Columns

2017.03.29 The old gray hair ain’t what it used to be

By COLLEEN LEDDY

When I was just a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up. I can remember kneeling in front of my bedroom window, staring at the stars and begging God to hurry and make me grown up.

Now here I am, practically a geezer—grown up and gray at 37. Very gray. Wishing I hadn’t begged so hard to grow up. Wishing I’d put in a word about growing up but not gray.

OK, I knew it was coming anyway. It was inevitable. One of those “in the genes” things. My mother had a swath of gray at seventeen. I wasn’t much older when I first noticed my gray ones. I used to pluck them and look them over closely. Give them away to a house mate who thought them fascinating. Yes, he was strange, but harmless.

Individual gray hairs are quite intriguing. Actually, they’re not really gray—just colorless. My kids get quite a lot of enjoyment pulling them out and examining them closely just as I used to. When my hair was longer, Maddy even used to pluck a gray hair and use it for dental floss. Yes, she’s strange, too. And harmless, as well. 

The height of cheap entertainment at our house is searching my head for those weird mutant gray hairs—squigglies, my kids call them—and then pulling them out. They’re really odd specimens as gray hair goes. Especially for someone like me with barely-holds-a-curl, ramrod straight hair. These special grays look like a coiled spring that’s been stretched out—not quite straight, still retains a curl. As long as my head keeps producing these jobbies, we’ll never need a TV. 

My hair is graying at a fairly rapid rate these days. People who haven’t seen me in a while tend to look at me as if I have spinach between my teeth. They’re curious about the way my hair looks but most aren’t brazen enough to say anything. I notice them steal glances and imagine them thinking, “Boy, she’s really going gray!”—as if I’m just two steps shy of my coffin. I am amused.

My teacher friend Deby, who grayed early and beautifully, had a first grader ask her, “How old is your hair?” I’ve only had comments like, “Geez, what’s David doing to make you go gray so early?”

I haven’t totally come to terms with my graying hair. I’m used to it being dark brown. And here it is slowly slipping away on me. I’ve contemplated restoring it to its former color. I bought this henna stuff, sight unseen, through our buying club. I thought it was a bottle of shampoo that would magically transform the gray to dark brown and leave the dark brown alone. 

When it arrived, I knew it was something altogether different. Complicated. A package of Step 1. A package of Step 2. Directions. With plastic gloves attached to the paper—just like when my mother used to dye her hair. 

The box said 100 percent pure Persian henna. It’s for dark brown hair. The color guide says if you use dark brown henna on dark brown hair you’ll get a deep brown result. And what the heck is that? 

In the directions, it says, “...we offer the same guarantee offered by nature over the centuries...None!” I’m reluctant to be a guinea pig. Presently, I’m scouting around for someone with my hair color and grayness level who will test it for me. Step right up, sucker.

I’m a little surprised with myself that I would consider coloring my hair. Usually I just let nature take its course. But all my life I’ve had dark brown hair. Gray doesn’t fit in with who I am. Gray hair, for me, is as strange an idea as changing my name when I got married would have been. Colleen Leddy is who I am. Who I grew up as. The idea of assuming another name, even a nice name like Green, seemed too weird. 

But I am mellowing. When kids say “Hi, Mrs. Green,” I answer without correcting them. At least they aren’t calling me Mrs. Gray.