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'We've All Got To Have Hope': Checking Back In With A Northfield Barber At The End Of 2020

A man stands next to a barber pole
Anna Van Dine
VPR File
VPR's Anna Van Dine originally met Northfield barber Randy Peace over the summer. She recently checked back in with Randy about how the rest of his year has gone.

As 2020 comes to a close, VPR's Anna Van Dine checked back in with a Northfield barber she interviewed earlier in the year. They talked about the pandemic, family, and the new year about to arrive.

I met Randy Peace on a bright Sunday morning back in the middle of August. He was the first person I walked up to in Northfield that day, when I was in town reporting astory about students returning to Norwich University. It was before most college students had returned to Vermont, and there was some anxiety that when they did, COVID-19 cases would spike. 

Randy and I sat at a table outside O’Maddi’s Delaurant on Depot Square. He and I talked for a long time, about COVID-19, his work as a barber, how the town had changed in his 57 years. We talked long enough for people sitting at picnic tables in the green space of the square to get up, leave, and be replaced by others. Eventually we also got up and left.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about something he had said, kind of offhand, about the kind of winter we were in for:

“You know,” he said, “the days are going to get shorter, and cold and flu season will be going around, and hopefully our numbers don’t spike with the COVID, but ah, it’s going to be a long winter.” 

It felt like a prophecy, and I hoped it wasn’t one.

More from VPR: VPR Wants To Know: How Have You Found Comfort In 2020?

Now that it is winter, I got back in touch with Randy Peace. We talked on the phone last week.

He said financially, he’s been OK these past four months. Business at the barber shop has been steady enough that he’s been able to pay the bills and put a little away for retirement. Up to three people are allowed in the shop at a time: one in the barber chair, one waiting, and Randy.

He says he misses the camaraderie of several people joking and talking while he cuts someone’s hair, but he continues to take COVID-19 seriously.

“I've got two signs on the door," he said. "One says, 'No mask, no entry.' Period. Exclamation point. And the other one just says, you know, 'No cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms beyond this point.'"

A man at a door next to signs reading only one customer allowed in the shop at a time, and a mask is required to receive a haircut
Credit Anna Van Dine / VPR
Northfield barber Randy Peace has been taking COVID-19 seriously in part because his 16-year-old son, Garett, is immunocompromised after receiving treatment for leukemia.

Part of the reason he’s cautious is because of his 16-year-old son, Garett. That day back in August when I met Randy, he told me that Garett has been fighting leukemia on and off for about seven years. After a bone marrow transplant last December, he came home from the hospital at the beginning of the pandemic.

“To have a child diagnosed with cancer, go through basically three and a half years of treatment, be in remission for 26 months, then to have it come back, get through the bone marrow transplant, get out of the hospital in Boston, get back home, and then wham,” Randy said. “The COVID hits.”

The cancer treatment decimated Garett’s immune system, leaving him at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.

Now, a year after the bone marrow transplant, Randy says Garett’s doing well in school, has his own Jeep, and got himself a job washing cars and reconditioning vehicles at Ayer Auto in Barre. He just had his one-year check-up. And everything looks okay.

"Hope is such a huge word, let's just hope we all have hope for next year and somehow it'll be better." — Randy Peace, Northfield barber

“You know, hope is such a huge word, let's just hope we all have hope for next year and somehow it'll be better,” Randy said.

When I asked what he meant by that, he took a deep breath and said, “Hope, you know, hope is, just it's — it's just a huge word. I mean, we've all got to have hope right now, you know, we've all got to have hope that the world will turn around.”

Over the phone, Randy reminded me that technically, the days have already started to get longer. In a few months, they’ll begin to get warmer. He and Garett will start up their backyard maple sugaring operation. And the vaccine has started to roll out.

“Vermont always has a long winter, right? No matter how you look at it,” Randy said, laughing a little.

It’s been a long time since Randy has stayed up till midnight on New Year's. This year, he’s planning to get the wood stove going and make a nice dinner, and even if he has to take a nap to make it to midnight, he’ll stay up.

Not so much to watch the New Year come in, he said, but to watch this one leave.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine@annasvandine.

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Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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