Winnie, Whiskers and a Word of Wisdom

A boy on the cusp of manhood is inspired by meeting Winston Churchill.

Winnie, Whiskers and a Word of Wisdom
Reader's Digest

This article first appeared in the October 1978 issue of Reader's Digest.


It is a terrible thing to be 16 and never have shaved. At Christmas, I received a mug with scented soap, a bone-handled brush and the most modern razor on the market. “You’ll be needing them soon,” my father said, with a confident wink. Every morning I searched the mirror, but the new year, 1949, began without the slightest shadow on my face.

In February, I made the dreadful mistake of bringing my mug, brush and razor to school and hiding them in my locker, in the hope that my masculinity would suddenly sprout between, say, social studies and Latin. The implements were discovered and displayed – with hilarious commentary – by two hairy older boys.

After that, the elusive first shave became an obsession. I daydreamed, imagining the rites of the ritual: how I would coax the warm, rich lather from my mug, how I would spread it, slowly and luxuriously, over the skin and then make the masterful, sweeping razor strokes that would initiate my manhood. But no matter how often I looked, the mirror still proclaimed that I was beardless.

Then my father announced that Mother and he were planning a brief visit to England. If I wished, he said casually, I could come too.

I packed my unused mug, brush and razor and, on April 2, I walked up the gangway and into the sumptuous comfort of the Queen Mary.

The hour before departure was frenzied. My parents had a cabin on A Deck, and it was immediately filled with well-wishers. (This was the week that my father’s book The Greatest Story Ever Told reached the top of the bestseller list.) My cabin was on the deck above, and I had barely reached it with a group of school friends when a great blast from the ship’s horn announced that all guests must leave. One of my friends had been reading the passenger list. “Look!” he shouted, pointing to a name. I read it aloud, in disbelief: “Winston Churchill.” Churchill! At 16, I thought of him as a kind of god.

The ship’s horn sounded again and, after we said goodbye, I raced to my father’s cabin. “Do you know who is on this ship?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said and handed me a note. “My dear Mr Oursler, how fortunate we share the same voyage! Could you, Mrs Oursler and your son have tea with us on Tuesday?” It was signed by Churchill.

16 Of The Most Insulting Compliments

16 Of The Most Insulting Compliments

An insult is still an insult, no matter how subtle. 
The pose Miller held for six hours just to stay alive

Could you hold this yoga pose if your life depended on it?

Pinned beneath a three-tonne excavator that plunged him into a muddy dam, Daniel Miller could keep his eyes and nose above water only by straining to his utmost. With help at least six hours away, he began the hardest battle of his life.
Meet 3 Women Who Are Living - Happily - Without Sex

Meet 3 Women Who Are Living Happily Without Sex

It's one thing to talk about how much sex you're having. But what if you're having none? Life can be just as fulfilling.
Hack Your Commute With These Tips

Hack Your Daily Commute With These 17 Tips

It should come as no surprise that in one of the few major studies ever conducted on commuters, researcher Meni Koslowsky, Ph.D., a psychology professor from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and author of the book Commuting Stress, found commuters experienced significantly high levels of stress. However, Dr. Koslowsky also found that not all commuting is created equal, nor is the stress a foregone conclusion.
Dress For Your Youth: Style Mistakes That Make You Look Older

Dress For Your Youth: 7 Style Mistakes That Make You Look Older

Keep people guessing about your real age for years to come with these fashion tips and style swaps that turn back the clock.