The other day, Tio Andy Martinez barely had a chance to sit down before I grabbed my tattered-eared little notebook from atop my mother’s kitchen table and started asking questions.
There was something I wanted to know, something I’d been wondering about all my life, but never asked.
“Tell me about your first barbershop,” I said. “You can tell me in English or in Spanish. I write quickly in both languages.”
“Well,” he quipped, laughing, “I can talk quickly in both languages, so I guess we’ll be alright.”
Tia Carlota Archuleta, who was sitting nearby, burst out laughing. These two are a riot when they’re around each other.
But, thoughtfully, he continued, “I had a very good job in Utah for Gevena Steel Plant when I got married, but my wife didn’t want to leave her mom alone after her dad died, so I came back to Pagosa to find a job. That was around 1947-48. I got married in 1951. Your mom and dad were our padrinos.”
“How did you end up in Utah in the first place?” I interrupted, “How old were you?”
“After the Great Depression, a whole bunch of us left Trujillo to look for work. Me and your Uncle Bennie were living in a tent up in Utah when we first moved up there. Up to that time, I had been a sheepherder with your dad. When I got married, I was twenty-two years old.”
“So, you came back to Pagosa to get married and then what?” I asked.
“Well … then I started working for Aubrey Fowler for 35 dollars a week. If I missed a day, I only got twenty dollars a week. El Aubrey tenia dos hermanos que eran barberos en California y uno se llamaba Ray. One day, his brother, Ray, asked me, ‘Why don’t you go to barber school?’”
“So, that’s why you became a barber?” I asked, “Because of Ray? How much did it cost you to go to barber school?”
“Back then, it cost six-hundred dollars, and I had to go to school for six months to get trained. Eva and I had three-hundred dollars in savings. Lucia and Darrel Staner were living in Denver at the time and Darrel said, ‘I’ll lend you the rest of the money. Why don’t you come to stay with us?’ So, we went. When I finished training, I came back to Pagosa and did a two-year apprenticeship with Ray Martin. But Ray and I got in a little bit of an argument, so we moved back to Denver, to Westminister. I worked for another six months with this man who had a shop there. Meanwhile, this barber that I knew in Denver was going to retire, so I bought all his equipment and came back to Pagosa. I opened up my own barbershop by where the Ajia restaurant is now and I stayed there until I moved the shop to a building by the old Post Office. Ray Martinez did his apprenticeship with me, and when he got his master’s certification I let him take over the shop. By that time, I had been a barber for twenty-eight years and I was tired of it. At one time, I had three barbers working for me. That was back when San Juan Mill was going strong.”
“So that’s why you picked that area for your first shop,” I asked. “You picked it because the sawmill was nearby?”
“No,” he replied, “Art O’Neal offered me the use of a building when I couldn’t get financing from the bank. It was sort of an abandoned building by then. We had to do a lot of work to it, but he said I could use it if I helped him fix it up. Fussy Gussy owned all those buildings there along the river before he sold them to Art O’Neal. Fussy Gussy ran a restaurant and his brother had a liquor store right next door. They had a gas station and who knows what else up there.”
“That was really his name,” I asked, “Fussy Gussy?”
“That’s all I ever heard anyone say,” Tio Andy replied, “He was Greek.”
“Oh boy, Tio,” I replied, “I can hardly wait to find out more about Fussy Gussy.”
Know you are loved.