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INSKEEP: It is Friday morning, which means it is now time for StoryCorps. This week we hear from Earl Reynolds who recorded an interview with his daughter Ashley. He told her about his childhood in Roanoke, Virginia where his father had a barbershop called The Virginia Sanitary Barber Shop.
Earl grew up shining shoes in that barbershop. And one day while Earl was working, a tour bus rolled up to a theater nearby. The doors opened and out stepped James Brown.
EARL REYNOLDS: He immediately walked over to my dad's barbershop, and he just started shaking hands and talking to people. And he looked down at me, and he said, you must be the bootblack. In barbershop vernacular, that is, you shine shoes. And he said, welcome on back here and shine my shoes. Of course, his shoes were already shined; he was immaculate, from head to toe.
So I went through the process of re-shining his shoes, and he got off the shoeshine stand, and he handed me a $5 bill. And he told me that back in his hometown, he started out shining shoes. And he said it's an honorable profession. It's good work. You just need to think about now what else you want to do with your life. That was my first step along to my education.
I know that your granddaddy was counting on me to take over the barbershop. You know, I'm his son - his only son - and he was grooming me for that. But one day I had this big announcement to make to your granddaddy, that I wanted to go to college, and not take over the barbershop.
So I finally got the nerve to talk to him about it. And for months, your granddaddy did not speak to me. That's how big his disappointment was. I applied to colleges and universities on my own; I had to learn how to fill out the forms on my own. And I got a letter from Fayetteville State Teachers College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, saying that we'd like for you to come.
I remember piling into your Uncle James' station wagon, and they took me down there and dropped me off. And I watched them drive away. And I said, OK, now what are you going to do?
I was fortunate to graduate in the top of my class and Granddaddy came to graduation. Well, as you know, one of his famous sayings was, life is a process of adjustment. So when your late grandma told me he was coming, I knew that we had reconciled. We had finally bridged that gap.
INSKEEP: Earl B. Reynolds with his daughter Ashley in Roanoke, Virginia. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. And the Podcast is at npr.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T BE A DROPOUT")
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