Lewis Mason was more than a barber. He was a genuine article, a one-of-a-kind character, an ordinary man of extraordinary quality who made the world a more enjoyable place for others by illuminating his community with a small-town sincerity few could match.
by Nat Harwell
People are creatures of habit. We find something that works, an establishment that provides top-notch service or an individual who gives that little extra “something” to the task, and we stick with them. Think for a moment about those people with whom you may deal only sporadically, but when the need arises for you to call upon them, you do so with eagerness. You know you will not only benefit from the service rendered but leave with a smile or a chuckle while you count yourself lucky to know such a person. I want to introduce you to one of those people, if only vicariously. Lewis Mason left us all too soon four years ago. He was my barber, as he was for so very many in these parts.
Funny story as to how Lewis came within a whisker of not being at all. Up in Blairsville back in 1864, his grandfather, Lewis “Buddy” Turner, refused to give the Union Army information as to where locals had hidden their food, so they hung “Buddy” on his front porch and hastily left. Neighbors came a’runnin’ and cut him down, just in time, and that was how close Lewis came to not being here at all.
To describe Lewis to the unfamiliar is quite a task. He was not a big man, slightly stooped as he grew older, and he had a twang in his voice which carried with it a bit of joyous laughter. I used to love to sit in that barber’s chair and listen to the tales he would tell, or join in conversation with him about some shenanigan he had pulled, or listen patiently to him brag about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. One hallmark of a great barber is knowing when to talk and when to stay quiet, and Lewis allowed me to nod off upon occasion and enjoy some of the purely most wonderful naps in that chair I have ever experienced.
So picture this somewhat diminutive, gentle man exuding happiness at seeing you enter his barbershop and wonder for a moment how he could make such an impact on so many people. After high school, he joined the United States Air Force and was stationed in the Philippines during the Korean War. When he came home, he decided to cut hair—a career which eventually spanned more than half a century. He put down roots in Covington, where he moved his chair to several locations before he and his son, Mike, built their own building on Mill Street. Although I had visited him at two other locations, most of the great stories, naps and shenanigans occurred there, where he shared the room with beautician and comrade in comedy, the late Bobbie Jean Buckelew.
“I tell myself that if there is a Heavenly Barber Chair, the line started forming on Aug. 12, 2018, when the Lord called out to his disciples, ‘OK, fellas, Lewis is finally here.’”Nat Harwell
On a shelf in the corner of the waiting area, Lewis kept a stuffed bobcat. It was right next to the radio, which always was playing gospel music, and every once in a while, Lewis would caution youngsters not to disturb the napping feline, as they were prone to attack strangers. More than one customer could not discern whether or not the predator was in fact stuffed.
Speaking of shenanigans, Lewis once partnered with a barber who was fond of alcohol, and Lewis was puzzled as to why some of the hair tonic bottles emptied rather quickly. When he found out the fellow was drinking the alcohol-laden tonic, Lewis mixed in some dishwashing soap, and that cleaned up the issue rather quickly.
Lewis was also a fixture at the Oxford Baptist Church. For more than 40 years, he was a choir member, music director or deacon, and he served actively with Gideons International. That barber shop radio playing gospel music was not just for show. Lewis was that marvelous Christian who did not just talk about faith but lived it for all to see. He was married to his late wife, Ann, for more than 60 years. Together they raised four children—Mike, Alton, Connie and Becky—and along the way, Lewis began driving a school bus in order to qualify for some benefits. For more than a decade, he faithfully drove his routes, actually practicing so as to time his arrivals and departures to the minute. That punctuality carried over into his barber shop. If you had a 2:15 appointment, you had best be
in the chair at 2:15.
Annually, Lewis looked forward to a week-long Canadian getaway with his son, Alton, son-in-law Lester Castleberry, and great friend, Harold “June Bug” Ayers. They would fly to International Falls, Minnesota, then head by float plane to a spartan camp, where they would spend a week fishing and “roughing it.” After an injury, a doctor advised Lewis to slow down a bit. He did not rightly know how to cull his customer list, so instead, he just raised his prices thinking that would do it for him. To his amazement, folks gladly forked over the increase. That was because we went for more than a haircut; we went to visit with Lewis.
Though no one person can convey all the stories involving Lewis Mason in one sitting, allow me to share a thought I have occasionally. I tell myself that if there is a Heavenly Barber Chair, the line started forming on Aug. 12, 2018, when the Lord called out to his disciples, “OK, fellas, Lewis is finally here.”