I got a call from Bernard on Saturday saying he was taking a RV trip with his son and daughter and their families. They plan to take their RVs across country and will be having a few family reunions. He is excited about this trip since he hasnít seen some of these relatives in more than 25 years. He also had some additional good news. He will be leaving the nursing home to live with his daughter and son-in-law. They both retired last year and invited him to stay with him. We agreed to meet at the nursing home on Monday and here is our conversation Ė to best of my note taking ability.
J: Bernard I would like to interview you for Badger and Blade, the shaving group I told you about. Is that OK with you?
B: Thatís OK, but I donít know why anyone would have any interest in an old man like me. (Laughs)
J: Actually quite a few B&B members enjoyed hearing your story and would like to hear more. You mentioned your grandson when we last met. Is he a member of B&B?
B: My grandson says he looks at it on occasion but does not belong to it. He is doing his residency at a hospital and does not have much spare time.
J: Is your son a traditional shaver too? If not, how did your grandson get into traditional shaving?
B: My son has always used a Gillette safety razor. I gave him one when he first started shaving and I bet he is using the same razor today. He is not one to spend much on gadgets. To say he is thrifty is an understatement. My grandson was always fascinated with things I did when he was young. He watched me carefully when I was shaving and I would put some soap on his face and tease him that someday he would be like me. I donít know where he got it but he got a Gillette razor and started shaving when he was 14 years old. Iím sure his father gave him one of his old razors to start out on.
J: Tell me something about your background. Where you come from what did you do?
B: I was born in 1919 in Stroudsburg PA. I have two brothers and two sisters. We lived in a modest house. It wasnít fancy but we were a close family. I lived in that area when I was young. I met my late wife there and we got married when I was 24 and she was 18, after I returned from the Army after World War II. We had two children a boy and a girl. Both are married now and I have four grandchildren and 1 great grandson. I graduated from Penn State, the first person in my family to graduate from college.
I have been in the retail business all of my life. I started off working as a stock boy in a store and later became an assistant manager, store manager, district manager, and eventually worked in a regional office supervising a number of district managers. I have lived or traveled in a number of different states. I enjoyed working in the retail industry. Back then most of the stores were open only one or two nights a week and never on Sundays. I worked for the same company for 50 years. By the end of my career the life of a store manager changed quite a bit. Stores were open every night and on Sundays. I worked in a regional office at that time and so I didn't have to put in all those hours except during certain peak seasons when everyone went out to the stores.
J: When we first met you mentioned you used a straight razor. Did you start off using a straight razor?
B: No. I started with a Gillette Safety Razor and used their blades for a while. Then I went to a local barbershop and Earl, the barber, gave me a haircut and I got a straight shave. I decided to try straight razors and Earl sold me two. I donít know the name of the razors but they had plain, wooden handles and I kept them for years.
J: Did you hone the razors yourself?
B: No. I would shave with one, strop it, and when it needed it I would take it back to Earl who would put an edge on it.
J: Did you use straight razors all the time?
B: When I started to travel on the job I would bring my Gillette with me and would use the straights when I got home, usually on the weekends. It was too much trouble to use straight razors when you travel. Now I use my Gillette because they wonít let me use a straight.
J: Did you have a particular shaving brush and soap that you used?
B: Back then stores carried one or two kinds of shaving soaps and creams. I used Williams for years since the stores I worked in carried it and it was the best seller. I also used Old Spice that also was carried in our stores. I had one brush but I donít remember the name of the brush. It lasted for more than 20 years before I had to replace it. Now my son and grandson buy soaps and razor blades when I need them. I use one soap until it is used up and then go to another. This is the soap I am using now. [It is an AoS lime soap] It has a nice smell to it. Back then you didnít pay any attention to how the soap smelled. Here is the razor blades I am using. [Personna Reds] They have given me various brands of razor blades and they all work fine for me.
J: Do you still have your old straights and Gillette razors?
B: My straights are wrapped up in my sonís house. I canít find the Gillette I used; itís packed away somewhere. But my son bought me this one [a Slim] and I like it a lot. He found it in a flea market when I could no longer use my straight razors. I put it on 7 or 8 and it does the job for me.
J: Here are some blades for you to try. They are called Personna Medical Prep blades and they are my favorite. Let me know how you like them.
B: Thanks, Jim. Iíll let you know how they work.
J: Did you shave every day?
B: The only time I didnít shave every day was when I was in the Army and we were on the front. Then I would shave when I could. But except for that period it is shaving every day.
J: What do you think of the ďscruffy lookĒ some ballplayers, actors, and men have today?
B: I donít understand why anyone wants to look like a bum. Years ago we called people who looked like that hoboes or bums. When I worked in retail you were expected to be clean shaven every day. The most you could have was a neat mustache and even that was frowned upon. If you had stubble on your face women would look at you and think you were a bum. If I had showed up for a job looking like that I would never have been hired.
J: Whatís your routine now? Do you shower and shave or how do you do it?
B: Last year I fell in the shower and broke my hip and leg. So the folks here (nursing home) have an aide help me in the shower. So I can shower only three times a week. The only advantage of that is that one of the young aides is a pretty girl and I donít complain when she gives me a shower! [Laughs] However, I do shave every day. My routine is pretty simple. When I worked in retail I would get up at 5:00 a.m. Now I get up at 6:00 a.m. The first thing I do is to say my prayers, read the Bible, and then mosey over to the bathroom to brush my teeth - and then I wash my face and shave. It only takes me a few minutes to shave. I take my brush to the soap, swirl it around, put it in my bowl, and whip it around. Then I put it on my face and shave.
