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The Gray Hair I Asked For

Rose Mary is an Air Force veteran and an Occupational Therapist. She enjoys researching and writing on a variety of topics.

Sebastian and me July 2008.

Sebastian and me July 2008.


This is the story of why I have gray hair, actually the gray hair that I asked for. Surprising perhaps for someone known for dramatic long dark hair for the greater part of my life. I had long straight hair all through junior high, high school and junior college. It was my trademark.


I had a few short hair years in my early 20s, with a “poodle perm” like Barbara Streisand’s in A Star is Born. By my mid-20s it was long and straight again. I returned to curly with a long dramatic spiral perm just before I turned 30. I had to wear my long hair pinned up because of the military. It felt old and ugly, like a “granny bun”. What woman needs that?! After about 8 years in the Air Force, I finally went short for good in my late 30s.


Me in the 8th grade.

Me in the 8th grade.

My High School Senior picture.  Lots of long hair behind me.

My High School Senior picture. Lots of long hair behind me.



Around 2001, when I was about 42, a phlebotomist drawing my blood in the lab at Wilford Hall Medical Center (Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio Texas) said, “Are you going to leave your hair like that?” This young man spoke very good English, but heavily accented. It took a few seconds for what he had said to sink in.


My first thought was, “Oh my gosh, I forgot to comb my hair!” In quick succession, my next thought was “Is my hair over my collar?” But he was a civilian, and probably wouldn’t be thinking about military regulations regarding women’s hair. I timidly asked “What do you mean?”


“Your hair,” he said, “Are you going to leave the gray?”


In a funny way relieved, I said “Well actually, yes. That’s my plan. I got the hair I asked for.” It would be bad Karma to mess with that.


Not knowing what to expect, I was a bit surprised when he said “Good. I like it.”


Funny how relieved you can be at a stranger’s approval. So we’re bonding over my hair. I decided to share my “hair story” with him, but a shorter version than what I share with you here.


My glamour photo with my spiral perm about age 30.  I only looked glamorous for about an hour.

My glamour photo with my spiral perm about age 30. I only looked glamorous for about an hour.

 

I always looked like my dad, and surely got my dark hair from him.  But this didn’t “count”.  He has guy hair, and very little hair I might add.  My mom has baby fine light brown hair, to this day with very little gray.  Two of her sisters, my Aunt Blanche and Aunt Ola Belle (how are those for Southern names?) both have dark hair, and like Mom, very little gray.  My Aunt Totsie had the darkest hair, like mine. 

 

Aunt Totsie’s actual name was Mary Christine.  I was named after her, Rose Mary.  My sister was named after her, Christy Gaye.  My grandmother dubbed her Totsie because she was a petite baby, just a wee tot.  Aunt Totsie gave me my first bath when I came home from the hospital.  She also gave my sister her first bath. 

Aunt Totsie and me when I was about 22.  She was about 52.

Aunt Totsie and me when I was about 22. She was about 52.

 

I lived with Aunt Totsie and Uncle Jack for a year as I was preparing to go back to college.  She spoiled me some would say.  She would gently call and nudge me to get up each morning for work.  I was always a night owl, which she verified to be the case even when I was a toddler.  She would turn on my hot curlers to be ready when I finally got up.  She’s see me off to work each day.  We’d go shopping together.  When I took an EMT class, she would have my dinner waiting in the oven when I got home late. 

 

This was when I was in my early 20s.  Aunt Totsie’s hair was making the transition to gray, and I thought it was simply beautiful.  It had nice texture and thickness.  She had it in a really nice wedge-like hairstyle that I really liked.  I remember being in her dining room with some of our other family members, as we often congregated.  I declared that if my hair started to gray as evenly, naturally and age appropriately as Aunt Totsie’s, I would never dye it. 

 

My Air Force regulation granny bun. Mess dress uniform.

My Air Force regulation granny bun. Mess dress uniform.

Aunt Totsie age 78, after Alzheimers, about 18 months before she died.

Aunt Totsie age 78, after Alzheimers, about 18 months before she died.

 

Remember, this was when I was in my early 20s.  Some would have said, “Oh you’ll change your mind.”  You certainly can’t hide gray when you have dark hair.  But I never did change my mind.  I have always had a good attitude about my gray hair.  I have always liked it.  I love the heavier texture.  I think it is graying in evenly, naturally and age appropriately.  Just like Aunt Totsie’s.  Just like I asked for.  And that’s a beautiful thing. 

 

I had a breast cancer client who had beautiful dark hair.  On a follow-up visit, she told me she had not only made peace with losing her hair to chemo, but she had been inspired by my gray hair.  She had decided to let her new hair come in natural.  Quite a compliment, and further testament to Aunt Totsie, a breast cancer survivor. 

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