If you take a glance at the head shot accompanying this column you'll notice that the writer -- that would be me, of course -- is sporting a full beard that used to be a deep brown but turned mostly white at some point in the previous century.
People are constantly asking me why I decided to grow a beard. More specifically, I suppose, they want to know why I kept my beard. Most young men grow a beard at least once in their lives, just to experience the look -- not to mention getting a reprieve from shaving every day.
It's funny, you know. When I was a small child I would stand and watch my daddy shave, longing for the day that I had whiskers of my own, so I could emulate him by shaving them off. My daddy never used shaving cream as we know it today. He kept a mug and brush on the bathroom sink. Every morning he would sprinkle a little water onto the bar of shaving soap he kept in that mug and whip it into a frenzy with his soft bristled brush, and then use the brush to apply the lather to his face.
Then he would carefully shave with a Gillette "double safety razor." Shaving his face was a work of art for my father. He would lift his chin and stretch out his neck muscles so as to be able to eliminate every whisker. Then he would stretch and bow his upper lip and carefully shave the upper part, leaving just a thin strip of snow white mustache above his lip. He would then wash his face with cold water -- to close up the pores, he always insisted -- before drying it off with a warm towel and applying a liberal amount of Old Spice aftershave.
I couldn't wait to do that.
It was fun, too -- about the first five or six times. After that it quickly became a royal pain and for years I toyed with the idea of growing a beard, so as to be done with shaving altogether. A few times, on extended camping trips and such, I would go a week or three without shaving, and I genuinely liked the look. A few times I kept a beard for the whole summer. But then football season would come around and beards and coaching high school football didn't seem particularly harmonious back in those days, so I would always shave it off when two-a-days rolled around.
A great while back, however, I grew a full beard to play Simon Peter in an Easter production at our church. Yes, I was typecast. I am a lot like Simon Peter and I often blurt out exactly what I am thinking without fully engaging my brain. Sometimes it works out well.
At any rate, I liked the way I looked in the beard and decided to keep it and no one, including me, saw my chin for the next 20 years. I received some odd looks at first and my fair share of criticism. My lovely wife, Lisa, didn't like it because she said it made me look old and tickled when I kissed her. I told her that I was old and she could put up with being tickled twice a year. I kept my beard.
I thought it made me look more distinguished than old and besides, some of the greatest men in history wore beards. Jesus wore a beard according to every picture I have ever seen of him, and so did the aforementioned Simon Peter. They both walked on water. Robert E. Lee wore a beard, for goodness sakes, and so did Stonewall Jackson. I liked my beard and wore it proudly and never gave any thought to shaving -- until earlier this week.
On Thursday I had a gig at my church -- a luncheon and history seminar that I conduct once a month for about 250 of my closest friends and neighbors. This week I decided to portray my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. TR had a great mustache, but no beard. So Thursday morning, determined to stay in character, I shaved my beard. To my amazement, I still had a chin and losing my beard wasn't nearly as painful as I thought it would be.
When I came home from being Teddy Roosevelt I decided to shave the mustache, too -- just to see how I would look. Honesty compels me to admit that I kind of liked it. I looked younger without all that gray hair on my face, and when she got home from work and saw my newly shorn face Lisa was so shocked that she kissed me -- a whole week early since our Valentine's Day smooch wasn't due for another week.
There may be an advantage to being clean-shaven. I might decide to run for Congress or something and you don't see many politicians with beards. Besides, I like the smell of Old Spice. On the other hand, it might not take me long to get tired of shaving again and, after all, Robert E. Lee did wear a beard.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.