Elaine Forrestal

Uncle Wilbur’s Whiskers

There are three bearded members of the Chandler family in these pictures, circa 1979

Some years ago I submitted a picture book text about a man shaving off his beard. At the time beards were not in fashion and many of the children in my friend’s Pre Primary class were fascinated by the shaving cream she had introduced to one of her art activities. My friend and I often tossed around new ideas to engage her lively, active group and teach them some science, history, maths etc along the way. Inspired by the children’s interest in shaving cream I went home and wrote a story.

My story was about a 5yr old whose uncle, an archaeologist, had been working in the remote Kimberlys for over a year. When the boys mother heard that her ‘baby’ brother was coming to stay with them for a few days she was very excited. The boy had only rarely seen his uncle and had no memories of him, but he went with the rest of the family to pick him up at the airport. There were the usual delays to heighten the anticipation. Finally his uncle arrived. The boy took one look at the 186cm, re-haired, bushy bearded man embracing his mother, and freaked out. They managed to calm the boy down and when they finally arrived home, the uncle headed straight for the shower. He washed off the red dust, then shaved off his beard. The boy, still tentative but fascinated, was unable to resist peeping around the bathroom door.

In the text the shaving process is graphically described. What the boy doesn’t know is that his uncle can see him in the mirror and decides to have a game with him. With his face half shaven the uncle suddenly turns around and a running, squealing chase through the house and garden ensues. Needless to say the boy and his uncle become friends. When I submitted the story to my publisher, however, one member of the commissioning panel asked, ‘Does Elaine Forrestal have something against men with beards?’ I was gob-smacked! How could a family story about a small boy, scared but fascinated by the shaving process and ending in a fun chase through his house and garden, during which they become friends, possibly be seen as an inditement of men with beards?

The story has never been published, but I’m over my shell-shock now. Once my Clara Saunders story is finished, I might fish Uncle Wilbur out of my bottom drawer.