Monday, September 7, 2015

Morning Rituals - Love's Fine Blade

A Man's morning shave ritual.  It's something that's been done for centuries, even in the days of rampant beards, a number of men preferring to remain clean shaven. My brother always had a beard. With his red hair, build, and height he very much resembled a Viking, until cancer took 120 pounds off his frame, tempering his blade, honing his spirit.

Dad tried to grow a mustache once. It was in the early 70's, and was less than successful.  Dad had fine, dark red hair that resulted in a mustache that came in thin and sparse. I remember my Mom looking at the final outcome and trying her darnedest not to giggle and failing. Dad looked at with a wry smile and shrugged and went back to the bathroom and shaved it off.  Mom wasn't trying to belittle his efforts, her love fluttered over all of us like small wings, whisking away tears, and brushing aside fears.  She treated Dad the same way, but oh dear Lord, was that a sorry looking mustache and even Dad, realized it.
So from that day forward, each and every morning, Dad was in the bathroom shaving. For most men, the morning shave is something they must do each and every day.  It's done whether there are a houseful of kids bustling around, or they are on their own.

I remember my Dad's ritual which remains to this day.  After he does his morning work-out (which he has done six days a week for 80 years), he'd go shave.  He never uses an electric razor or any of the shave creams in a can.  No, Dad always has a mug of fine soap, a high quality brush and a regular razor, with a straight razor when he wanted an extra close shave for a special occasion.

I remember vividly those winter mornings, all of us dressing quickly, not so much that the house was cold but hearts and blood and minds weren't quite awake yet and movement was with willful purpose until such time as the chocolate milk or the caffeine kicked in. Dad would come through the kitchen from where he worked out, giving my Mom a kiss, the morning sun highlighting the freckles on her face, then a kiss for each of us, still in our pajamas, our faces innocent of either guile or water.
While my brother and I tried to stay out of his way, he'd shave, the tiny half bath which was his bathroom, filling with steam. He was careful with the straight razor, pulling it over features as carefully as if they were oiled glass, rinsing the razor in hot water, as the dark stubble on his face brushed away like filings from a new gun barrel.  I simply watched from the kitchen table, carefully and quietly.  Dad was so intent in his task, before he even drew down that fine blade in its first stroke, his attention was almost perceptible in the air, surrounding him as fragrance does, leaving a subtle impression of his intent long before the act was complete.

When he was done, he'd finish as he started, with a clean washcloth doused in extra hot water, laid on his face to steam it.  Then he'd finish with a splash of aftershave.  There were only a few that he would wear.
Brut was beyond popular when I was growing up, one of the first to use a celebrity endorsement to persuade men that grooming wasn't for wimps.  Famed heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper was the original "face" of Brut, urging men to "splash it all over"long before David Beckham had his first shave.

Then there was the Hai Karate. My Dad had some of that and was supremely disappointed and used to tease my Mom that his bottle must have been a dud as he didn't have to fend of any super models with karate chops like on the commercials. I don't remember what it smelled like but I don't think he ever had to fend off Mom wearing it, though, come to think of it, once, when he put on too much, she drove a golf ball from the back yard through the back kitchen window with a Five Iron.

Dad gave that up for Old Spice which he has worn ever since, though once in a while he'd put on "Stetson" and give Mom this look and she'd giggle and we'd go stay with our beloved Aunt and Uncle for a couple of days.
When I go home now, Mom's giggling laughter but an echo in the walls, Dad gives me a big hug and I can still smell the Old Spice on his shirt, that "Dad" smell that's both reassurance and comfort.

Now, there's not just aftershave, there is cologne, shampoo, body washes, shampoo/body washes (and the difference is?)

Most advertise themselves to smell like "fresh glacier extinguishing a giant forest  fire full of deer in heat" or such things.  I think the perfect man natural scent would be some sort of mysterious combination of gun cleaning fluid, coffee, bacon, woodsmoke, and dark beer (with a slight undertone of 20 year old British Motor Car Wheel Bearing Grease.)  But I love Dad's Old Spice and the sandalwood scent my husband wears.
I'm happy my husband has much of the same ritual as my Dad, with the soap in a mug and the high quality brush. I get this bay rum soap from Horse Creek soap company in Colorado (friends of the Blogorado hosts) and cut a piece big enough for his mug, leaving a little chunk for hand soap. It smells incredible and lasts such a long time, with a soft, creamy lather. The bottom of the mug can be filled with hot water, so that the suds above stay warm, which makes a straight razer more effective.  As yes, my engineer husband often uses one, so it's a closer shave.

