All trimmed up

48 years ago, three days after our wedding, I shaved off my beard. I had been hired to work at a production bakery that produced bread for a huge geographical region. I spent the summer loading racks of bread onto semi trucks that delivered the bread to stores in a six state area. Although my job in the warehouse didn’t involve any handling of food that wasn’t already sealed in plastic bags, the standard in the bakery was that workers wore hair nets. It might have been possible to wear a hair net on my chin, but it was impractical. The obvious solution was to shave the beard. I needed that job. I had just gotten married and I was a college student without any savings. When asked, during the interview, if I would shave my beard in order to work at the bakery, my answer was, “yes.” In September, when I had finished that job and returned to school as a full-time student, I grew my beard back.

That was the last time I was clean shaven. I’ve worn a beard ever since. That means that my children have never seen me without a beard. None of the congregations I have served, including the one I served as a licensed minister that year, ever saw me without a beard. I have not, however, been one for a long beard. I have kept my beard trimmed. That means that I shave part of my cheeks and my neck nearly every day, just like men who are clean-shaven do. Over the years, I have grown accustomed to jokes about not having to shave, but fashion and my own hubris dictate that I need a razor wherever I go.

For many years, I have had barbers trim my beard to keep it the length I like. I also get my mustache trimmed. My beard grows faster than the hair on the top of my head, of which I have very little these days, so my usual practice is to trim my beard myself in-between haircuts and have it trimmed every six weeks or so when I get a haircut.

All of that changed with the Covid-19 pandemic. I had my beard trimmed in February of 2020 and from that point on, I trimmed it myself. Even when we were able to return to barber shops wearing face masks after procedures were developed and refined to provide for the safety of the workers and customers, I couldn’t have my beard professionally trimmed because I had to keep the face mask on.

So yesterday was a kind of a special day for me. For the first time in over a year I got my beard professionally trimmed. There is a barber shop within walking distance of our home where the workers are all fully vaccinated and where fully vaccinated customers can remove their masks and have their beards trimmed. The shop employs students from a local beauty college and I thought it was possible that the student who cut my hair might not have ever gotten to trim a beard, but she seemed to know what she was doing and she did a good job. I can’t seem to get the same good results as a professional. It is more than a lack of training, it has to do with hand-eye coordination using a mirror. I also have trouble aiming a hand mirror correctly to see the back of my head in the wall mirror after a hair cut. I can back up a trailer using the mirrors on my truck, but I can’t seem to trim a straight line on my beard looking at a mirror.

Yesterday, then, was a kind of a tiny celebration and an acknowledgement that we may be moving beyond the most restrictive part of the pandemic. People are still wearing face masks quite a bit around here and masks are required in some neighboring counties regardless of one’s vaccination status. We wore masks while riding the ferry and whenever we went into a building during our recent visit to San Juan Island.

Checking myself out in the mirror, I still don’t have much hair on the top of my head. I’m still an aging man. I’m not much to look at, but I feel a bit better with my hair cut and my beard neatly trimmed. It feels good.

Here is another sign that we have emerged from the depths of the pandemic. There are boxes of disposable face masks in impulse bins at the check out stands of many local stores. I saw boxes of 25 masks for $4.95 at the hardware store recently. At the height of the pandemic, they were selling packages of 5 masks for $6.95. Even more impressive was a “one free with any purchase of $5 or more” hand sanitizer at a local drug store. A year ago hand sanitizer was a precious commodity. I remember when a local brewery started making hand sanitizer and donated a few gallons to the Sheriff’s Office where I worked as a volunteer chaplain. We were all using hand sanitizer every time we went into and out of the break room or the briefing area, which meant that the office was going through a lot of the product and shortages had caused the price to rise dramatically. Stores were limiting quantity for customers. Now, apparently, they’ve become over stocked and are literally giving the stuff away to get it out of the store.

Supply chain issues are still being used as the reason for higher prices on some items, and several local stores have signs about potential shortages, but we haven’t had any troubles obtaining any of the household items we use. In the early days of the pandemic, a lot of attention was paid to shortages of toilet tissue, but we never ran short. We had our usual supply and bought small packages when they were available and had no trouble, other than paying a slightly higher price.

The beard trim, by the way, was not expensive. I get a senior citizen’s discount at the barber shop. In fact, it was about the same price as my last hair cut without a beard trim. Maybe the students need the experience after more than a year of pandemic.

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