John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

Latest birthday prompts consideration of changes

You ought to do something about your beard, she said recently, meaning about the color. Get rid of the white and gray. It would make me look younger, she assured me.

She’s right, of course. When I look in the mirror the reflection is returned wan and pale. I tell myself that it is an illusion, that the creature under the white whiskers is robust and vibrant.

She also forgets that I tried it once. Back when my trips to Batesville were far more infrequent and of shorter duration, she gave me the same advice and I took it. From the drug store I purchase that “No-Play-For-Mr.-Gray” stuff.

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Before I applied it, I trimmed my beard back considerably. Darkening increased with the amount of time that the coloring agent was left on, the directions said. They meant it.

I had imagined easing back into sort of a mixed brown/gray to match what hair is left on my head. No way. My whiskers had been turned dark brown. My options were to keep them as they had become or shave them off.

I kept them. On my next visit to Batesville, my children complimented my “summer trim,” and graciously spared me questions about the new, darker hue of my facial hair.

Of course, what “No-Play-For-Mr.-Gray” fails to mention is that Mr. Gray-Dyed-Away has to pay and pay to stay that way. Pretty soon the gray part had grown out behind the dark brown part of the whiskers and I found myself two-toned. To keep the gray covered required a dyeing regimen I refused to meet.

Besides, hadn’t I grown the beard in the first place as a low/no maintenance alternative to shaving? Somewhere back before the dawn of time, I just quit shaving and the beard grew. But as I aged, facial hair kept appearing further up my face and finally I started shaving to keep from looking like a weird wolf.

Contributing to that decision to buy a razor were the useless sprouts that continued to appear on my dome after sufficient of their numbers to keep it covered had long since disappeared. My shaving regimen, which began as a trim around the edges of my face, was extended to include the dome to crown.

I have resisted several times the urge to shave myself completely bald or to shave away my beard. The head hair left around the edges seems to assist the hat I wear on my head in mitigating extremes of cold. The hair on my chin seems to create the illusion that there is only one chin underneath.

Somewhere underneath all this is a birthday story. I mark my 60th today. I had been content with the foregoing rationalization about the state of my head and facial hair until several recent comments.

The first was Rosemary’s you-need-to-do-something.

Then, last week my brother and I went through the check out line at a local fast-food joint. My hair genes were, apparently, inherited from our father while his must have come from our granddaddy, Rupert Johnson.

When I got to the checkout clerk, she looked first at me and then to Rupert who was following me next in line.

Then she turned back to me and asked, nodding toward my brother, “Is he your son?”