Editor's note: This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.
KIRKSVILLE — Don't be surprised if Ashley Glover greets you with a hug the first time you meet her.
She's the type of person who's never met a stranger. She takes forever to finish her grocery shopping because she stops and chats with everyone she knows. She calls her clients at Salon Nouveau "darlin'" or "honey" if they've been coming to her for a while.
This past St. Patrick's Day, Glover made a small multicolored top hat out of hair extensions she had around the house. After donning a black T-shirt with the words "My name is Lucky" on it, she secured the hair-hat with a green polka-dot bow and wore it to work. It's just one of the ways she's come up with to showcase her abilities and follow her "you-have-to-wear-it-to-sell-it" marketing strategy.
At 25, Glover is a fascinating blend of dreamer and doer, optimist and pragmatist. The dreamer in her has visions of singing on the "big stage" in front of thousands of fans who know every word to her songs. The doer in her goes to work in the salon so she can take care of her daughter and fiance, while saving for a debt-free future. The optimist believes she can get what she wants in life. The pragmatist is careful how she defines those wants.
Glover is among the generation of young Americans who grew up with a sense of limitless possibility, then slammed into the reality of a shaken economy and adult responsibilities. But Glover sees her current situation more as a detour than a destination. And she feels she's in charge of the journey.
"Sometimes you have to let go of the dreams that you thought were the things that you wanted in life so that you can move on and get to your bigger purpose — what you really feel like you're here to do," she says.
For her, that purpose is steeped in her music.
Singing from childhood
Glover is the youngest of three girls and a self-described "go-getter."
She grew up singing in church and became comfortable performing in front of a crowd at an early age. In high school, she was involved in theater and cheerleading.
Just being involved wasn't enough — she wanted to lead. Glover believes that if she's going to do something, she has to be the best at it. When she tried out for school musicals, it was always for a lead role. As a cheerleader, she had to be the captain.
"I just pushed until I got there," she says. "I put in my best effort, and it usually paid off."
Her mother, Sandra Williams, grew up on a farm in Novinger, just outside of Kirksville. Her father, John Williams, is from the Gifford/La Plata area and is the youngest of six kids. He dropped out of high school at 15 to work in his father's auto repair shop and later worked at the family's sawmill. He worked in a paper factory while Glover was growing up.
In spite of the lack of opportunities presented to him in his youth, Glover describes her father as the "biggest dreamer" in her family.
"He never quits," she says. "That's just the kind of person he is. You would never think that he didn't have everything he ever wanted in life — and I think he really does."
She credits him with showing his children that they could do whatever they want — and achieve anything — if they're willing to work for it.
After hearing Glover sing a love song she'd written about her first high school boyfriend at age 15, her father gave her money to work with a few local musicians and record a CD. Her family also pushed her to enter a local pageant, which she won, that led to her biggest concert to date — opening for the Northeast Missouri Fair in 2003.
"They've always tried to get me to do something with my music," she says. "They believed in me when I didn't believe in myself."
On her 17th birthday, her parents took her on a scouting trip to Nashville, Tenn. It was meant to encourage her to pursue a music career. They even managed to arrange a meeting with someone in the business who could look at her work.
The plan backfired.
"It was the scariest thing that I had ever seen — to see so many people who could sing just as good as I could, who could write just as good as I could," Glover says. "They were on every street corner, working in every restaurant."
The trip raised doubts not only about her abilities, but about the lifestyle, she says. It left her asking the question: "If I can't go big, then what's the point?"
Pursuing a second dream
Glover grew up harboring a second dream — to someday have a relationship like her parents, who have been married for almost 35 years and are still "ridiculously in love — the kind of love everybody wants," she says.
But like her music, the road from dream to reality hasn't proved direct.
After high school, Glover moved to Columbia for a year to try out life in a bigger city. When she decided to move back home at the end of 2005, a "nice, sweet guy" she had met followed her. They dated for a couple months, then got engaged. Six months later, they were married — one month shy of her 20th birthday.
She decided that since she couldn't fulfill her music dream on a grand scale, she would focus on building a family. She went to cosmetology school. She embraced the role of wife. She followed, instead of led.
Over the course of the next four years, the dream unraveled.