He shaves at night, after I've had my bubble bath, and as I curl up on the sofa with a splash of Scotch. he'll begin that ritual.  He's shaved in hundreds of hotels, in countries all over the world, the ritual much the same yet, there's something almost peaceful about the act performed in one's own bathroom, in one's own home, small rituals of sameness.
Many of us wander all over the world, the esteemed  and the obscure, the bold and the invisible, earning beyond the oceans our riches, our scars, and our destiny. But when we go home, we are rendering an account, we are sweeping away those things we picked up that pull us down, as we surround ourselves with the familiar, with that which is cherished.

When he is done, he'll join me on the couch in his bathrobe, his measure of Scotch already poured, the house quiet but for hundred year old sconces on the walls that lend the room an aura of timelessness.  We won't talk much but of family, of things in our home that need repair, or simply our day as we sit and stroke the flanks of an old black dog that lies besides us.  Such rituals are as fine as a blade, as comforting as stone. Shared, they are as bright and uplifting as the flash of sparks as dulled blade and stone meet.

Soon, I will leave my husband again, to make another trip to see my Dad.  I dread the changes I will see in his physicality and changes in his world. But in going home, when my frail Dad takes me in his arms in a big bear hug, he still smells like Old Spice, and I'm six years old again.
So much has changed, the house having seen both the lives and the deaths of my two Mom's, of my brother's presence that still thunders through the rooms, the walls still adorned with the medallions of his courage.  So much gone, swirled down the drain with past and present tears. But still, I look at the world as I did those long ago mornings, carefully and quietly. And when Dad gives me a hug, and I breathe deep a familiar scent, it is the same feeling I now have in my own home each night  In that moment of ritual, I'm at peace, safe, and loved, with a future that is too far away to fear.


  1. Beautifully said, and it's obvious he doesn't do carry on luggage... TSA et al would have a s**tfit, and arrest him for a straight razor in the bag! :-(

  2. Your post triggered memories. My Dad could shave with a straight razor, but he used one of those new double edge razors that opened up like upside down bomb bay doors. I carried a very similar razor away to boot camp, but I soon replaced it with one of those new twin bladed razors. I shaved with that type of razor until it was discontinued.

    Dad used a straight razor to cut patches for muzzle loading rifle shooting, and if I dig around a little in the muzzle loading gear, I think I can find that straight blade razor, then I will sharpen it and try a little shaving. If you read that a Philadelphia man had to be rushed to the hospital, you will know why.

  3. That one was very evocative of old scent memories. I never much liked the regular Old Spice, always preferred the lime version of it, which was discontinued in the 1990's. I too tried Stetson for a while during the 1980's when I was in the Navy. These days I drift from one scent to another, trying to find the one that I really like - - Ogalalla's "Bay Rum, Lime & Peppercorns" is pretty good, and not overly expensive. I usually keep a bottle of either Aqua Velva or Skin Bracer for use on work nights.

    As for Hai Karate? I'm old enough to remember the silly TV commercials; if you want to gift some to your hubby as a joke, it's for sale at the Vermont Country Store for $45 a bottle.

  4. What a wonderful life you have, Brigid!

    Just remember to hug your Dad back at least as hard....

  5. I don't know how you do this, capturing moments with words that we all somehow relate to., but I am so glad you do.

  6. Once again all I can think to say is a very soft " damn".

  7. My dad was Old Spice or Canoe...I always liked the Old Spice on him.

  8. I'm glad you still have the chance to hug your dad and - just for that moment - all is well with the world. It's a precious gift.

  9. There's nothing like a good, clean shave! For the person shaved or the person shavee adjacent.
    I've grown and shaved probably 20 beards/mustaches in my life, thus far. You've seen photos of the current effort - people are beginning to think I'm a Shiao Lin monk!
    Taught myself to shave with a straight razor. Unfortunately, doing so takes at least 45 minutes! So, I now resort to crappy 'safety' razors...


  10. That's a beautiful scuttle in the first picture.

  11. I tried that Hai Karate back in the day, but went back to old favorite, Aqua Velva and been using it every day since. Heard once they were going to quit making it and I was contemplating going back to the one before AV, Old Spice. Remember this,"Old Spice means quality said the Cap'n to the Bosun, so look for the package with the ship that sails the ocean!"

  12. I'm glad this one brought back so many memories. dave - I'm not sure where my husband got that, it appears hand made and he's had it for years.

    Everett - I'd never heard that! Most excellent.

    I'll be back Saturday - a lot of stuff still to load up for the drive. The bridge on 65 is open but since I'd already made a couple small loads in the truck (trailer not being an option with the detour madness), I'll just finish it out with a couple trips before I turn in the condo keys.

  13. Oh My, so well said. Hugs to your Dad. My dad uses Old Spice too.
    In a crowded venue, the other day, a cowman walked by me and must have been wearing Stetson... brought unbidden tears, it was The Cowman's favorite.


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