One Man’s Family – Getting to Know Henry Barber

Henry Barber is becoming a fascinating person to me lately. He’s an old timer of a time gone by. If it weren’t for the benefit of old radio shows that have been preserved, I would never have known he, or men like him existed.

The main characteristic of Henry is that he’s a family man. He has quite a large family, and loves to have them close by, and to take an active part in their lives. That doesn’t mean all his children are carbon copies of each other, or of him, because they are not. It doesn’t mean they agree, or do things the same, because disagreements always arise. Henry is a man of his times, and mostly is alright with letting the next generation be men and women of their times.

To be more specific, Henry Barber is a man from close to a hundred years ago. By the time I encountered him in radio programs in the 1940’s into the 1950’s, he’s at least retired, and likely rounding the bend of pushing past his 70’s. He seems to be a man of average size and build, and with a fair amount of silver hair on his head. Though he is elderly, and pretends to scoff at some of the energetic ventures of his grandchildren, he actually enjoys being offered to take part in such things as riding a motorcycle, or taking a plunge from the diving board into the pool. You can never be quite sure on what activities he’ll rise to the occasion to be doing next. Just don’t be surprised to see him in his old fashioned, one piece, and full body bathing suit as he swan dives into the water, and shows off his breast stroke. The spry old gent is known to overdo it, and pay a physical price for his efforts the next day, but is he really hurt so badly, or does he only limp around as long as he thinks his beloved wife, Fannie is watching him?

Sometimes Henry is forgetful. He might misplace his comb and brush, then insist that someone in the family has moved it. “It’s always right there, on my dresser.” Henry says, “I never keep it anywhere else. Who on earth would want to take it? Did one of the grand children borrow it without asking, or forget to bring it back?” His accusations of conspiracy grow until the family members are all mobilized in locating Henry’s lost items that are always found right where he left them. His hair brush and comb for example, turn up back at his son’s house where he had just spent the last few days. His favorite hammock is found right where he boxed it up himself, and clearly labeled the package so everyone will know it’s his, and to make sure it makes its way home from the country ranch, to his home in town. Then once the missing item is returned, the storm of attitude blows out quicker than it blew in, but more often than not, a word of gratitude is nowhere to be found. What about any apologies for the needless tirade of pointed fingers? What accusations are you talking about? Life’s back to normal now, so let’s just change the topic and move right along with things. Once in a while, Fannie has to step in to dish out an attitude adjustment, or when she won’t do it, Henry’s oldest daughter, Hazel has what it takes to keep her dad in line.

In those times when Henry is forced into making the rounds to any offended family members, with hat in hand, he skirts around the apology, and delicately as he possibly can almost admits that he might be wrong. The elephant in the room is danced around, and the offended party at least gets to watch the agony of the dance, knowing that even if the words aren’t said, Henry’s awkwardness in the situation is a sure sign he’s sincere about it. Hold his feet to the fire though. Don’t let him get off easy. If you’re not getting it, and you want that fully expressed apology, it won’t happen if you let Henry off the hook. But if he’s been pressed, and all he can manage is beating around the bush, that may be as good as it gets. It’s time to move on along.

Being a family man, Henry loves more than anything to have his entire extended family around. It was particularly difficult for him during the days of the war, and having family away in the military, or traveling for one reason or another. He didn’t take it well to have his daughter, Claudia run off to elope, or when she and her second husband wanted to buy a place in Montana. He isn’t really all that fond of the idea that the family ranch is 40 miles away from town. However, a custom has developed where the family spends the summers together at the ranch.

Though having the whole family at hand is his goal, and though he can be a little bit of a control freak in telling his children what to do, there are times when life gets too hectic. Henry is prone to isolate himself in his hammock, or in sitting on a comfortable chair on the porch. When he’s not in his self-imposed isolation amid the chaos, he enjoys gardening, and has quite the green thumb. Just don’t get him around animals. For some reason they hate him. Cows and horses are not his friends, but maybe it’s more in Henry’s mind and his own comfort level when he’s around them.

As a man of his times, Henry can be quite charming. He enjoys entertaining, and can be a snappy dresser. As the phrase goes, he cleans up pretty well when he puts on his full dress outfit, and turns on the good manners, and genteele ways. Henry also has a unique tradition the family does every year at Christmas. There’s no Santa, no real mention of a baby Jesus, but there is a regimented tree trimming party with a Christmas Eve gift exchange and plenty of treats for everyone.

For the most part, he lets his children raise their own kids the way they see fit, and he’s always handy to give input on the matter. He does have a knack with his granddaughters. Especially in knowing which of the identical triplets is which, and giving in to just about any request Hazel’s daughter, Margret asks. Even though his advice on child rearing might be stern on the surface, when nobody is looking, he’s just as apt to give in and pamper one of the little ones, even going against his stern advice.

I’m still getting to know this interesting, and intricate character, but that’s a little slice of what I know about Henry Barber so far. I’m looking forward to learning even more, as I keep on digging through the radio shows to enjoy the visits to both the Sea Cliff, and Sky ranches on the San Francisco Bay. I hope you’ll tune in the podcast and learn more about them too.


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