FOLLANSBEE - A lot of hair has passed through scissors held by Loreto "88" Iafrate.
The Follansbee barber has been cutting hair for 57 years. Well, 65 if you count his experience ensuring fellow sailors aboard the USS Point Cruz had regulation haircuts during his tour of duty in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
It was that experience that put Iafrate behind the barber's chair for the first time. Learning that he had trimmed another sailor's hair, an officer recruited him for the job, the long-time barber recalled.
The job involved less menial labor than other positions aboard the ship, so he was happy to become one of four barbers charged with shearing the locks of the aircraft carrier's 1,500 crew members.
Initially he was not the best haircutter, he admitted, but soon he was receiving $1 tips although the cuts were free.
Following his discharge, he decided to apply his new skills professionally. After attending a Wheeling barber school for a year to obtain the required license, he went to work assisting established barber Mike Lamonica.
Lamonica operated a shop up the street from Iafrate's present location at 928 Main St. (state Route 2). He worked for Lamonica for about two and a half years until the elder barber retired.
The son of Italian immigrants, he also became a steelworker like his father. As if the dual careers as self-employed barber and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel worker weren't enough, his days also included nights playing drums in jazz bands.
"I worked all three at the same time. I didn't get any sleep," Iafrate said, adding he was fortunate to have a superintendent at the steel mill who scheduled around his sidelines.
Many of his fellow band members were music teachers, with more convenient schedules, but he enjoyed playing with them at nightclubs, weddings and other occasions.
"I had fun in my music days. I used to make a lot of people laugh," Iafrate said, noting he often wore funny wigs or offered his impression of Bela Lugosi's "Dracula" during performances.
He's still known as a kidder among the Follansbee Lions Club, of which he's been a member for at least 20 years.
The nickname "88" once was attributed to piano players, for the 88 keys they pound to produce music. Some might wonder then how a drummer came to have that moniker.
The answer is that Iafrate received it as a child when he dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool, emerging with a scratch on his chest resembling an 'x.'
Something about the injury reminded a friend of Iafrate's of the fatal gunshot wound sustained by 88 Keys, a crooked pianist in the Dick Tracy comic strip, and he's had the nickname ever since.
Iafrate gave up drumming many years ago, but he continued to work at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel until 1992.
He also found time to raise five children with his wife of 57 years, Madeline.
Asked his secret to a successful marriage, Iafrate joked, "Keep your mouth shut." But he admitted he's made it a point to remember Valentines Day, their anniversary and other important dates and still gives his wife flowers.
In 1978 he was joined at his shop by his daughter, Loretta. She admitted that as a teen she went to a hair salon for women and for a time aspired to work in one herself, though she's sure her father must have been an influence also.
A graduate of Wheeling Barber College and Weirton Beauty School, she handles cuts, perms and other styling for the shop's female customers.
Asked what it's been like working with her father for 32 years, Loretta joked, "It's been an adventure."
But she added, "I learned a lot about him. I heard all of the stories. It gave us a chance to become closer."
And she learned she likes to cut men's hair also.
The shop serves many women, but its interior is a reminder of the many barber shops that catered primarily to men years ago. Hanging from its walls are framed photos of athletes from years ago, including Olympic gold medalist and Follansbee native Glenn "Jeep" Davis and several boxers.
"88" boxed as a welterweight and middleweight in the Navy.
He acknowledged hair salons now outnumber barber shops but said many men like the atmosphere of his more traditional shop.
Iafrate said the hair business has changed in various ways over the years.
"Back when I started, guys would get their hair cut every two weeks. Now it's more like every two months," he said.
But quality, friendly service still is key to bringing customers back, Iafrate said.
And he has seen many customers return over the years.
"What gets me is seeing the ones I cut as children come in and they are in their 30s and 40s. I enjoy that," he said.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com.)