At 50, you have the face you deserve. I think I read that somewhere. Probably in a magazine. Remember those?
I’m not 50 yet, but not far off. If what the magazine said is true, I deserve a boiled ham. The kind with a pineapple ring stapled onto it with cloves.
The bathroom mirror at my mother-in-law’s house tells no lies. It’s good for me to check in with it three or four times a year. We all need someone (or something) that will show us the truth about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
Up in New Hampshire, where my mother-in-law lives with her mirror, things are different. The way the trees move in the wind would make the trees at home blush. It’s wilder. Like nobody’s watching. Like the garden before the fall.
I’m glad nobody’s watching as I examine my face in Chi Chi’s mirror. Chi Chi is my mother-in-law. We call her that. You don’t have to. Though I find that most people can’t resist. It’s a great nickname.
My own father we call grandpa, though he has a great nickname too: Hambone. Can you believe that? Looking at myself in Chi Chi’s mirror I can believe it all too well.
The face looking back isn’t all ham, but neither is it all bone. My 20s are there. Eyes still green, hairline strong as ever, teeth still straight. That stuff was useful once. Not sure what good it does me now.
My 30s are plainly visible. There’s a strong vertical crease at the point where my eyebrows meet. That’s the mark of the two degrees I earned while working nights and playing stay-at-home dad. My mother died when I was in my 30s. She’s there in my mouth, the way it slopes down at the corners.
The shadow of a pinprick on my earlobe marks the teenage earring debacle. I gotta smile thinking of the look she gave me after that one.
“There’s no sense in being Irish if you ain’t thick,” she loved to say. Getting the ear pierced, letting it get infected, and removing the thing after two weeks was pretty thick. But every time I see that scar I think of her. Time collapses and I can hear her laughing. So the debacle was worth it. Many are.
The 40s have been the war years. So many kids. So many fevers. So much tuition to pay. Sports. Music lessons. Car issues. Tax issues. House issues. No health issues, thanks be to God.
My bulging toad neck testifies to the barrels of beer applied to therapeutic purposes. The splotches on my cheeks give away my new taste for scotch whiskey. This mirror tells the down-and-dirty truth: You look like a rummy, bub.
Usually when we go to Chi Chi’s I announce my intention to stop shaving: “I want you all to get ready. Daddy is going to look rougher, more rugged than usual. Like Justin Trudeau or Ted Cruz. But you don’t need to be afraid. I am still your husband. I am still your dad.”
Goodness, I oughta just skip it. Such stubble as I’m able to muster is an insult to the other parts of my face. It comes in patchy and soft. Mostly white. After a few days I look like a fuzzy molding ham. The shavedown is a relief.
“Hey kids, daddy’s back!”
“Yay! Where’d you go?”
“Nowhere. Just shaved. Do I look different?”
“Uhh . . . different than what?”
“Never mind. As you were.”
My in-laws moved up to New Hampshire almost 20 years ago. The patch they staked out was pristine, deep in the woods, isolated. We loved going there to get away from all the madness at home, in what we thought of as civilization.
Lately when we go, it feels like civilization is coming with us. Some of those swaying trees have been cleared out. There are houses going up on the street. Now, when the wind blows right, you can faintly hear the traffic on the nearby interstate. In another 20 years, I’m guessing Chi Chi’s patch will seem a little less innocent, a little less wild.
Just like my face.