A Cut Above: The Human Touch
Cathy Lewis has cut people’s hair for 31 years, helping “family” along the way.
Longtime barber hangs up her clippers, will be missed
I can’t speak for women (Lord knows I’ve learned my lesson over the years), but I’m told it’s the same – the relationship men have with the person who cuts our hair.
We find someone we like, and we stay with them – year after year after year. Eventually, they transition from being our barber to being like family. And we go from being their customer to being like their family.
I recently lost a family member. For years, I would text Cathy Lewis every couple of weeks, asking if she could get me in “today.” Most of the time, her answer was “yes.” But on a recent, random weekday, when I looked like a sheepdog with hair hanging over its eyes, Cathy told me she couldn’t get me in. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
The combination of a fall, a broken shoulder and the number 70 meant she had clipped her last strand of hair.
Here’s the deal. Going to see your longtime barber is like putting on your most comfortable – albeit worn to the threads – T-shirt. Comfortable. Relaxing. Enjoyable.
Now, I must find a new T-shirt, which, no matter the one, won’t be anything like the old T-shirt.
For 31 years, Cathy has cut the hair on the heads of the local rich, famous and regular folks like me. Doctors, lawyers, politicians. Many of them sat for Cathy during her 23 years at Bank Barbershop in downtown Shreveport. When Cathy moved to Broadmoor Barbershop on Youree Drive eight years ago, many of those people moved with her.
Including 87-year-old Henry Cantrell. “I think we are creatures of habit,” Cantrell told me, explaining why we stay with our barber so long. “I know I am. I go to the same grocery store. I go to the same drug store. I use the same doctors. … I’ve been married to the same ol’ woman for, I think this is 68 years going on. So, I’m a creature of habit.”
By age and how long they saw each other, Henry was Cathy’s oldest “family” member. There was that standing appointment – every third Saturday morning at 9:30. Over three-plus decades, there were a lot of haircuts and a lot of storytelling.
“We talked about our families,” Henry said.
“I knew who her girls were. We talked about our grandkids. We were just family.”
There’s a story about Cathy that Henry wanted me to know, and I want you to know. He had a friend, also one of Cathy’s regulars, who was in the nursing home and not doing well.
“She went out there and cut his hair, gave him a shave and cleaned him all up. He passed away about five days later. Of course, (Cathy) wouldn’t take a penny for it. I had just told her he was in the nursing home. She took it upon herself to go see him and cut his hair. How many barbers would do that?”
Cathy’s had a lot of 30-minute visits with her extended family over the years. Not only was she a barber. She was a counselor – marriage and otherwise.
“I’ve had customers who were getting a divorce. We would talk about their personal situation and their heartbreak. … I had a customer I got really close to who was having problems with a child. I had the same problem he had. I felt like we bonded, talking about children and grandchildren, because he had a rough time, and I did, too, at one point. I lost a daughter, and he lost a son. I feel like that was a special bond which brought us together.”
Cathy’s hair-cutting career hasn’t been adults-only. She’s cut many a child’s hair. But those cuts were much more stressful than when a grown-up was in the chair.
“Most of the time, if you just have to cut the child’s hair, and you don’t have the mother telling you how to cut the child’s hair, it’s not so bad. … After four or five haircuts, they’re fine. They get to know you. They sit there, and it’s great. But it can be very nerve-wracking. You’re so afraid you’re going to either cut them or cut you. You’re hoping if anybody gets cut, it’s you. You surely don’t want to cut them.”
Thinking about it all, Cathy says she’s “kind of lived my life backwards.” Married at 19, Mom at 21, and divorced at 38. She needed to “start a new career – a new life.” So, Cathy went to barber school, graduated and began cutting away.
More than 30 years of doing so took its toll physically. Lower back pain from standing on her feet eight hours a day, five days a week. She has shoulder pain from having her right arm raised and bent in half-hour increments.
“But I just popped a Tylenol and kept on going.”
Now she’s stopped. Cathy will enjoy retirement – finishing projects around the house and getting in some travel. Not only have the past few weeks been tough on me, Henry, and no doubt many others, they’ve been tough on Cathy. I could hear it in her voice.
“I’ve thought, ‘Golly, what am I going to do?’ I miss all these people.”
We miss you, too, Cathy. And I’m still looking for another comfortable T-shirt.