J: How do you shave (I explained to him what I mean by passes)?
B: I have always gone one way down with my razor, put more soap on my face, and go in the opposite direction. I wash off my face put some witch hazel on it and Iím ready to go. I donít put any perfume on my face, never have.
J. Looks like you do a nice job with your two pass shave.
J: Did you ever have any problems with nicks, cuts, etc.?
B: When I first started using a straight I would come out of the bathroom with toilet paper on my face to stop the bleeding. But after a while I got the hang of it. Never had a problem with the Gillette. Sometimes I think the only reason I want to go back to the straight razor is because they told me I canít use it here!
J: What event had the biggest impact on your life?
B: Fighting in the war. When I was young I led a carefree life. When you fight in a war and see so many of your buddies killed it changes you. During one battle the Nazis were bombarding us and it didnít look good for us. A lot of guys were killed. I prayed and made a promise that if I got out alive I would live a different life. The Lord heard me, answered me, and here I am today! When I got back to the States all my friends and relatives were surprised at how I changed. I left as a jokester and came back a serious man.
J: You have seen a lot of changes in your 95 years. What has changes have surprised you the most?
B: Wow, everything is so different today. Computers, cell phones, televisions, everything is so advanced now. When I was a kid you played the radio, played outdoors, and read. Now there are so many other things but I think kids should read more today. Life is different too. Back then you didnít lock the door to your house or car. Most people were honest. Drugs were something you gave to sick people. Not all of the changes were for the better. A while back my grandson took me for a ride in what he called a car (itís a SUV). I looked around and saw all of gadgets in that car. Maps that tell you where to go and how to get there. Radio speakers all over the place. Places to put your coffee. Wipers that go from fast to slow and everything in between. Seats that tilt back. Mirrors that get bright and dim. Inventions have made life easier but people have not changed for the better.
J: Any words of advice to younger?
B: Well, Jim you are not so young yourself! [Laughs] The advice I give anyone who asks me is simple. Lead a good life and be a good example for people to follow. Treat people with dignity and respect. Donít think you have all of the answers to everything. The only one to have all of the answers is God.
J: When did you move to Florida?
B: I retired when I reached 68 years old and my wife and I wanted to get away from the cold weather up North. So, we took a few trips down south and moved. We started on the East coast of Florida and moved to the west coast when my kids moved there.
J: Do you every miss the north?
B: I donít miss the snow or cold weather. Itís nice to have sunny days most of the time. But lately we have been getting a lot of rain. I do miss the fall up north when I would go hunting.
J: What did you hunt for?
B: When I lived in Pennsylvania I would go for deer, rabbits, squirrel, and ducks. I was a pretty good shot. But I have gone hunting only once or twice since I retired.
J: Do you have any hobbies or interests at the present time?
B: I used to hunt and I sure do miss that. Now I like to read and watch sports on TV. I switched from being a Philly fan to the Rays. I like baseball and my son and grandson take me to Tropicana field a few times a year. I also like football. I read quite a bit.
J: What types of books do you like?
B: I suppose I should impress you and say history and non-fiction. But I like mystery and detective stories the most. My favorite was the Spenser novels by Parker. I worked in Boston for a while and one of the things I would do is to try to figure out what building in Boston or what location was mentioned. Actually, it became a contest with some of my co-workers as to who could figure out the building Parker was talking about in his book.
J: How does shaving now compare to what it was like when you were younger.
B: Actually, you folks have a lot more to choose from. When I started out stores carried Gillette razors and blades for the most part. There were other kinds of razors that just had one edge but they werenít all that popular. As for soaps and creams there were only a few to choose from. When I went to that shaving store in Tampa [AoS] there were a lot of things to choose from. And when you showed me that computer store [WCS] I could not believe the different razors, blades, and soaps you can choose from today.
J: Any special plans for the summer?
B: My son and daughter own RVs. They are all retired now. The whole family is going to take a trip across the country. We are going to see some relatives but mostly we will be seeing sites. It will be nice to see some of my relatives that I havenít seen in 25 years. We are going to have family reunions in Missouri and Washington. I havenít done much traveling since my wife passed on and I am looking forward to this trip. Thatís another thing that is a surprise to me. Having a home on wheels. Never thought you would drive a vehicle that had a kitchen and bathroom in it!
J: Well, Bernard I see itís time for your lunch. Have a safe trip and let me know when you get back. I there anything special I can bring you when you get back?
B: A bottle of Scotch would be nice. [Laughs]
After I left Bernard I stopped by the nursesí station and talked to one of the nurses. She said that Bernard is a joy to have around. She said that he is a very modest fellow who never seems to have a bad day. His knee injury stems from shrapnel that he got when he fought in World War II. That left his knee in a weakened state and he has trouble keeping his balance. He is going through rehab but at his age there is not much room for improvement. As a result, most of the time he has to use a walker or wheelchair.
She said he volunteers in the gift shop, reads to some residents who have vision difficulties, and helps out in many ways. He spends time with patients with dementia and memory problems and tries to cheer anyone up who seems depressed. She said he will be missed when he leaves the nursing home, that his wonderful sense of humor and outlook on life are a blessing.
I hope this post makes you feel as good as I did when I left Bernard. The next time I see him Iíll be sure to take him a nice bottle of single malt Scotch!