With Whiskers Or Without?

A GENTLEMAN who operates a store here in Maine recently ruled that his clerks must be cleanshaven, explaining that some customers had complained about the haystack appearance of certain boys behind the counters. He later revoked his command, yielding to one boy who felt his freedom of choice had been torpedoed and that he was the victim of a vicious discrimination that would set the New World Order back into the dim days of Ptolemy and ptyrannical ptaskmasters. Political nicety doth thus make cowards of us all, and if you don't like unkempt whiskers you can take your trade across the street.

Every day, somebody does something that causes thee and me some concern, some anguish, some bother, some disgust, and if we dare to suggest that we are unhappy, every judge on the Supreme Court rises in his/her robes of wrath and tells us we are discriminating. I do not know if this storekeeper has lady clerks or not. If he does not, I hope some Auntie will cry foul and insist that he hire some. I think you are now going to hear about my great-uncle and how his whiskers changed his life.

Uncle was something of a student and pursued education with persistence. He spent four years in the third grade at the one-room Ridge School. There was some talk that he was stupid, and some did commiserate with his parents for having a dull child unequal to 5-times-5 and other niceties of culture. But Uncle was by no means slow. He stayed in school because he was sweet on the teacher, a Miss Cornish, who was prettier than a basket of strawberries. Fridays were his favorite days, because he would stay after school and help Miss Cornish wind the clock. He would feign failure with his guzintas on Friday and thus be kept after for special instruction. (Guzinta: two guzinta four twice, eight guzinta 32 four times.)

But for some reason now dim in the past, Miss Cornish objected to Uncle's extended yearning for learning, and she appealed to the superintendent of schools for relief. She said she thought it was unseemly for her, a young lady just out of high school, to be obliged to teach a third-grade class in arithmetic that included a grown man with a beard.

In those days, nobody bothered the Supreme Court with trivial things like that, so the superintendent simply suggested to Uncle that Miss Cornish would be grateful if he would shave. This was full notice to Uncle that his romantic overtures were spurned, and as his passions cooled he decided to leave school. But in a gesture of deserved disdain, he shaved and attended class for the last time to say farewell to the lovely Miss Cornish. Miss Cornish, now seeing Uncle cleanshaven, found him rather a handsome young man and with new thoughts relented and kissed him goodbye. The next morning, Uncle went to homestead in North Dakota.

It took seven years to get a homestead deed, so Uncle was able to spend a lot of lonely time thinking about Miss Cornish, but after a year or so he adjusted, and one thing he did to cheat the time proved helpful in alleviating the starvation that went with being a pioneer. He moved about, and in the course of a visit to neighboring South Dakota he made friends with some Sioux, one of them a young man about his age named Tatanka.

Tatanka showed Uncle how to locate Indian relics, and every so often Uncle would ship a collection to a curio dealer in New York who paid rather well. Uncle laid away a little money, and then at the end of seven years he sold his land and returned to Maine. When he got back to Maine, his folks and his friends didn't know him: He had a seven-year beard.

Miss Cornish had nothing to do with this one. This was a North Dakota necessity. It began at his ears and covered his entire front to his equator, spreading at his waist to be tucked inside the bib of his overalls and under his mackinaw to give him needed insulation against the rigors of a prairie winter.

Uncle undoubtedly had the finest, bushiest, richest, ripest, most magnificent beard ever seen in Maine, and unquestionably the warmest in Dakota Territory. But he didn't need it in the salubrity of Maine, so he soon shaved it off. There does exist a tintype of it made that October at the Topsham Fair. Before he shaved, he inquired about Miss Cornish and learned she had married the school superintendent and had four children. Uncle never married and never grew whiskers again. Neither did he ever finish school.

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