Dark and generously thick hair is a dominant family trait for the women on both sides of my DNA tree. But as years tumble forward, our heads fade to gray well before the mindset of middle age. Each generation of women had their method to combat and come to terms with the inevitable. My maternal grandmother enjoyed regular salon visits when she retired. Her hair looked like a blue helmet. The steeliness of her hair color was evident even when she twirled and set pin curls in a net for the night. My mom fought the gray with home dye colors. Her choice was a flat black, very close to her natural color but without the light brown tints. She spent the evening with her head covered in a plastic bag and scrubbing the drips of excess black streams off of her forehead. I do not remember my paternal grandma’s hair being anything other than a pile of white-gray frizzy curls—my inheritance. She did get her hair “done” for occasions, but, daily, she let her hair go naturally.
My hair color started to fade from its dark brown color and reddish tints once I reached my thirtieth year. Silver strands flecked from my scalp and curled within the natural hues. This was circa late eighties. Men’s graying was, and still is, considered distinguished, mature, and asserted credibility. Gray-headed women were perceived as tired and old.
Truth be told, I never did find going to the salon pleasurable. The aromas, chatterings, and having to have to tolerate someone fussing with my hair taxed my oversensitive nature and patience. I sought out haircutters who could snip and style my mass of moppy curls in no more than 20 minutes. I often bolted from the salon with a hat covering my damp head.
I did try professional coloring and highlighting, but I was left impatient and racked with guilt spending too much time and money on something I could do myself. So for 30 plus years, I bought boxed hair dye—the one that assured me that I am worth it, and began covering up the inevitable aging process.
I colored my hair mostly in medium to dark brown shades with delicious names like Praline Brown, Black Ginger, and Iced Chocolate. My husband teased me that the darker hues should be named Dead Crow on a Stick. Every four to six weeks, the lusciousness dwindled, and the edges of my scalp appeared dusty. I had to apply and rinse away the evidence of age. As the years sped by, the whole process got old and tired.
Last winter, retirement became a reality. I prepared finances and planned for the next life chapter. A few burdensome tasks took a sideline position. I packed away curriculum books and gave away speech therapy materials. The seasonal socks and scarves were tucked in the deep recesses of drawers, and the boxes of hair color were absent in my bathroom cabinet.
What liberation! I no longer cared about dusty roots. I did not have to coordinate a coloring night with an upcoming occasion. I did not have to tolerate the smelly chemicals or clean-ups. As the gray encroached, I honestly did not get that tired old lady feeling. Granted, the fact that gray hair is now all the rage among younger women, as well as my contemporaries, helped the transition. I am not alone.
The change happened quickly. Even my five-year-old students noticed.
“Mrs. Martin, What happened? Your hair is white!” (I now wonder if they thought Elsa touched me with frosty magic like Anna in Frozen)
“Oh, sweetie’s, I’m getting old. I will have to stop teaching soon.”
“No, Mrs. Martin! You just need a black Magic Marker!”
These days, the mirror still surprises me. My usual short and curly style has remained the same but my mane grew white in the front, silver in the back. The reflection reminds me of my grandma, who had the same mass of curls on her head. My grandma was one of the kindest and loving people who had ever graced this Earth, so I don’t mind to, at least, look like her.
Thank you for reading.
Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great!
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.