Who We're Meeting: Nadyne Nelson
What She Does: Full-time barber
EH: How long have you been cutting hair here at Emile’s?
NN: It'll be 8 years in July.
EH: Who hired you?
Emile. I was always looking at the want ads. I remember I had had Lyme's disease and I wasn't feeling too good. I wanted to stop doing a lot of the "extra" hair stuff. I was also teaching at Bullard-Havens Technical School part-time.
Emile (LeReau, the owner) said he needed to interview a few more people, but we sat and talked awhile longer and by the time we were done, he said I had the job.
EH: Why do you think he hired you?
NN: I think maybe because I had a lot of clientele -- I came with my list. I didn't need to be trained. I could just step in and do what I needed to do.
(I turn to Emile and ask him "So why DID you hire her?" He answers quick, and matter of fact:)
EL: "Her looks. And her figure! She still don't know how to cut hair." (They crack up.)
EH: Why a barber shop and not a salon?
NN: I used to work at Metro Hair, in Stationhouse Square. This was a great change, because I was looking for something low-key and less stressful. All those perms and colors and the chemicals, that's what got me away from the salon.
EH: How long have you had dreadlocks?
NN: Had them for 20 years, minus 3 feet. I had to cut them because they were getting to be a hassle. It was taking too long to wash them.
EH: Have you ever helped any of your clients here with dreadlocks?
NN: Sure. I had one young man who had dreadlocks and he didn't know how to maintain them. He was walking by one day and he came in. I cut his hair even after the dreadlocks. He's serving in Afghanistan now, so no dreadlocks anymore. If I ever go into the army, they'd have to take me with my dreadlocks.
EH: So it's mostly guys around this place all day, though you do have women in now and then. What do these guys talk about all day long?
NN: Mainly I would say conversation is based around food. All types of food, even gourmet. But mainly desserts more than anything else, cheesecakes and cookies.
There is one gentleman who brings me cookies. He sells them to support his grandchildren in college. So it's good, because I can get my sweets and help support those kids.
EH: Have you always lived in the area?
NN: I've lived in Bridgeport for 34 years. My family moved to here from North Carolina.
We ended up here because my grandmother's first husband was MIA. They found him at Veteran's Hospital in West Haven. He had no memory and no legs. That's how we ended up here. My aunt moved up here first, in the 70s, and it was 1980 when my mom and my sister and I moved here.
Now I have one daughter, 25, and she lives down in North Carolina. She works at an orphanage. Those are "her kids."
I was married for 17 years and have been divorced for 12 years. I have 7 stepchildren -- one even older than me! -- ranging in age from 43 to 10 years old. They live all over the place. And I have one grandson that I hang out with. His name is Manny.
EH: What do you like to do? You know, for fun.
NN: I like to dance.
EH: Like ballroom dancing?
NN: I do like ballroom OK, but mostly I like hip-hop dancing.
EH: What's the key to a great haircut?
NN: Knowing what your customer wants. Listening -- not just hearing -- what he says.
Some I just know, even with a new customer. I ask a few basic questions, especially about their last haircut. If it was too short or too long.
Most people aren't up for change with their hair. It's about giving people what they want. What I want doesn't matter here.
EH: What do people not know about you?
NN: What DON'T they know? If I say that I'm single, I am going to be in trouble. People are going to be popping up asking me for dates all the time. That I like motorcycles? I don't know. What do you think, Jack? (She asks her client. He says: "What I'd say you can't print!")
I am pretty much an open book. Oh, I know! I EAT a lot. Right, Emile?
EH: What is your favorite food?
NN: I love soul food, though the only time I can get it is when I cook it myself. I love to eat Italian food. I went to recently -- a new place. It was really good. My favorite cuisine is probably Italian.
EH: Do you plan to stay here, or would you go back to North Carolina?
NN: If I ever leave, say, if I retire or leave the state, I will definitely go to Jamaica. I love it there. I try to go there as often as possible.
(I ask these same questions to .)
EH: If you could do or be anything else, what would it be?
NN: A physician's assistant. Because I have this thing with healing. Even when my grandson gets sick, he comes to me!
EH: You've worked in Stratford a long time. You hear all the talk and complaining. What one thing would you change about Stratford if you could?
NN: Hmmm….. Probably Walmart! There is just something about that place. The Stratford Walmart is something. The people that work there don't seem to have a clue that they are at work. I go all the way to Shelton, because for some reason, I just can't get in and out of there. Not that I always want to rush out, but I don't want to have to fight get out.
EH: What one word would your friends use to describe you?
NN: Can I call my friend to ask her? (She thinks and clips her client's hair.) I guess I always am getting in trouble for giving stuff away.
EH: So, like 'generous to a fault'?
NN: Yeah. Like that. I feel that if I get something extra, it was meant for me to give it away. I try to be as selfless as possible. It does backfire on me sometimes. But I figure, if you need it, you need it.
"Hyper" is another word they use. (She laughs.)
EH: Thanks, Nadyne.
Nadyne Nelson works at (203.375.5751). She takes appointments, or you can walk in, take a seat and wait.
Emile LaReau and his brothers Paul, Frank, and Al have been in business as barbers in the Stratford and Devon area for 70 years. Their father was a barber too. Their brother, Larry, is an engineer. He's the one, Emile says, who "flunked barber school."
If you are ever feeling bored or lonely, sitting for a spell in Emile's might just be the perfect cure.
Writer Elizabeth Howard looks for the details, and works to let them tell our stories. She writes poetry, essays and series online, and on her Olivetti Lettera. She lives with her family in Stratford. if you have a great idea for a future "Have you Met...?"