On red hair, elderly neighbors, and how kids are kind of the Fountain of Youth

March 8 2013 | Guest post by Mark Freeman
By: fotologicCC BY 2.0
When I was a kid, growing up with bright red hair wasn't easy. It's tough to remember just how red it was as it fades with age. I mean, it was a really deep dark oxidation red. A burnt umber that would have made Bob Ross sigh in delight and approval. Besides the typical teasing of being the odd looking kid in the neighborhood, there was an inordinate amount of hair touching that occurred back then too.

Now, before you start getting any weird ideas, we lived next door to a series of homes with older residents. When I think back on it, my neighbors seemed really old to me. Like Gandalf and Dumbledore old. When I really think about though, they probably weren't that old, actually. They might have only been my parents' age, and my parents then my age now. Funny to think on it, really, because my parents seemed so much older to me then. They were so… grown up. So mature for how I feel now. They seemed, for the most part, to be really with it. Solid.

Somehow I just don't see my daughters looking at me that way. Now, or ever, really. I certainly don't look at me that way.

Did my parents think this same thought back then? Did they feel grown up? I certainly don't feel as old or grown up as they seemed back then. And, now, they certainly don't seem as old as my neighbors seemed to that little ginger-haired boy back then (High five, Mom!).

However, those wizened older folks really, I mean really, liked my hair. It was so weird and uncomfortable for me back then. I really didn't like it when they touched my hair and squeezed my cheeks. I hated my hair as a kid. I felt it was the bane of my existence, the sole source of my teasing.

However, like my hair, I grew to appreciate my neighbors — liking them even. I once scared the Ba-Geezus out of my Mom when I disappeared for probably only short amount of time that I'm sure seemed like forever to her. When she finally found me, I was in my neighbors' home, sharing some cookies and milk. As a parent now, I realize what a horrible experience that must have been for my Mom, but at the time I just couldn't see what the fuss was over some cookies and milk.

"It was just cookies, Mom!"

So, I get that too, I guess. I understand that crazed anxiety over a misplaced child, something no one should ever experience, and no one else will ever understand unless they're a parent who has felt that (hopefully only) momentary panic of a lost child. But what I've been feeling of late is what I think my neighbors saw in me, and especially my hair back then as a child.

I get it now as I look at my girls. As I said before, I don't feel old, but when I look at them they energize me. I understand now what they meant by "drinking in my youth." As a kid, I worried it was some scary vampire thing — and not the silly sparklepire kind. That they really were soaking up my youth somehow. Funny, but scary to a little kid then.

I get it now, though.

It's that feeling of energy, of being alive, when I watch my girls. Play with them. Cuddle them. And, now as they're getting older and so much smarter than their old man, talking to them. I love talking with my girls. Listening to their thoughts, imaginings, and hearing their explanations for our world. They amaze me. They make me feel young.

They give me purpose.

So, I think I get it now. Maybe my old neighbors didn't think or feel these things all those years ago. Maybe they just really liked red hair, I don't know for sure, I was never smart enough to ask them what they meant. However, when I'm with my girls, they make me feel like that ginger-haired boy all over again. I need to pause and let their youth wash over me, soak it in, and remember to see just how wonderful a thing it is.

  1. For years, I have held the stereotype that old people love redheads. VINDICATED!!!

    (Like you, I have had so many old people touch my hair, compliment me on the street, ask me where I got my red hair, etc etc etc.)

    • I used to get that too (and still do even though now I'm auburn rather than ginger due to natural fading/colour change)

      Although it always bugs me when people ask the question "Where did you get your hair?" and apparently "I grew it like most people do" is not a mature or acceptable answer…

      • lol. Funny! Seeing how neither of my parents have red hair, I always told folks the mailman, but I guess that isn't acceptable either. 🙂

        • I heard a story once about a little girl with red hair whose two parents did not have it. At a very young age, her parents taught her to say "recessive genes" in response to the question "Where did you get your red hair?". 🙂

  2. My son is living this right now. He's a strawberry blonde, heavy on the strawberry, but old people flock to him.

    • It's funny, when I was younger I really didn't like my hair, but when my wife and I were pregnant w/ our daughters I really wished one of them would have red hair. My oldest was born w/ it, but it quickly changed to more dirty blonde w/ strawberry highlights.

  3. When I was pregnant with my first baby in 2010 I jokingly told everyone "He will be gorgeous and wonderful and I will dye his hair if it is red." Well his hair WAS red and has now faded to a strawberry blonde. I am sure he will have brown hair as an adult but I secretly wish for the red back. It's special and rare and I don't remember what my problem was. I love it when people comment on it….except for the three different strangers who have made "milkman" comments.

  4. My daughter's hair is practically orange (along with being curly) and she gets tired of comments all the time. When she was younger, she would cry because she would get stopped so much by elderly people wanting to talk about her hair.

  5. I used to dislike my red hair too, and all the attention. I was always a good sport though, because I sensed that there was no ill-intention. I started to really love my hair color in my early twenties and I have to say my husband were a little sad that our daughter has his dirty blond hair color! It's really hard when people constantly asked if my daughter got my "beautiful" hair color. I didn't want to sound disappointed, because I'm not, but you know… it was a bit awkward at times…

    What I always hated was the assumption that I must be Irish! Not one bit… Italian, in fact. I have a more olive skin tone than is usually expected with red heads so I guess that actually makes me more of a "day walker" than a ginger.

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