Every now and then, while visiting my family in Antigo, I decide it's time to head over to the Hair Shack on Superior Street in the midst of my native downtown. It's always a pleasurable experience. Nevertheless, it's a bit tragic how I've gotten to the point that the travel time to see Lyn Sanders at DePere's Classic Dimensions or Denny and Mary at Antigo's Hair Shack takes much more time than the cutting itself! In fact, I sometimes stop in to simply see what's happening around town. (After all, most barbers and hair stylists hear more confessions than your average Catholic priest; and they're not bound!)
I know what some of you might be thinking: the sight of me getting a hair cut takes you on a trip down memory lane that is reminiscent of the tacky skit from Hee Haw (of very unhappy memory) where at the guy sits in the chair for a trim, has the tarp thrown over him, the barber stands with scissors in hand and does absolutely nothing. After catching up on all the gossip, the tarp is collected and the customer moves on looking exactly the same as when he entered, but filled with sooo much more knowledge! So it is with me.
While it's always good to see what's new in the homeland, I have to say that not much has changed. And for a person who truly cherished his upbringing, that's good news! The barber shop looks the same; our high school graduation pictures are still posted on the back bar representing the 80's, 90's and AHS graduates over these past 7 years as well. Denny was my boyhood barber -- joined at work in the 80's by his wife, Mary. I've discovered that the candy is even stuffed in the same drawer below the cash register as it always was. And what's surprising is that I even pay the same amount there that I spent throughout my childhood. (I suspect that's Denny and Mary's generous 'clergy discount'!) The only thing that is different is that Mary and Denny no longer ask me to hop up on the upholstered board that used to be placed upon the chair's arms. They denied me that honor about five years ago!
Denny and Mary have a true gift -- they are like very successful soap opera producers who can plug into your life even after years and years' absence; and somehow the two make it seem as though you were there in that chair just three weeks ago. While in the chair we catch up on the local news, talk about my parents' activities; I hear how wonderful my siblings are; I get caught up in the Antigo Red Robin / Merrill Blue Jay rivalry; and occasionally I encounter faces of classmates who have remained in town. It's the only place where I'd ever go and allow a person to place a razor-sharp blade against my neck and somehow I still feel at ease. That's what going home is all about!
This past Sunday, I had a similar experience -- just east of the Hair Shack. I went home for Father's Day, but arrived a bit earlier than expected. Because the house was pretty full and I did not want to wake any niece or nephew, I decided I'd pop into St. John the Evangelist for the 9AM Mass. I had not planned on doing so, that was apparent by my attire: jogging clothes. I was, I surmise, the worst dressed person in church. But being 'out of uniform,' I suspected no one would recognize me. That anonymity lasted until Father's opening greeting, asking us to greet those around us. Upon turning around, some lady -- I did not catch her name -- said, "Welcome home, Father!" I wanted to crawl into the monthly OCP missallette.
Once I got over the clothing issue, I simply tried to focus on the Mass. Boy was that a blast from the past! Over the past several years I have presided at St. John's to fill in for the Antigo patriarch, Father Charlie Hoffmann, who has served at the church for the past 28 years. Trust me, he has tremendously large shoes to fill. He is one of my favorite priestly role models, so taking his place while he golfs in Arizona is a bit of a head trip for me. But this Sunday, I was trying to "blend in" with the congregation, being ministered to by Fr. Charlie like so many times in my formative years.
It was just like the Hair Shack: all was well, it was home, indeed! Today when people ask me, "Father Jim, where's home for you?" I'm quick to respond, "DePere!" even though I know they mean 'home-of-origin.' I immediately respond 'DePere' because of so many good people who have welcomed me like family. I am truly happy here. But I love to go back to my other home -- to see family -- the closest people in my life, my former classmates, the customers at the Hair Shack and the parishioners at St. John as well as at Ss. Mary & Hyacinth. The trips to the native land are more frequent during the summer -- in the course of the school year and the NFL season, those trips are few and far between. Nevertheless, I often think, "You can take Jim out of Antigo, but you'll never take the Antigo out of him!" You'll see how true that is when you see me donning the "ANTIGO" hoodie in the fall and winter, when you encounter my ANTIGO afghan on my couch in the priory, or when you drop your chin when you encounter the ANTIGO population sign in my JMS office. [That's an entirely different blog!]
The gospels remind us how Jesus had a tough time going home, "No prophet is without honor except in his native place." My story has been different. Obviously that's because I'm no prophet. But it's also true because of the goodness of the folks up north. "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name!" For me, that's Antigo -- where the good people who live there were the first people to teach me, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"
Happy first day of summer, folks! In your time off, consider taking a trip up north -- you won't regret it; you won't forget it!
Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.