05/24/10 — Much more than a wash 'n cut

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Much more than a wash 'n cut

By Laura Collins
Published in News on May 24, 2010 1:46 PM

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Troy Herring

News-Argus reporter Laura Collins shampoos customer Sylvia Weatherly's hair before she receives a haircut as hairstylist Rhea Featherston gives instructions and offers advice on washing hair.

The Job: Hair stylist

The Company: Nails 'N More

The Location: Goldsboro

I think I've finally found a job I could get used to.

Spending the day with Rhea Featherston, a hairdresser at Nails 'N More on Spence Avenue, was like a mini-vacation for me. Though that's likely because I didn't have to do any of the work. Since I'm not a licensed cosmetologist, I wasn't allowed to work on anyone's hair, but I was allowed to sweep up hair after a cut and I did do one shampoo, with the customer's permission. Scissors and dye were kept very far away from me, and with good reason. I have childhood Barbies with mullets and Troll Dolls with buzz cuts that would advise against me helping.

So I spent most of the day watching Mrs. Featherston in action, and it was exhausting just to watch. She had back-to-back appointments from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and I discovered that had I been allowed to do her job for her, two things would have likely happened:

1. Most of my evening appointments would have been canceled so that I could take a nap after being on my feet all day. Mrs. Featherston has the energy of a small puppy. I do not.

2. Her regular customers would have tarred and feathered me. When it comes to their hair, nothing was coming between them and Mrs. Featherston.

Three ladies from Warsaw are regulars. They are like the younger, more sprightly version of the Golden Girls, and they made it very clear that Mrs. Featherston was the only one for them.

"I wouldn't go to anyone else," said Sandie Casey, a 25-year customer. "If I moved away, I'd still come back here. We've discussed that."

Her friend Melba Bowles, who comes in once a week, said it's more than just an appointment at the beauty parlor.

"When you get a bunch of us in here, it's kind of like group therapy," she said.

Once they're in her chair, customers talk about anything and everything. The conversations covered the best biscuits in town, cooking meatloaf with dried oatmeal instead of bread crumbs and pot belly pigs as pets, among many other topics. Mrs. Featherston has seen people through marriages, divorces, the birth of children and grandchildren and graduations.

"Some people started coming in because they needed to talk. And people have told others to come to me because I've been through similar situations," she said. "It's not always about the hair, it's about so much more. It's about people."

And a recent tragedy showed Mrs. Featherston that her care for her customers is mutual. Almost two weeks ago her father died unexpectedly. The outpouring of love and support from her customers was uplifting, she said.

"We've become a family. I know about theirs and they know about mine," she said. "They knew about my father and they grieved with me. And I consider that an absolute blessing."

It's interesting for me to hear about people's relationships with their hairdresser. Many of us develop an attachment that is hard to break. Even after moving more than two hours away for college, I would still make the drive to see my hairdresser -- but I had the added benefit that mine was my sister. When it finally became apparent that I needed to find someone a little closer, it was like going through a breakup. And I've heard similar stories from other women. We're hesitant about getting back in the game, searching for a new stylist that will not only make us look nice, but will also listen to our stories, laugh at our jokes and more than anything else, give us a nonjudgmental ear to talk to.

The job of a hairdresser is so much more than styling hair. For many of us they become self-esteem boosters, therapists, listeners, friends and family.