A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Great-Great-Grandpa Henson had a thick, full, luxurious beard. It was a handsome brown during his younger years, and a distinguished white in his old age. Everyone knew him by his beautiful beard. It was his trademark. His calling card. His brand.

Family lore has it that Great-Great-Grandpa Henson's beard was so wonderfully perfect, the follicle fairies (or whoever it is who is in charge of such things) put a five-generation hold on Walker males. Heaven knows, it has been at least that long since one of us has been able to grow a decent beard.

Until now. With wonder, awe and a little bit of itching I am pleased to announce that a beard once again hangs nobly from a Walker chin. Mine.

The fact that it's even there is something of a miracle. I've tried growing beards before. Twenty years ago I tried to grow one for a play. I was supposed to look like Ulysses S. Grant. I looked more like Shaggy from "Scooby Doo." As recently as last summer I allowed my beard to grow during a week of camping. I shaved it because it looked awful. VERY un-Henson-like.

Then last fall I was cast in another play requiring a beard this time to play a Biblical prophet. Now, I'm not claiming an immaculate foliation or anything, but for some reason whiskers have sprouted all over my face. It isn't Great-Great-Grandpa Henson's beard not by a long shot but for the fourth generation of a follicly challenged family, it isn't bad.

Which is not to say that I'm now going to make Great-Great-Grandpa Henson's trademark my own. No way. The minute the curtain goes down on closing night, my face will get reacquainted with my razor. But I'm glad I've been able to wear a different face for a few months so I could get a taste of how the hairy half lives.

Take the other day, for example. I went to the bank to turn a jar-full of loose change into dollar bills. I was off work, so I was dressed comfortably (in other words, I was wearing ratty jeans and an old sweatshirt). My hair, which hasn't been cut since before the last time I shaved (evidently Bible prophets didn't have much time for barbering), was sort of combed. Sort of. And since I had the day off, I had more or less given my beard the day off, too. No grooming. No trimming. No plucking.

Think Don King's hair erupting on my chin.

The bank teller took one look at me and the bag of loose change I was handing to her and coolly asked for identification. She looked at the clean-shaven face on my driver's license, then at the prickly reality standing before her. Her frown was noticeable. She asked if I had an account at the bank. I handed my debit card to her, and she looked at it suspiciously. I felt a little uncomfortable, like maybe I was trying to get away with something here. But I wasn't, and I knew it. So I stood there, squirming, until she finally left with the coins.

While I was waiting a friend came into the bank. She asked about my beard, and I told her about the play. The teller returned in time to hear my explanation, and suddenly she was talking to me like we were old friends.

She smiled warmly as she counted out my money, indicating that she had heard about the play and wanted to see it. I told her how to get tickets and left feeling relieved and significantly more comfortable than I had felt just moments earlier.

It wasn't until a few days later that it occurred to me what had probably happened in the bank. It may very well be that the teller had noticed my appearance and the bag of coins and figured I was a transient bringing to her my panhandling money. And with good reason. I certainly looked the stereotypical part. But it was interesting how differently she treated me once she knew I wasn't who she had likely judged me to be.

And it makes me wonder how often I similarly judge people on silly, superficial things like beards and clothes and hair. And how often my judgment is similarly wrong.

Even though my beard is finally right.

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--- Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through