When Dick’s mother Elizabeth was alive, she was always so happy when Dick, who had a beard for a good sixteen-plus years, shaved it off. She’d pat his hairless chin and exclaim, “There’s my baby boy!”
She was on to something because Dick did look younger without his beard, though in his prime he had a healthy, dark beard that I think gave him a rather distinguished look. Of course, as he’s aged and the beard has grown as white as the hair on his head, it gives him a different look. I still think he looks distinguished, but Dick calls it “just old.”
After his cardiac arrest, Dick made a half-hearted attempt with a plastic razor in the shower to eliminate some of his face foliage. But by the time of his surgery, he was just letting it grow. He had to decide whether to keep it or shave it. I was good either way—fuzzy or not fuzzy, I’m just happy to have him upright in the world, his newly repaired heart chugging away, stronger than it’s been in years.
In 2004, Dick wrote a letter to a friend in which he detailed the story about how he came to have the beard. Here is part of that story:
“The beard ‘took root’ on my previously ever-smooth face due to the unexpected influence of two hippie girls from San Francisco, in October 1968. That’s when I was a participant in a Sierra Club Wilderness Outing to the Big Island, where our group was destined to camp on various beaches, moving several times during the 10-day outing, as we explored the island.
“I’d always been a clean-shaven, fresh-faced young man, and, embarking on this 10-day outdoor adventure, planned to remain as pure. I’d always used an electric shaver, and knew there would be no outlets in the Hawaiian wilderness, so I borrowed my dad’s Remington electric shaver, which had a built-in battery. This was (if you’ll excuse the expression) cutting-edge technology in the ’60s; a corded electric shaver with a built-in rechargeable battery was an uncommon luxury then.
“The main drawback of an early-years battery powered shaver was its short charge life. You could get maybe three shaves out of it before it needed to be plugged in for an overnight charge. My plan, for the 10-day adventure, was to shave every third day. That way I would return to Sacramento looking just as respectable, with regard to facial hair, as when I left.
“It so happened that, within this large group of campers (who came from many different states and were a wide variety of ages) four of us were from Northern California. We were in our mid-twenties, and kind of found each other early on and began to ‘hang out’ together. We’d hike as a group, gather together at meal times, and pitched our tents nearby each other whenever we’d move to a new campsite.
“This foursome consisted of me, a guy from Stockton, and two authentic hippie chicks from San Francisco, Marilyn and Joan. They actually lived right in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury District, on Cole Street, in a tiny 3rd floor walk-up apartment.
“After breakfast on the morning of the third day, I was about to get my dad’s Remington from my tent at Hapuna Beach State Park, on the northwestern shore of the Big Island, to remove the first few days worth of beard. (Remember that every-third-day shaving plan mentioned earlier?)
“I casually mentioned to the others that I’d be right along, to start a hike we’d planned, after a quick shave with the battery-operated device. There was an immediate outcry from both hippie chicks as the words left my mouth.
“’No, man, you can’t do that! Let your beard grow.’ I explained that I’d never had a beard before and wanted to retain my familiar look. ‘Come on, man, this is the place to do it…you’re in the wilderness and camping on beaches in Hawaii.’ They were very persuasive, clearly alarmed at what was, to me, a natural, routine task to maintain decent personal hygiene. Their faces were practically distorted with bewilderment.
“They didn’t let up: ‘Look at yourself––your beard’s already started. It’ll really look good, man. Don’t shave. Why would you want to do that? Just let it happen!’ Well, this was quite some pressure––and logic––coming from these two free spirits, one of whom was braless, and, as she made her arguments, two protrusionary points beneath her shirt bounced around, punctuating her animated statements.
“What else could a guy do, being lectured and lobbied like this? I yielded to the two hippie chicks from San Francisco. I didn’t shave that day after all––or any other day as the outing progressed. And, at the end of 10 days, I could see they’d been right: My beard, while still in its way-early formative stage, seemed to be taking on a good shape, and I liked the way it appeared.
“I decided to let it continue to grow, though I knew there’d be a bit of uncertainty (and even scorn) by family, friends and co-workers once I was home. Full beards were not yet that common––in the 1960s––on business people, being more associated with vagrants, mountain men, poets, hippies and wackos. People eventually adjusted to my new look, and the beard, though trimmed regularly, never left my face for over 16 years until the morning of January 18, 1984, when I shaved it off––and went to work.”
Once again Dick made the same decision, and the girls—Cora and Connie—who are caring for him in Pacific Palisades in Pearl City, Hawaii, dutifully bought him an electric razor. Then Cora documented the ritual of beard shaving, Dick Schmidt-style.
I understand this: When you get a new lease on life, you go for the younger look.
He continues to get stronger each day in Honolulu, but he’s looking forward to coming home—clean shaven—Feb. 15, two days after his 76th birthday and, of course, a day after Heart Day. Though for Dick, every day is now Grateful Heart Day.