Saturday, January 26, 2013


Franz's Symbol of Wisdom

When boys begin to change to men often the first visible sign is the fuzz under the nose that has started to darken. This sign, the beginning of the horn of masculinity, is a young man’s pride. Often it is coaxed to grow by prayer, and often waxed with olive oil to make it darker for a better impression on the girls.

Maybe the reason for a mustache at all, is that our Maker meant it to deter flies. Much like a man’s hair in the ears and eyelashes and brows around the eye.

I’ve had a mustache, or something like a mustache, for a long time. I’ve had a full mustache, one that sits on top of the lip like a wide push broom. I’ve manicured a thin mustache, just above the lip, to emulate Clark Gable’s. I’ve had a mustache that swoops down and up to blend with furry mutton chops. 

I’ve proudly displayed a formation of hair under my nose referred to a handlebar mustache. The maintenance of such a configuration is demanding, and requires frequent self inspection. This self-inspection borders on being feminine. If it wasn’t for the growth, the obvious symbol of masculinity, requiring a man to look at one’s self, carrying a small can of wax the size of snuff in one’s pocket, I would say it is a sissified ritual. 

On one occasion I had run out of mustache wax. After a hot, morning shower a handlebar mustache needs wax! That morning I had to substitute for the wax. I, the ever problem solver, simply chose a dab from the can of brown Kiwi shoe polish. Good choice, until I got to work and sipped on a fresh hot cup of coffee. Let me tell you, melted shoe polish not only tastes horrible, but it tends to stain one’s teeth.

I have grown, trained and shaped a multitude of mustaches, however, I’ve have never sported one like Adolf.

Nowadays they have trimmers and special combs for a guy to primp with. In the olden days a straight razor was used. If you had two bits one could get a mustache trim and a haircut. I hate to think what a gal, fresh out of beauty school, would dowse me with? Also, what contorted stances she’d be in to trim a guy’s source of pride.

I’m not a linguist; especially not in Latin. Schnurrbart is German for mustache. Schnurr simply means to sniff or smell. Bart means beard. To decipher, or find a root word for mustache does not make sense. Mustache = must ache?

A mustache has long been called a soup strainer. Be as it may, I can vouch for it being a  flavor saver. The beauty of a mustache is that it has the much touted ability to supply a lingering aroma of the most recent cuisine a man has enjoyed. I have for hours enjoyed the rich aroma of parmesan cheese, thanks to my mustache. I have savored the scent of barbecue sauce offered to my nose. I have been reminded with the bouquet of garlic and fennel flavors from a lentil soup for hours, until I decided my deodorant had failed. To make sure, I left my company and sniffed myself, washed the growth around the mouth, until I was sure my dabbing and spritzing had not failed.


Friday, January 18, 2013

A Real Christening

This short story is from my book "A TIME AND PLACE The Making of an Immigrant." This version of the story is expanded and will be published as part of an e-book in the future. The story below takes place in Germany 1946.

Bavaria is predominantly Catholic. As in most towns of that day and time, the town’s church was the predominant structure. The church’s furnishings, decorations, candle holders and goblets were often centuries old and precious. The town’s church, the center of all religious activities never locked its doors. One could enter its sanctuary at all hours to pray, find shelter and solitude. 
First Communion is a big deal in every young person’s life. I was about six years old. I know Mom had a hard time getting the money together to buy a large, rather ornately carved candle. I carried it during the processional, along with all other young candidates, up the center aisle of the church. The candle with its added white ribbon and drip cup stood about two feet tall. It sure seemed huge to me. 
I got to wear a white shirt and a dark colored suit on First Communion day. Where the suit came from, I haven’t the foggiest. Mom hemmed up the sleeves and pants’ legs and made other modifications that later could be reversed as I grew taller. All starched-up and ironed, fingernails cleaned, hair spiffied-up, shoes shined, I went to church. 
I guess the significance of the whole religious ritual was the celebration and the awareness of a young person’s beginning the age of accountability. From that day forth one could go to confession, tell your misdeeds to a priest, do your multi-prayer penance, and participate in communion. 
All that was good and honorable because it molded me to be a better boy, a boy more aware of other peoples’ feelings and needs. The impetus for me to do better was either the fear of having to tell the priest your sins, or the dread of saying a multitude of Lord’s Prayers and Hail Marys. Whichever it was, I can’t remember. 
Lunch time that memorable day must have been a little late. I took the extra time to dawdle and look at a new baby calf before I went upstairs to our kitchen to shed my Sunday suit. 
Sepperl, the young son of Mr. Beir, our landlord, asked me to follow him through a door which led to the milking stalls. Note, this was not the place where the cows ate out of a manger. I had visited that part of the stall before and even got to touch the cows, scratching them above their noses. He wanted me to step into a small door which led to the rear of the beasts. Obviously, it was where the new calf could get to its mama for a suck. I knew the place was dark in there, and more than just straw covered the floor. 
Knowing the wrath of Mother, I sure did not want to soil the fine get-up I was sporting. So I asked Sepperl to bring the calf out into the open for me to get a good look at it. 
Well, he looped a rope around its neck and coaxed it to the door. This is where the calf stopped; or should I say anchored itself. Apparently, the month-old calf was not yet accustomed to the sunlight. Sepperl stepped back outside onto the cobblestoned wagon yard and began to yank on the rope trying to budge the stubborn, young critter. However, the calf was determined not to step down through the door and out into the open. 
Plan two. The rope was long enough to get another pair of hands on it. I could’t just stand and watch, I had to give him a hand. Both of us pulled and kept the pressure on, our feet braced against the wall and doorsill. The calf, its head down and stiff legged, refused to comply with such useless shenanigans. Being of the dominant species we, two intelligent boys, stayed determined and braced for the duration. 
Then suddenly, totally without warning, the calf jumped toward the two of us and sent us sprawling. I stumbled backward, unable to right myself, I banged into a wheelbarrow. 
I had seen that wheelbarrow before and smelled it often. It was encrusted with years of manure which had been pitchforked into it while cleaning out the cow stalls. That day, you guessed it, it proudly boasted not the dried but the tenderly soft and wet stuff. When I quit stumbling and had come to rest and was sprawled in the wheelbarrow as if soaking in a tub. 
Well, the starched shirt and the ironed pant creases lasted long enough to get through Holy Communion plus another surprise and memorable christening.