The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

Katherine Wiley answered one question on Colgate's application with the following essay.

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Bicycle pumps are funny things. They never break down. It seems one thousand years from now my family's old bicycle pump will still be in a dark corner of our garage, not being used because of self-inflating wheels, but there. Bicycle pumps never really bother anybody and people seldom seem to throw them away. When you need a bicycle pump you can count on the fact that it's still in your garage somewhere, waiting. Some people are like that.

Mr. D'Ambrisi is a barber. He came to my town during the roaring twenties, and it was here that his father, along with Mr. D'Ambrisi and his other brothers, set up the shop that he would eventually take over. Six gleaming leather chairs rested upon the black and white linoleum floor, as the red, white, and blue barber pole spun energetically outside. Mr. D'Ambrisi took care of the twenties hair, cutting not only the townspeople's, but also those who came to Saranac Lake and our fresh mountain air to cure for tuberculosis, and the gangsters who passed through bootlegging from Canada. Mr. D'Ambrisi touched a lot of famous people's hair in those days; he still has crayon drawings upon his wall he once drew of Irving Berlin's children and if you ask he'll tell the story of Einstein.

"He was a quiet man. I just let him sit and think. You don't need to talk with a man like that." But with his more ordinary customers, Mr. D'Ambrisi talked and talked, telling tales of his life as well as the lives of others he'd met.

The only time I met Mr. D'Ambrisi was seven years ago when my father took my brother and me to his shop, so that we could finally meet the man he talked so much about.

"Nice sons you have there," he remarked, as he handed both of us a red lollipop out of the register.

"This is my daughter Katherine and my son Casey."

"Two healthy looking children, aren't they?"

My town now has over twenty hair salons or barber shops, as compared to the two or three of Mr. D'Ambrisi's day. Mr. D'Ambrisi has by now had cataract surgery in each eye, twice. He has shrunken to under five feet in size and must stand on a stool to cut hair. To go the two blocks to work he must take a cab. But once a month my father comes home with shorter hair and more than any other barber could give him, a piece of the past, through his stories. So once a month life in my house stops as we all listen.

Mr. D'Ambrisi is ninety-three years old; he has been ninety-three for at least the past five years. He no longer has to cut hair. He doesn't need the money, and with his physical deterioration it's unlikely it's even good for him. But he keeps doing it because he loves it. It's nice to know there's one American who isn't counting the seconds until retirement. I admire people who sincerely enjoy going to work each day, and I hope that some day I will love my job as much as Mr. D'Ambrisi does his. With a bit of luck and some help from my college experience, I hope to discover such a job; a job that I will not only enjoy, but will also be able to do well.

I have a small hunch that Mr. D'Ambrisi is immortal. If I could come back to the earth 1,000 years from now, I know I'd find a bicycle pump in my garage, and I think if I walked by Mr. D'Ambrisi's shop, he'd still be there, cutting hair and weaving stories.

Back to
~ A first-year's first weeks ~