LOCAL FOLKS: More than work

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – Working is a way of life for Pontotoc business owner Jim Harrison.
“I started working in the grocery store when I was 14. We worked weekends for $7.80,” the 60-year-old said. “We would work for 16 hours for $7.80. Ain’t that something?”
He worked nights at Pontotoc Wire and went to school at Itawamba Community College during the day. He went for an accounting degree at Mississippi State University, but realized something was amiss.
“That didn’t fit,” he said. “I decided I liked people too well, so I quit.”
He found his direction in life while helping his sister.
“She had real bad arthritis. I started helping her with her hair before she went to work,” Harrison said. “That’s the reason I went to hair styling school.”
Harrison has been cutting hair for 40 years. For about 20 of those years, he spent part of the week cutting hair in Pontotoc and the rest of the week in Tupelo, working for other people.
“Of course, you were on commission, so they couldn’t really tell you what to do,” he said.
Now, he owns Jim’s Hair Palace in Pontotoc. Washing, cutting and styling hair is an intimate job, he said. At times, he’s felt like a doctor, a lawyer and a psychologist, all rolled into one.
“We do more psychology than anything,” he said. “Some people are so lacking in hope when they come in here. They just need encouragement. I always try to cheer them up. If you can get people to start laughing, they feel so much better when they leave.”
In addition to cutting hair at his shop on Turnpike Road, Harrison visits a nursing home every Monday to offer his services.
“It’s so rewarding. Some of them have Alzheimer’s. Some of them have this and that. They just love to be talked to. They just love the attention, you know,” he said. “They want me to come around all the time, but you can’t. You can’t get it all done.”
Keeping busy
Next door to his hair salon is Jim’s Lily Pad Florist and Garden Center. He bought the business about four years ago, and it guarantees that Harrison stays busy. He arranges flowers and orders gift shop items.
“I’m in here at 6 in the morning and work until 6 or 7 at night. That’s six days a week,” Harrison said. “Some Sundays, I have to come back and do flower work when someone passes away.”
He’s got no shortage of hats to wear. On rare occasions, he’s called upon to wear nearly all of them at the same time.
“For one lady, I sang at her funeral. I did her flowers. I did her hair. I was a pallbearer,” Harrison recalled. “The only thing I lacked was preaching at the funeral.”
As a young man, Harrison realized he needed a job that kept him connected to other people. That decision has brought uncountable blessings into his life, he said.
“You get to help them through the times when they have troubles, trials and temptations,” he said. “Some of them get so close to you, they think of you as part of the family, and you think of them the same way.”
Harrison’s life and work are so intertwined that they’d be hard to separate – not that he’s planning to.
“I’m going to keep at it, good Lord willing. I’ll quit working when I’m 80. I always said I was going to quit working when I turned 80, then I might give all this to my grandchildren.” he said, and glanced around the shop. “Maybe.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.