Merial Stromberg sits at her dining room table, talking about hair.
She has a ready smile and strong hands, and is quick to point out she never thought she’d end up braiding hair for a living, though she’s been doing it since she was eight years old.
“It was my hobby. It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she explained.
As a little girl, Stromberg didn’t like the way her mother styled her hair. So she would change it on her way to school, then change it back before she got home.
As she got older, she would braid her friends’ and cousins’ hair, but still resisted making a living off her skill. Then one day, a friend of her father told her she was too good to braid hair as a hobby.
“He said, ‘You do it so good, why don’t you just do it?’” she recalled, adding she was too young and too busy to take him seriously.
“When you’re young, you don’t believe in anything,” she laughed.
Stromberg was born in St. Lucia, a Caribbean island south of Martinique and northwest of Barbados, where she met her husband, Guy Stromberg. She has been living in Fort Frances for six years now—and enjoys it.
“I love it here. People are very nice and easy to get along with,” she remarked.
When she first came to Canada, Stromberg sometimes braided her husband’s nieces’ hair. “I had that feeling of home again,” she said.
She sometimes would get comments from people on the street who admired her hair, and some who asked if she could do theirs. After a while, she grew to love braiding hair.
“I felt the more I did it, it was like a therapy to me. I can think at the same time, and just let go.”
Stromberg can braid hair in various ways, from straight braids to corn rows, to long and colourful extensions.
She said it’s difficult to put a price on her work. A lot depends on the length and thickness of the hair, as well as how complicated the style. As a rough estimate, she said shoulder-length hair of medium thickness in straight braids would cost about $60—and take about three hours to do.
Braiding hair has given Stromberg a chance to meet new people and to learn more about her adopted country.
“You get all these young people and they talk with you about Canada and Fort Frances. Just doing hair has let me learn about Canada,” she laughed.
People often ask her how she learned to braid hair, or if her hands get sore.
Stromberg said she just learned by doing. “It’s not something you go to school to learn,” she remarked.
“My fingers never hurt,” she added, though it sometimes can take up to five hours to do her own hair, depending on what she wants done. “I just enjoy doing hair.”
Word of Stromberg’s magical fingers has spread as far as Winnipeg and Minneapolis, where she has occasional customers.
“People want different things,” she noted. If someone wants extensions, for instance, she has to order them ahead of time.
Some people want braids for a special occasion, some before they go away on vacation, she said. And some mothers bring their little girls in to have their hair braided for the summer so they don’t have to deal with it during those months.
Stromberg added she’s never met anyone whose hair she couldn’t braid. “Only if it’s too short,” she noted.
She has two children, Serena, eight, and Adam, five, and she braids their hair, as well. Stromberg told herself when she had her daughter, “I will give her all the styles my mother never gave me.”
Like her mother at her age, Serena loves to get her hair styled, and she hopes she’s inherited her mother’s talent to do it herself one day.
Anyone interested in having Stromberg braid their hair can call her at 274-8557.