North Carolina Town's Longtime Barbershop Cutups Lawrence Anthony and David Shirley have spent the past 40 years cutting hair together in a Drexel, N.C., barbershop. Together, the two share memories of their fading town and tapering careers.
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North Carolina Town's Longtime Barbershop Cutups

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North Carolina Town's Longtime Barbershop Cutups

North Carolina Town's Longtime Barbershop Cutups

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In western North Carolina, a good haircut usually comes with a good story. So, it only seemed natural for the oral history project, StoryCorps, to travel to the little town of Drexel to record interviews at a local barber shop. People have been getting the long and short of it there for 60 years.

The barbers are known for being as skilled in conversation as they are for cutting hair.

(Soundbite of hair clippers buzzing)

Mr. DAVID SHIRLEY (Barber): My name is David Shirley.

Mr. LAWRENCE ANTHONY (Owner, Drexel Barber Shop): And I'm Lawrence Anthony. We're in Drexel, North Carolina.

Mr. SHIRLEY: In the back of Drexel Barber Shop.

Mr. ANTHONY: When I was about 18 years old, my daddy wanted me to take my little brother to the neighbors to get his hair cut. And the neighbor said I was drunk last night. Ain't no way I can cut hair. You'll have to do it. I said, I ain't never cut a head of hair in my life, ain't never touched clippers. He said, you go ahead and cut it. If you mess it up, I'll straighten it out.

I went ahead and cut my brother's hair. And got through - he said, well, that's better than I could do. So, he took his little hand clippers with comb and scissors and he said, here, I'm going to sell you these two for 50 cent. That's when I went in the barber business for 50 cent.

Mr. SHIRLEY: We have doctors and lawyers and judges and town drunks, and people that's got a million and probably owe a million. I remember a gentleman would come in and we would ask what type of haircut he wanted. And he said, well, cut one sideburn above my ear and leave the other one below and leave my alfalfa sticking up. And we would say, we can't cut your hair like that. And he said, why? That's the way you cut it last time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHIRLEY: Well, if they like it, tell them I cut it. If they don't like it, tell them Lawrence cut it.

I've been in and around barber shops all my life. There's a customer that I cut his grandfather's, his father's, his, his son's and his grandson's. I'm on the fifth generation, and they remind you that time has elapsed.

Mr. ANTHONY: Forty, 50 years ago, Drexel was a thriving little town. But for the last 40 years, with good management and terrible planning, we now have nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANTHONY: We've got the barber shop and there ain't much going on with Drexel no more. It's kind of just faded away. Try not to think about too much. It might make you feel sad.

Mr. SHIRLEY: When I think about retiring, I think, well, maybe just a little longer because I would hate to think of the time that I have to turn the key for the last time and walk off. As I get older, I think I'm a rich man - not dollar-wise necessarily; I don't mean that - but in memories and friends, I've been thoroughly blessed.

Thanks a lot.

Unidentified Man: Hope you like it.

Mr. SHIRLEY: Anytime, anytime. If you feel better, mission accomplished.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's David Shirley and Lawrence Anthony, who've been cutting hair for decades in Drexel, North Carolina. Their sons interviewed them for StoryCorps, which is heard on this program every Friday morning. Their interview will be archived in the Library of Congress. For the StoryCorps Podcast, go to NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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