She and her husband grew apart, both unhappy with where things were going. Their relationship looked nothing like the one that had been modeled by her parents. So when doctors gave them the news that Glover likely wouldn't be able to conceive on her own, there was little holding the couple together. They divorced in January 2010.
Glover found it both devastating and freeing.
"I was trying so hard to fulfill that role," she says, "that once it was gone, it was like, 'OK, now I can just step out and be me again.'"
A new reality
As her marriage was crumbling, Glover went back to writing music and singing in church. It was a form of therapy, she says — her "escape"
After the divorce, she started performing around the Kirksville area again and seemed to be gaining some traction with her music. She even received money from local investors to produce a music video for a song she wrote after her divorce, called "Hysteria."
It was during that time that she reconnected with a high school classmate, Cliff "Greenjeans" Corbin.
In school, he was the quiet kid who fell through the cracks while his parents were going through a messy divorce. At 15 he dropped out and got into the music scene. He spent much of the time at the Aquadome — a music venue in Kirksville — playing shows and hanging out with friends. He figured he could learn more about music and management from being "out there" than he could in the classroom.
Now 26, Corbin is a laid-back guy who loves wearing tie-dye shirts, cracking jokes and playing any musical instrument he can get his hands on. He prefers piano and guitar, but he doesn't pass up the chance to make music whenever the opportunity presents itself.
"We both enjoy singing," he says. "That's a huge connection we've had right from the beginning."
They happened to be at the same bar one night and were reintroduced. Glover invited Corbin to a band practice she was having the following day for a benefit concert. They fell into an easy relationship, going to bars and clubs to play music, playing until the early morning hours, not worrying about much beyond the next day's gig.
That ended abruptly about a year into their relationship, when Glover heard the words she had given up on: She was pregnant. The couple's carefree lifestyle came to an abrupt halt.
"I didn't have a choice," Glover says. "I was pregnant. I was in that family mode. I wanted something more stable."
She gave Corbin an ultimatum: Step away from the music scene for the sake of their child or the relationship was finished.
She didn't expect him to agree. Corbin has two other children, ages 8 and 3, from previous relationships. But now he felt ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood and wanted something more substantial to show for his life.
Quinley was born last December. Glover and Corbin got engaged the following February.
Since Quinley was born, Corbin has played only one show. His primary role these days is that of stay-at-home dad.
The arrangement works well for the couple. With Corbin at home, they avoid the cost of day care. Glover works 40 to 50 hours a week at the salon and brings in about $30,000 a year, which covers their basic expenses. They do without cable TV and Internet access and use their income tax refund to pay big bills up front — like auto insurance — for an entire year.
"I make sure that our bills are paid, that we have a place to live, that there's a roof over our heads and that there's food," Glover says. "I'm willing to do that if he's willing to help me take care of (Quinley) and our house."
Corbin's days are spent making up baby bottles, changing diapers, cleaning house, doing laundry — and watching "The View." The change is worth it, he says, for the long-term investment he gets to make in his daughter's life.
"The way I treat her every day — every minute of every day — molds into something that's going to be solid for the rest of her life," Corbin says. "That's what I love most about full-time care — you make a million influences into their lives every day."
That choice doesn't come without some costs. A job at the greenhouse at Truman State University opened recently, and Corbin really wanted to apply. But it didn't make financial sense.
"I hate that, but we just can't afford to do it that way," Glover says. "It's cheaper for me to work and pay our bills and pay his child support and do all of that than for him to have a job."
Life at the salon
Salon Nouveau might not have been Glover's life dream, but it certainly suits her.
When you walk through the door of the little white house on South Baltimore Street, it feels like home. The warm brick-red walls and black furniture are professional but inviting. Customers are greeted with smiles or hugs — just like family.
The salon offers everything from roller sets to razor cuts, hair extensions to highlights, French manicures to full leg waxes. On any given day, it could be filled with teenagers waiting to get an updo for a school dance, moms whose husbands sent them in for a bit of pampering or dads who brought all of their kids in for a much-needed trim.
Glover has worked here with owner Jessie Austic for a little more than a year. The two met while they were both in cosmetology school at Hair Academy 110.
Working with hair has been as constant as music in Glover's life. She was 8 years old when she gave her sister Mary, who was a sophomore at the time, an updo for prom. Later she'd have highlighting parties with her friends and practice cuts, color and perms on anyone who would let her. She started learning new techniques — such as how to do extensions — because she wanted them, but her family couldn't afford to pay for her to go to a salon.
