I shaved my face the first week of June.
I can’t easily explain why, but it wasn’t a spontaneous decision. I’d wrestled with it for months. I know some men routinely alternate between clean-shaven and Duck Dynasty faces. Whiskers or no whiskers, it’s not a big deal.
For me, it was and it is. I worried that shaving would cause a bit of confusion among family who had never seen me without whiskers.
I had not been without a mustache, beard, or both, for about 40 years.
Martha, my bride of nearly 24 years, had never seen me sans whiskers, except in old photographs; neither had any of my grandchildren.
I first sported a mustache while in college in the late 1960s. I shaved in early 1971 — just before Dee and I married, somewhat of a shock for her, but (luckily) not a game-changer — and I remained smooth-faced while in the U.S. Air Force.
By 1975, though, I again had a fuzzy upper lip, and in 1977 — when heading off to graduate school— I grew a full-blown beard. By 1979, the 31-year-old editor of the Buffalo Reflex, I began to wonder what I looked like under all that growth, so I again went naked-faced — for less than a month.
From thereon, I sported facial hair, watched it turn from curly brown to scraggly gray , and wondered now and then what other changes were going on underneath all that bushy exterior.
I was reluctant to come out of hiding, though, for the sake of my grandkids, and I worried Martha might think a stranger was in the house.
But, at last I rationalized, “It’s my face and I’ll do what I want with it,” and if I didn’t like it, I knew whiskers could reappear fully in just a few weeks.
And, so, maybe they will, or maybe not. Three months into it, I’m becoming more and more used to this baby face, though it does give me bit of start when I look in the mirror.
It’s not quite the same as I remember it in my 20s. I think I look kind of funny. When did all these creases and those sagging jowls happen?
Maybe the question now should not be why I shaved my whiskers, but why I grew them in the first place. The answer is complicated. I’m not sure I can explain it, because I never gave thought to “why” when I shunned my razor. I just did it because I could.
Maybe I was inclined to emulate some of my favorite characters, from Grizzly Adams to Louis L’Amour’s Sackett brothers. Besides, in the late 1960s, mustaches were as much a part of male attire as bell-bottom boot jeans.
For me, personally, I reckon I was emulating my alter-ego even years before I knew him — that 1870s plainsman I followed in my weekly newspaper column, Jubal Buzzard. I reckon it’s no coincidence, either, that Jubal looked a lot like my favorite writer — Ernest Hemingway — with his white whiskers.
But, I have to admit I’m no Hemingway, and I left Jubal standing in the middle of the street in Deadwood, South Dakota, more than 20 years ago. He may yet be there, but I’m not.
I’m just the guy in the mirror now. The old Jim’s come out of hiding, except for a few wrinkles.
But, that’s not to say Jubal won’t ever come around again. He grew up right near here, if you recall —same as me. So, you might keep your eyes peeled. If ever winter drives him out of the Black Hills …