By Tom Tassinari
It’s a typical East Boston story, one that we have all witnessed countless times in Eastie and that I am sure we will witness for many more years and generations to come. I went in for a hair cut last week and there is a change in the wind. Carmen Caporale proprietor of Mr. C’s Hairstyling is retiring. Now I know that to some of you this means nothing but to many it means a great deal. The Caporale’s have been cutting my hair for 55 years. Like many others, I am devastated. It is easier to find a new doctor than it is a barber. This story is not about me, though, it is about the Caporale’s and the many other families who have come to America, specifically East Boston to settle and live and find their place.
Maybe 60 years ago, Raffaele Caporale brought his wife and family to America from Italy, for a better life. Like so many others who have come and continue to come searching for all that there is to offer. Ralph, as we came to know him, went to school, worked hard and became a barber. Eventually he and his family purchased the building on the comer of Bennington and Wordsworth Streets, and Ralph opened his own shop. From there he worked and lived, quietly earning his living while raising his three sons and becoming part of the fabric of East Boston. All three sons have gone on to become successful as I am sure was the plan and hope of Ralph and his wife when they came to America.
Carmen one of Ralph’s sons, joined his father in the family business about 45 years ago. At that time some things changed, the shop was remodeled and the name changed from Ralph’s Barber Shop to Mr.C’s Hairstyling. Together they cut hair side by side until Ralph’s passing.
But this is not just about a family that came to Eastie and made their fortune, it is about what this family has given to all of us without any fanfare. They have become part of our life, and a very important part. Every major event in my life and I am sure in the lives of many, started with a trip to see Ralph or Carmen.
On the last day of school, neighborhood mothers would meet their sons at school and
walk them down to see Ralph for the mandatory “whiffle,” and the line would be out the door. For those of you who do not know what that is, it is a buzz cut with the #I blade, not to be confused with a “crew cut” which was almost the same, but had a little hair in the front that you could spike up with wax. The point was your mother did not have to worry about washing your hair all summer as you had none. You would not have to see Ralph again until the day before school opened for your “regular boy’s.”
As the years went on, hairstyles changed even for men, which is where Carmen comes in. When hair got longer, Carmen went to school to learn how to “style” men’s hair. This worked out well for my generation as once again our mother’s were on us about getting our hair cut but we needed to have long hair as it was the fashion of the time. So we would go to Carmen and he would clip and trim a little, still allowing us to have long hair but keeping our mother’s somewhat happier about the way our hair looked.
Proms, weddings, graduations, confirmations, and funerals all started with a trip to the
shop. Taking your son for his first haircut that took the baby away and gave you back a little man, but not before Ralph or Carmen taking a couple ofPolaroids, one for you and one for the wall in the shop where it would hang for years until it finally fell from age and was replaced for with the next generation.
There were never any appointments, it was always first come first served. Waiting was
never a problem though, as while you waited with the other patrons, there was always lively discussions about the world, sports, and politics. There is not an elected official from East Boston to Washington that was not talked about in that shop, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not. One thing for certain you could always see the care and concern that Carmen had for this community, even from that little shop on the comer.
On Saturday January 30, Carmen will come to the shop for the last time. It is a well deserved retirement, but not before he hands off the clippers to two young men, Eddie and Dave, who not unlike Carmen and his dad have come to East Boston from another place, to that comer, to make their mark, and begin a new life. Buona fortuna, Carmen , wishing you all the best, and welcome to Eddie and Dave, I’ll be by in a few weeks, and remember, the #2 blade like Carmen showed you.