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A.C. Taylor dropped by OK Barber Shop to say his farewells. Taylor was forced to give up hair cutting under doctor's orders, after a World War II injury caught up with him.
DAILY Photo by Jonathan Palmer
A.C. Taylor dropped by OK Barber Shop to say his farewells. Taylor was forced to give up hair cutting under doctor's orders, after a World War II injury caught up with him.

Veteran barber hanging up shears
Taylor has cut hair in Decatur for 56 years

By Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

Sometime this afternoon at the OK Barber Shop on Johnston Street Southeast, Jay Blaxton will clip what might be Decatur's last $4 haircut.

His partner and shop owner, U.S. Navy veteran A.C. Taylor, gave up the pilot's wheel two weeks ago — doctor's orders.

Taylor's feet, severely scalded in an accident aboard ship at Pearl Harbor during World War II, can no longer take the stress of standing behind a chair all day as Taylor swirls scissors and swaps stories with customers.

Taylor, who cut hair in Decatur for more than 56 years, dropped by the shop Thursday for a farewell visit. He will be 84 on May 14.

"I will miss it all," he said. "I enjoyed the work, and I will miss the customers, who have been so nice to me."

His wife, Addie, 80, whom he married during the war, and who was a Decatur beautician for more than 50 years, knew it was long past the time that he should bag his gear.

"I begged him every morning not to go," she said.

Work ethic

But Taylor continued until Dr. Glenn Ward pulled the plug. Taylor acquired his work ethic growing up in a large family in Prentiss County, Miss.

"Daddy was a farmer. He had two mules and a bunch of kids and didn't have an inch of land," Taylor said.

"He rented on what we called a third and a fourth. The property owner got each third row of corn and fourth bale of cotton."

As a teenager, Taylor began cutting his cousins' hair "while they sat out in the field on a stump or in a straight-back chair in the yard or on the front porch."

Even then, he envisioned the profession as a way to escape the cotton patch. But to make money for the family, Taylor joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in July 1940 at Potts Camp, Miss.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and a month later, he signed up for the Navy in Tupelo.

"I went to New Orleans to be sworn in," he said. "How far back from the country was I? I had never seen an oyster until I went into a restaurant off Canal Street, The Kit Kat, and watched folks eat them raw. That turned my stomach. But to this day, I like oysters, as long as they're fried."

USS Hornet

It wasn't long before concerns of war replaced Taylor's interest in Southern delicacies. His ship escorted the USS Hornet through the Panama Canal, the ship from which Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle and his squadron would fly B-24 bombers to strike Tokyo in their raid of April 18, 1942.

On Dec. 17, 1943, Taylor suffered the injuries aboard the USS Manley that would plague him for life.

He sat straddling a steam line in the engine room, spotting in a valve to keep steam from leaking through the pipe.

Accident

"It was to be just a quick overhaul," he said.

"On top deck, a sailor needed hot water for his mop and opened an auxiliary valve for the steam to heat his bucket. It caused the steam to circulate in the pipe and it spewed out on me, scalding me from my stomach down. I had on low-quarter shoes and thick socks. They had to cut the socks off, skin and all. It led to all my problems."

After a long hospitalization at Pearl, where doctors performed skin grafts on Taylor, he transferred to Norfolk, Va. During his off time, he began working in a barbershop in town.

"But I just cleaned the shop, swept up the hair," he said. "Soon, the owner asked me if I knew anyone who cut hair. I told him I had cut a little myself. So I went from sweeping it up to cutting it."

Taylor was working in the shop when President Truman "dropped the bomb." He was awaiting orders to transfer to a motor maintenance school in Newport, R.I., when the war ended.

Barber school

After the Navy discharged him in October 1945, he returned to Red Bay, where his wife lived, and did strenuous odd jobs before signing up for barber school in Memphis. He couldn't find a slot in Red Bay, and in early 1947, he boarded a bus for Decatur because his wife wanted to attend Rainey's Beauty School here.

"But someone in Decatur told me to check in Moulton," he said. "I asked, 'Where's Moulton?' The guy said, 'You came right through it on your way here.' "

At the first shop Taylor visited, Cecil Wallace hired him. Wallace charged 50 cents for haircuts and 35 cents for a shave. After six months, Taylor began working for Tennis Terry. Fewer than three years later, he came to Decatur, where haircuts were 75 cents and a shave was 50 cents.

He worked with Melvin Butler for about 10 years.

"I became a partner with Earl Peete at the OK Barber Shop on Moulton Street, then we came to this location on Johnston and retained the name," Taylor said.

"We moved in during a Christmas weekend in the early 1960s, rolling three chairs down the street on dollies. I took over the shop when Earl died."

Workers

Taylor said a lot of different barbers worked for him, paying him a commission.

"They would come and go as they wanted, sometimes leaving me with a room full of customers all day. But I'd get to them as I could. My customers had a lot of patience."

Taylor said he has trimmed as many as 30 heads a day.

"I was always slow. I was born slow," he said. "I might not have been as slow as folks gave me credit for. But my brothers told me I'd be late for my funeral."

An era ended when Taylor stepped down, but his landmark shop will survive. Blaxton, 71, and his partner, Dwight Nesmith, 61, bought the business from Taylor. They plan to reopen the shop in mid-April.

But don't expect any $4 haircuts.

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