When you go in to get your hair cut, you’ll tend to get someone who wants to chat. Sometimes, the discussion will be interesting, but there are times when you feel the barber is chatting just to fill the air with noise.
When Birdie spoke, however, it was usually wise to pay attention. With the wisdom of an owl, the majesty of an eagle and—on occasion—the razor-sharp tongue that will feel like a falcon’s talons, she was the heart and soul of my hometown, Chino Valley.
Birdie, born to this world as Norma Jean Bennett, passed away two months ago at the age of 76. Her departure leaves me with this burning question—who is going to take the reins and get the community fired up when the need arises.
Birdie’s barber shop, Birdie and Sons, might have had all the barber equipment needed to trim your hair, but it looked more like a railroad museum than a barber shop, with old lanterns and railroad signs decorating the place. It was also quite ironic that the name was Birdie and Sons, because she only had one son, and he wasn’t the family partner cutting hair; it was her daughter.
Besides the delicious irony in her business, Birdie did a lot of good for the community. She hosted an Easter egg hunt each year, and while most places resorted to plastic eggs for their hunts, she stuck with 1,000 real eggs annually, including 12 golden eggs that gave the lucky recipients prizes.
Birdie also organized a warm coats and clothing drive each year, and she was a proponent of Chino Valley having its own pool. It took decades to accomplish, but it proved once again that, whenever Birdie set off on a mission, you could either lend a hand or get off the track before her train of determination flattened you like a pancake.
There were times that the town council ran afoul of Birdie, and when that happened, she wasn’t afraid to hit the podium and set it ablaze with her fury. You have to wonder how many of those council members had the courage to sit in her chair for a trim after she raked them across the coals on an issue.
When I was a reporter for the Chino Valley Review, I snapped a photo of her with a pile of coats for a feature on her warm clothing drive, and in that photo, she was reflected in a nearby mirror. I didn’t think about it at the time, but looking back, that photo was symbolic of her energy, doing the work of multiple people.
On my trip back to Arizona a few months ago, I had thought about stopping in to Birdie and Sons for a haircut, for old time’s sake. For whatever reason, I didn’t, and now I’ll never have the chance.
There’s no question in my mind that Birdie is up in heaven, doing what she can to help and probably giving the Almighty a piece of her mind on occasion. Just imagining that is making me laugh.
The question I have is how Chino Valley moves on from here, since members of the community can no longer make decisions based on what a little Birdie told them.