By that day, my beard was around eight months old. I had last trimmed it during Labor Day Weekend 2013. Throughout eight months of follicle growth amid a cold winter, I faced mounting scrutiny from clean-shaven folks, potential girlfriends and a publisher who was left wondering where the face of his features writer had gone.
Having a beard, or facial hair in general, was something I always aspired to acquire when I was a kid. I remember growing up in rural upstate New York, in the Champlain Valley, surrounded by mountain ranges, farmland and down home people who’d give you the shirt off of their backs. And during that time, I was around stoic facial hair.
To this day, I don’t really know what my father looks like without a mustache. He’s always had a majestic push broom on his upper lip. When he was my age, he rocked a great beard, one that filled with icicles when he went for a run in the frozen tundra of my homeland in January (with temperatures dropping to 20 below zero or more).
So, when I entered middle school, I awaited my whiskers. Towards the beginning of eighth grade, a handful emerged, mostly around my mouth. It wasn’t much to look at, and pretty much resembled someone who had a losing battle with a ballpoint pen. But, as I grew older, the facial hair grew in better, fuller, with more authority in each passing year.
In high school, my girlfriend didn’t like my beard. She wanted a “man with a fresh face.” Seeing that she lived an hour away and I only saw her on the weekends, I’d grow my beard out all week, only to shave it Friday night before I’d head for her house. Oh, how I missed my glorious follicles and dreaded shaving.
College? Well, that meant true freedom. With my former high school sweetheart in the rearview mirror, I was free to explore my facial hair. Handlebar mustaches, Hulk Hogan-chops, sideburns that’d make Travolta jealous or just a plain ole natural mountain man free-flowing beard — I did it all. And that trend of facial experimentation held true for most of my 20s, and still does today.
But, my true test of will power, determination and follicle pride came to fruition when I moved to Western North Carolina in 2012. Literally, the first week I was in town, I was spotted. The Dixie Beard & Moustache Society had me in their crosshairs (so to speak). A rag-tag good-hearted bunch of Appalachian folks, the nonprofit club celebrates facial hair, gets together for fun times, and raises money for their sponsored charity, the Warrior Service Dogs, who train helpful canines for wounded veterans.
The beards in the club are tremendous, plentiful, hearty and, most of all, friendly. I found myself eager to let my beard grow as far and as much as it could. The first true test, I had one for six months in 2013, and then this year’s eight-month stretch. Growing a beard for that long, you really enter a new realm of societal interaction, personal reflection, and just a surreal feeling when you look at the person you’ve become in the mirror. It is truly a cathartic experience.
Thus, short shorts and a neon orange trucker hat. In an effort to have a themed entry into Cinco de Beardo, I went for the Forrest Gump retro runner beard. I trotted around the brewery and did high steps. When the judges made their decision, I won third place in the “Over 6 Inches” category. Not first place, but the real victory came in being able to even qualify to enter the competition.
As I write this week’s column, I must confess that my winter beard, the ole Forrest Gump retro runner, is no more. I awoke one morning with an urge to do some spring-cleaning. And I cut it. Not all off, but let’s just say I once again resemble the guy on the top left-hand corner of this page.
Another chapter in my follicle history has been closed, with another chapter full of possibilities beginning, or ready to start growing, if you will.
1: The Soldier’s Heart album release party will be at 7 p.m. May 17 at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.
2: Country star Dolly Parton will perform at 7:30 p.m. May 25 at Harrah’s Cherokee.
3: Hard rock/blues group The Hooten Hallers perform at 9 p.m. May 18 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
4: The Student Art Exhibition will be at 1 p.m. May 18 at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.
5: The Maggie Valley Spring Rally will be May 23-25 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.