My Father's Razor

Tom Poland

Posted 10/4/23

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Dad in happier, healthier times, working on the church parsonage. (Photo by Tom Poland)

November 15 my father will have been gone twenty years. Twenty years. Seems like yesterday when he lay in a bed at MUSC in Charleston. Seems like last night we were back home changing out his pajamas during all those long hours of night sweats … from midnight to dawn.

We lost a long, hard war. I say we; he lost a war. No, we lost a war too. You’ve heard the saying, “When one family member has cancer, the whole family has cancer.” It’s true. Esophageal cancer killed him and damn near killed us too.

Dad fought an Axis of Fate whose three members were time in Hiroshima, cigarettes called Chesterfields, and vapors emanating from years of welding, all those rods melting and releasing fumes. He didn’t stand a Chinaman’s chance to put it politically incorrect. And he couldn’t speak. The surgeon removed his larynx along with his esophagus.

We did what we could for him at MUSC. At least we tried. Among the things we did was shave him. My father had a tough beard. When it became difficult to use a safety razor on him, we decided to buy him an electric razor. Seems I recall my brother-in-law, Joe, and I went to a Walmart in Charleston and bought a Norelco. It featured three floating heads for comfort. Comfort. What was that to a man experiencing hallucinations and night sweats. I don’t think it helped Dad feel more comfortable, but we’d shave him, the razor humming, and he’d turn his blue eyes to us and mouth, “thank you.”

The pamphlet the razor came with guaranteed a close cut. “Change heads every two years for best results” it advised. “Replace the blades within two years and get back to 100% performance.” It said that too.

We never replaced anything. Dad died November 15, 2003. All in all, he lingered twenty-two months after surgery, eating through a feeding tube, breathing through a stoma cut into his trachea, and trying to talk, for a while, with an electrolarynx. He sounded like a robot, like someone from a science fiction movie. He quit on that electronic voice thing. I would have too. The electrolarynx ended up in a drawer. And so did the razor.

After Dad died, my sisters told me to take the Norelco. I knew I would never use it. I brought it home to my place in South Carolina, and that’s where it ended up in a drawer. A lot of years went by. I didn’t use it. I never will. Something about plugging it up and hearing its electric buzz bothers me. Ghosts haunt you when you hear sadness.

I shave with a Braun electric razor and a real razor, a safety razor with three blades. It’s a two-stage process. I shave with the Braun, then lather up with soap and finish my daily task. It comes automatic to me. Some fifteen years after Dad died, after shaving one morning, God knows why, I got Dad’s razor out of that drawer. I sat on my sofa and placed the razor on my coffee table. Bathed in morning light, I stared at it. Memories aplenty came to me. Most I’d like to forget. And then, for some inexplicable reason, I removed the three-headed cover and clippings from Dad’s beard fell onto the fine-grained table. Sunlight struck them and they glistened like a scattering of salt and pepper. My breath left me. I wept. Some of his earthly remains at long last saw the light of day. He was with me. I wept some more.

I did my best to put the clippings back in the razor where they remain to this day. I cannot bring myself to look at them again.

I don’t know why I wrote this column for a bunch of strangers. A few of you, though, you knew the man. I wrote it for him and you, but most of all, for me. I just wanted to share something. Sometimes someone we love is not gone. They’re closer than we thought.

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