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When you take a look at this picture, it may look like the door of an ordinary barber shop, but that will depend on what you call ordinary. The day I stepped inside this barber shop, I was intrigued by the banjo music I could hear coming from inside. This banjo music reminded me of another era of my life. That of a time when I would watch Hee Haw with my dad as a child. Little did I know when I stepped inside these doors, I would not only be amazed by the music, but also by how much this shop reminded me of the barber shop I would go into with my dad as a child. Since that first day I walked into the Windsor Barber Shop I have had the opportunity to get to know the owner, Donnie Gibson. We have since developed a friendship that continues to inspire me today.
Today, I would like to introduce all of you to Donnie Gibson, because I consider him to be quite extraordinary. Now he is not extraordinary because he has a lot of money or fame, but because he lives his life doing what he enjoys. Let me tell you his story and some of his philosophies that has influenced my life in the last seven months.
The first thing that attracted me to the barber shop was the music I heard coming from the shop. When I walked into his shop I expected to hear the music coming from the radio or a cd player, but to my amazement I saw Donnie Gibson playing his banjo. I stayed there that day and listened to him play a couple more songs and I talked to him to get to know him more. That day I learned he was not only good at being a barber but he was an AMAZING banjo player. As time went on he gave me the opportunity to interview him, where I learned even more about his philosophies and those people who inspired him throughout his life.
Donnie Gibson’s hero in the blue grass world was Don Wesley Reno, an excellent banjo player that also played with Red Smiley. Donnie talked at length about Don Reno and how he influenced the way he plays the banjo today. Donnie explained and showed me the three finger “single string” playing style that was developed by Don Reno. Donnie spoke about how he had the great opportunity to meet with Don Reno and talk with him in his tour bus in 1977 in Lynchburg, VA. Donnie glowed with excitement as he talked about that part of his life.
The day I interviewed Donnie, I not only learned so much more about Don Reno and the Bluegrass world, but I had the great opportunity to learn how Donnie came to be the owner of the Windsor Barber Shop. I learned that the Windsor Barber Shop started at the Old Windsor Hotel on Baltimore Street. In 1959, it moved to a location close to where the Parking Garage is in Cumberland now. In 1969, the Windsor Barber Shop moved to its current location on the first floor of the Smith Building.
Donnie told me that his grandfather was a barber. He also explained to me the barber techniques of years past. He talked about how at one time the job of the barber was not only to cut men’s hair but also to shave them using a technique called the double edge shave. In later years when Gillette came out with razors, the barber lost this service. Today, there are only about 6 barbers left in town. Donnie talked about how he feels he is playing out the “Tale of the Vanishing Barber Shop”.
I later told Donnie that day that this may be his Tale of the Vanishing Barber Shop, but in my memory his barber shop will never vanish. For on that day, Donnie not only told me about the many stories of the pictures that hang on his wall, but of a couple of his philosophies. For example, Donnie taught me that all people should have someone that inspires them in the area of their life’s purpose, like he had in Don Wesley Reno. When I asked him how he became so good at playing the banjo, he said, “By always trying to beat my personal best.” When I asked him what he meant by his personal best, this is what he said, “Be with yourself. Always seek to better your technique, no matter what area of your life it is. Stay to the fundamentals. Work very hard and you will get to the level where you are the best person you can be. You will stay happy and your emotions will be balanced by doing that. Don’t ever step out and drag somebody else down by out playing them or out classing them. Life doesn’t work that way. And if you can guide someone to show them how they can get there — Don’t give them a Fable…. Give them the Facts!”
I asked him one last question. If you look back to your past successes and all you have and now you could fast forward to your future, metaphorically, what song of your remaining life would you want to play out? This is what he said, “I hope that people have watched me down through the years and they can see something that I have heard you say – You have to die to this world. Through this I mean, Step back; Give it Up; Show somebody else some love!” He closed this question by saying, “That would be a good place to end this story!”
While this may be where he wanted to end his story, I would like to add some other lessons I have learned from Donnie Gibson:
- Lesson Number One – Do not be afraid to be seen reading your bible! I have walked into Donnie’s shop on more than one occasion to see him reading his bible. On Donnie’s wall is a bible quote from Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.”
- Lesson Number Two – One way to increase the joy in your present and future life is to find the positive things in your past, hang up pictures to remind you of them. This will create a vision dream board to make you smile today which will help create a positive tomorrow. How do I know this? When Donnie would look at the pictures hanging on his wall, he had the biggest smiles and he just glowed with happiness. When I asked him if he felt these walls were like a vision dream board of everything he wanted, he said, “Yes, for I am an old fashioned guy and a traditionalist at heart. And that is what I feel these walls show about me.”
- Lesson Number Three – What makes someone’s life extraordinary is not defined by money or fame, but by living life the way YOU enjoy it. I felt that during the interview with Donnie and I continue to feel it every day that I see him. He reinforces my philosophy about life and that is: A person should live everyday living out the purpose that they were sent here for. If you do that you will be happy and essentially never work a day in your life.
I would like to end by personally and publicly thanking Donnie Gibson for the opportunities to not only get to know him, but to be given the chance to interview him. He woke up a part of my life that I had long since forgotten, a part that I remember dearly about my 81 year old father. If I could encourage anyone to do anything, it would be to go check out the Windsor Barber Shop located on the first floor of the Smith Building at 111 South George Street in Cumberland, MD. Tell him Monica sent you and if you are lucky enough like I was, you might just happen to walk in while he is playing his banjo. Who knows, he may also have time to tell you about some of the stories behind the pictures on the wall!