I was getting my Calgon on, watching a Korean drama, and there was a scene where a woman was shaving off her boyfriend’s beard using an old fashioned shaving brush and razor and I suddenly remembered something. I remembered having seen the same kind of shaving brush and razor in my grandmother’s medicine cabinet when I was a child. Someone, probably my mother, told me that the brush and razor had belonged to my grandfather. It is a memory that is both vague and potent. I can’t remember if the wooden handle on the brush was brown or black and I think the razor was in a small metal cup but it may have just rested on the shelf but the memory of the existence of these ordinary objects lodged itself somewhere deep in my psyche as a symbol of something I couldn’t fully understand at the time. In the moment that the memory distinguished itself from the fog of the past it nearly brought me to tears.
It is one of the small sorrows of my life that I never had the opportunity to meet my maternal grandfather, Pops, as he was called. He passed away three months before I was born. By all accounts he was a man who loved life and loved my grandmother. We called her Granny, he called her Honeybunch and his defining characteristic as a husband was that he let his wife be. He did not seek to control her or mold her as her two ex-husbands had. Pops was 20 years Granny’s senior and was 81-years-old when he died. Granny never remarried. I didn’t really get to know Granny one woman to another. After I left for college, I only visited Texas about once a year and when she passed I was only 24, barely an adult and not nearly as curious about her relationship with Pops as my 39-year-old self wishes I had been. I didn’t ask her why she kept his razor and shaving brush or why she had never remarried. Even as I try to recall if I ever asked those questions I hear her, pragmatic as always, saying that it was wasteful to throw away something that was still useful. If she were having a rare moment of sentimentality she might have said simply, “Because I miss him.” And in this imagined memory I see her blinking back tears that she always swore she was physically incapable of producing because her tear ducts didn’t work. That was Granny. She cursed like a sailor and never let on that beneath her tough exterior she was a big mush ball. Pops was one of only a few people to glimpse her mushy side.
In his later years Pops went blind. I’ve never seen pictures of him with a beard so I imagine Granny was the one who shaved him when he was no longer able to do it himself. The act of helping another human being groom and maintain their body is not only a physically intimate act but when repeated over time, emotionally intimate and binding. Now, many years after seeing them in my grandmother’s medicine cabinet and in this month that marks 13 years of marriage to my Muffin, I begin to understand why she kept the razor and shaving brush. Granny continued to wear her wedding band long after Pops died but, for some reason, that she did so never struck me as poignant, never brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps because it is a somewhat expected memorial, representative of a social construct more than of a living and breathing relationship between two people. But with the razor and shaving brush, I think about her opening her medicine cabinet everyday and seeing Pops in those objects, feeling if only for a moment that he is just in the other room and not on the other side of existence. In remembering those mundane instruments I can feel the abiding intimacy and love of a lifelong relationship and the lamentation for its loss.