It’s hard to tell if you’re walking into a barbershop or a museum of eccentric antique collectibles when you enter Reed’s Hair Barn.
If you look around, you’ll see an old coin-operated radio from a hotel in San Francisco. On one of the walls hangs a 1983 California League championship banner from the old Redwood Pioneers, which was given to him by the late Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety Police Chief Bob Dennett.
Freddie Reed, the owner and operator of the barbershop in Cotati since 1982, can even show you a wrench where one could hold a 1,000-pound cow by the nose. He also has on display all the trophies his barbershop won during the bed races at the Founders Day celebrations in Rohnert Park. All these items serve a purpose.
“A lot of it is educational,” Reed says. “There are things from the past you can show off and people don’t understand or see. There are things older folks can relate to and that younger people never see. I know I’ve got the most cluttered barbershop in the area.”
One thing that is unique about Reed’s Hair Barn is there is only one chair and he’s the only barber working. So having an appointment is almost a must.
Reed’s barbershop for the past two years has been a calming influence for 9-year-old Mason Becker, who at the age of 3 was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder (PDD), which his mother, Vera Rappa, says is borderline autism. And according to his mother, he has issues with hair.
“He’s right on the cusp (of autism),” Rappa said. “He doesn’t have as many of the emotional issues, such as socialization issues but he’s always had the issue with hair. He’d freak out if there was a strand of hair in the bathtub.”
So imagine how he feels when he’s around so much hair in a barbershop.
Rappa said she had taken Mason to a number of barbershops before discovering Reed. Ever since, Reed has become one of Mason’s favorite people.
“Mason calls him ‘my friend Fred,’” Rappa said.
Mason’s in comfort zone
When she takes him to see Reed, which is about every two weeks, she simply fades into the background.
“I’ll go in and I’ll just sit there and let them do their thing,” she said. “Basically it’s Mason dominating the conversation because he’s so excited to see him.”
Rappa said Reed’s calm demeanor is one reason haircut sessions for Mason go well. Working with children or people with handicaps is something Reed’s done all his life. He pretty much came by it naturally.
“My parents used to own a foster home in high school, so they took care of kids who had problems,” Reed said. “My dad was a barber before, and he’d always go to mentally handicapped people’s houses. We used to do 50 haircuts once a month in Ross at a place called Cedars Development Center. My dad was a real patient man, so I probably inherited it from him.”
Reed’s mother still owns and runs a senior care facility, Reed’s Guest House, in Rohnert Park. His father is deceased.
There are times when Mason has a hard time sitting still during a haircut and will yell or act out in some manner. And that’s where patience is paramount.
“Every once in a while, Mason would let out a scream or try to throw his scissors out of the way,” Rappa said. “Fred just kind of backed off, gave him a minute to recuperate and do his thing, then kind of just got back in there and distracted him with something else.”
Understanding the issue
Rappa said a lot of people don’t understand children with PDD or similar types of conditions. When her child is having a bad reaction, she said she notices people looking disdainfully at her son. But that’s never been the case with Reed.
“When I go places, even supermarkets or have random interaction, you find people getting irritated and frustrated,” Rappa said. “You see people who don’t understand and just kind of brush him off, saying he’s a bad kid. That was never the case with Fred. We were always welcomed back and he and Mason were high fiving when we left. You appreciate somebody so much when they just take a minute to slow down and say, ‘it’s OK. We’ll work through this together.’ And you just smile and can’t thank somebody enough.”
Since discovering his barbershop two years ago, after taking Mason to about 10 other barbers, she has spread the word about Reed. Rappa does documentary-type photography. One day while Mason was getting a haircut, she documented he and Reed and put some of the pictures on Facebook. Since then, close to 10 other mothers with children with either PDD or autism have contacted her.
Repeating school year
Mason currently is enrolled at Gravenstein Elementary School in Sebastopol, where he is in a normal classroom but has an assistant sit with him every day. He was attending Thomas Page Academy in Cotati but Rappa said they left the school because of funding issues.
“We ended up having to repeat a grade once we got to Gravenstein because Thomas Page was so far behind Gravenstein’s level,” Rappa said.
Reed doesn’t specialize in cutting the hair for kids with PDD, he just knows how to relate to people.
“I’ve got a good relationship with kids…kids are easy,” he said. “There’s a few things you need to know. You listen for them, keep an eye on them and just love them, and they’ll love you back until the day they die.”