"I'm all about the weave. Gotta have the weave," she jokes as she flips her hair over her shoulder. At the moment it's mid-back length, medium brown on top with three shades of blond highlights below — what's called "the ombre" in the hair world.
She loves the fact that she is able to use her creativity to bring big and small transformations to her clients.
"It changes the way people feel about themselves," Glover says. "Women come in who are attractive, but don't see themselves as such. I change one little thing, and they think they look like a totally different person. No, they were always that person, they just didn't see it."
The salon is also a place where women gather to share their lives — from the latest weddings or births to how they're dealing with the loss of a loved one. Moms receive words of encouragement as they talk about the struggles of raising children on their own. Husbands seek counsel on how to make up for a wrong move they've made with their wives.
Clients come from all over the region. Taylor Overstreet, a freshman at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, drives an hour each way once a month to have Glover add extensions to her platinum blond hair. A friend from school who also comes to the salon for a weave introduced her to Glover about a year ago.
"I got one before coming to her, and it was a really bad job — it broke off a lot of my hair," Overstreet says. "Ashley spent two days fixing it. She took better care of it and now my hair's growing and coming back to normal. I definitely trust her with my hair."
As Overstreet sits in a refurbished black swivel chair, Glover asks how school's going and for an update on the boy she's been dating. As they talk, Glover sews wefts of hair into tiny horizontal cornrows on the back of Overstreet's head.
The salon is a symphony of quiet conversation, laughter and friendly banter, played to the backdrop of soft country music and accentuated by the occasional roar of a hair dryer. It gets so busy some days that Glover snacks on string cheese between clients because there's no time to stop for a proper lunch. Since it's often been just Glover and Austic, there's not usually time for walk-ins, so they regularly have to turn clients away.
Austic says that when she opened the salon in 2008, people expected her to fail. The economy was heading into a free fall, and several longtime salons were struggling to survive. But she and Glover have defied the odds through a combination of determination, hard work and personalized service.
"Their satisfaction in the services you render and your satisfaction in helping them — not just with their appearance, but also with what's going on in their life, watching them grow and seeing the changes that they experience — it's an amazing thing," Austic says.
Business has been so good that Salon Nouveau recently moved to a larger space, renovating an existing salon in a way that preserved the family-style atmosphere. Services have expanded to include facials, massage therapy and spray tanning. Three new cosmetologists have joined the salon, meaning customers are no longer turned away.
Dreams for the future
As the salon expands, so does Glover's role. She continues to offer new services and next year plans to switch from commission to booth rent. She'd like to do hair shows and possibly teach someday.
Lately, her dreams have expanded, too, and now include owning a home. The family recently moved from a duplex to a nice little three-bedroom house with a big backyard. But Glover has a five-year plan to save up enough money to buy a home of her own — with cash.
"I don't do debt," Glover says. "I could afford a house payment and have a house right now, but who's to say that one day someone can't take it away from me? And then, what was it for?"
Her voice gets passionate and her speech a bit hurried as she cites her family's past financial struggles. She talks about her father losing the job he held for 20 years when his factory closed. She describes the house she grew up in that her parents bought "for cheap," renovated, then were forced to sell so they wouldn't default on their mortgage. She tells of a sister who had to file for bankruptcy.
At the salon, she has clients who talk about losing a home, losing a spouse or losing a child.
"I'm in a job where it's a constant reminder," she says. "It's taught me a different way to get the things that I want so that I can hold on to them. So everything that I own I want to be able to pay for it in cash, and have it and then it's mine and no one can take it from me. If I'm gonna own it, then I'm gonna earn it and then own it."
One thing she still owns, despite the detours, is the dream of doing something big with her music. For now, she doesn't perform in public, other than filling in occasionally on the worship team at Christ Family Church. But it's something she wants to work her way back to, something she feels she owes the people who have encouraged her and believed in her talent. Even beyond that, music is a part of her core.
"That part of me never dies," she says. "Sometimes I wish I could turn it off, but I can't. I'm always gonna want to sing, whether it's in church on Sunday or on a stage somewhere. I'm always gonna want to have it."
But dreams, she has found, come in their own time and their own way. So for now, Glover sings to Quinley.