The American flag is neatly folded, an isosceles triangle that rests in a wooden presentation box atop a shelf at Raphael’s Barber Shop in Silver Spring, Md. It looks like the sort of flag that’s handed to a grieving widow as thanks from a grateful nation.
It was handed to Tamara Kalandadze, owner of the Georgia Avenue barbershop. An engraved plaque reads “Pvt. Stanley J. Howard. Born Feb. 8, 1907. Died Nov. 25, 1995.”
“Mr. Stanley,” Tamara, 54, calls him. He wasn’t family. He had no family, no immediate family that he mentioned, anyway.
“He said, ‘When I die, can you guys spread my ashes somewhere under the trees?’ ” Tamara remembers. “ ‘ I have nobody to visit me, nobody to remember me.’”
Everyone at Raphael’s knew Mr. Stanley. He was a regular customer. He also came in each afternoon after the barbershop closed, when the cards came out and the poker game started.
Those were the days when Italian and Greek men cut hair at Raphael’s. They were first-generation immigrants who saw in the manly world of straight razors and Barbicide disinfectant a dependable way to earn a living.
“I was a beginner,” Tamara laughs. “They tried to be my boss.”
Not for long, I’m sure. Tamara bought the shop in 1994. She had immigrated from Tbilisi, Georgia, after falling in love with a retired American judge named Herbert Mutter, who was in the former Soviet Union teaching law and economics. In Georgia, Tamara was a registered nurse, but to be certified in the United States would have taken six years. She learned to cut hair.
The shop is in the Metropolitan Building in downtown Silver Spring. The building turned 50 this year. So did Raphael’s. It’s an original tenant.
Raphael’s has weathered the neighborhood’s ups and downs. It’s booming now. A sign in the window announces that Raphael’s is hiring. Tamara needs two more barbers to fill all seven chairs.
The staff is a mini-United Nations.
“There are five languages spoken here,” Tamara says before reeling them off: Farsi, Arabic, Georgian, Russian, Vietnamese.
Oh, and English, of course. That’s what the barbers — Ebrahim and Sonny (Iran), Jalal (Iraq), Anna (Vietnam), Tamara (Georgia) — speak to one another.
The TV is tuned to a news channel. A voice rises above the snip of scissors and the blare of hair dryers: An announcer is saying, “You can see him dragging bodies behind a truck in Syria . . .”
I ask Tamara if the staff gets along. Even the guys from Iran and Iraq?
“People get along,” Tamara says. “It’s politicians who don’t get along.”
She’s careful when hiring, she says. She watches applicants cut hair. She checks out their demeanor.
“I need to know their skills with people, with the employees,” she says. “We are locked here for 10 hours every day. We have to be nice to each other.”
Really, she says, you spend more time with your co-workers than with your family.
Your customers become sort of family, too. Tamara hadn’t owned Raphael’s for long when Mr. Stanley made his request — “spread my ashes” — and it wasn’t long after he made his request that he died. He was 88.
Tamara’s husband did a little investigating. Herbert discovered that Mr. Stanley was an Army veteran, had served in World War II, was eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Herbert arranged for his ashes to be inurned there, with the crew from Raphael’s in attendance. Three years later, Herbert died — from a brain tumor — and was buried at Arlington.
There is something in Georgia, Tamara says, looking for the right word. Parable? Fable? Toast? It doesn’t matter. She sets the scene: A grandfather and his grandson are together in heaven, or wherever it is we go when we die. The room they are in is sumptuously appointed, comfortable and well stocked.
“They have a fountain of wine, a fountain of water,” Tamara says. “It’s light all the time. There’s a table covered with food.
“Time is passing. Little by little, there’s less water, less wine, less light, less food. Sometimes they’re talking in the cold and dark. No water, no wine, no food. The youngest is asking the oldest: ‘Grandpa, what’s happening? We used to have this all the time. Now we have nothing.’
“And Grandpa replies, ‘Probably Grandson, nobody remembers us anymore on the other side.’ ”
“You know, this man,” she says, referring to Mr. Stanley, “I don’t know what he did in this lifetime. His name is surviving because many people are asking, ‘Who is this guy?’ I tell, ‘This is the Mr. Stanley, who was the veteran of the Second World War.’ ”
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