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Frances Swedlund

At half a shave, Charles Swedlund gives a before and after view of his beard.

A shave to remember

by Donald Leonard
Jan 22, 2013


Frances Swedlund.

Charles Swedlund,77, poses for one last picture of his 40-year-old beard before getting it shaved for surgery.


Frances Swedlund.

Charles embraces his first shave in decades but jokes about not being able to do it himself. “When you go in the hospital, its probably going to be a $900 shave," Swedlund said.

It’s unusual for a man of 77 to learn how to shave, but for Chicago native, Charles Swedlund, that’s when he shed his 40-year beard.

Swedlund, now a retired photographer who lives in Cobden went to the hospital late last year for prostate surgery. He said shortly before receiving the procedure, he was told by a nurse that she would have to shave him.

“I thought she was going to give me a Brazilian,” Swedlund said. Then she shaved my beard. I’m like, 'You’re at the wrong end lady.'”

According to Swedlund, the nurse told him she had to shave his beard in order to properly place the anesthetic tube needed for his surgery. He wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about the news but had no choice but to accept the circumstances.

“There’s no way I could get out of there. When they have your pants and your wallet, you’re stuck,” Swedlund said.

The beard, a trademark that was grown, groomed, and beloved for about 40 years was now gone.

“I looked in the mirror and said, "Who the hell am I? Who’s skin am I occupying? What’s going on here,'” Swedlund said.

Despite his initial disapproval, Swedlund found it fun learning how to shave again “I felt like a teenage kid,” he said.

Swedlund’s wife, Frances, however, didn’t greet the change so enthusiastically.

Frances had never even seen Charles without his beard during their 20-year marriage.

“It was a weird experience because, all of a sudden, it sounded like Charles, but it didn’t look like him at all,” Frances said. “He looked just like his father Oscar”

Charles wasn’t surprised by Frances’ reaction because he said when he shaved his beard 40 years ago he had a similar experience.

“My previous wife at the time laughed at me, my children cried, my dog tried to bite me and my father didn’t know my face,” Charles said.

Which may explain why Charles had been on a 40-year shaving hiatus since.

Frances admitted to finding it amusing, but she insisted on the hairy look.

“Everyone was saying he looked so much younger. But, to me, he looked older because he looked like Oscar, and I knew Oscar when he was in his nineties,” Frances said. “I said, ‘please, please, please grow your beard back.’”

Since January 1, Charles has begun the growth.

“My knees hurt, my feet hurt, I have cataracts, I’ve had all these different surgeries and yet my beard grows,” Charles said.

Every week Frances takes a picture of Charles' beard and he plucks one hair to measure it’s length. Charles said it’s currently at about a quarter of an inch.

“It’s fun for an old man like me to still see something growing,” Charles said.

“He has some fuzz now so he’s back to crazy old Chuck,” Frances said. “That’s the way I know him, not this clean-shaven Oscar.”