroll the Arab students at Duval.

          The principal solemnly informed us at the beginning of the meeting that everything we heard during the meeting was to stay in that room. This was a serious matter and if not handled right could have international implications. We were brought up to date on the negotiation.The Arabs were coming tomorrow.

The Sheik was a very important man, a wealthy man and we must handle this situation with kid gloves. The students must understand that there could be no making fun of these two distinguished, well connected Arab students. The principal beamed at the coaches as he informed them that one of the boys averaged 17 points a game in basketball and the other was a quarterback.

          The place was buzzing the next day. Someone didn’t leave the news in that faculty meeting room. One girl turned around and went home and got all dressed up for the occasion, this could be a short-cut to riches. The sheriff met the new students at the Alum Creek bridge and gave them a light flashing police escort to Duval. The Sheik’s sons were driving an old blue VW bug.

          At Duval a pep assembly was in progress when the Arabs arrived. They were introduced to the entire student body between cheers. The cheerleaders’ eyes were sparkling at the tall handsome boys. One was blond and they were both light skinned. They explained that their mother was a white American.

          After being shown around the school they were taken to Hamlin for a personal audience with the superintendent of schools. The superintendent welcomed them to Lincoln County and made it clear he was there to help them in any way he could.

          The boys were brought back to Duval where the coaches took them out on the football field and into the gym to see what they had. State championships were flowing in all directions.

The quarterback couldn’t throw and the basketball star dribbled like he had a hand full of thumbs. It was the altitude difference between West Virginia and Saudi Arabia that accounted for the poor performance. The Arabs should have left before the sports tryouts. They had blown their cover.

          These Arabs were from the far-off exotic Arab land of South Charleston, they were very creative, red-blooded American boys, students at South Charleston High School. Their dad was American, too. They pulled the whole thing off themselves.

 I was never sure if the Arabs were put in jail overnight because the authorities had no sense of humor or because they did. The boys should have gotten an Oscar. The whole thing was hushed up and never made the papers. It finally has. I wonder where those Arabs are now.

[1] Scabs is a more appropriate word for “replacement workers.”

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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