My mother was blonde when I was a little girl – courtesy of Clairol. She had been white-blonde as a child, but her hair darkened as she aged. I don’t know whether she was dirty blonde or chestnut, though, underneath her cheap, brassy dye. Everyone assumed blonde was her natural color, however, since she was always surrounded by a horde of screaming towheaded children. We were the perfect camouflage for her unnatural hair.
I hated her dye job. I harangued her about being a natural brunette incessantly. She ignored me. I swore I would never, ever color my own hair, even though my own locks were brown by Junior High.
You know what’s coming, right?
When I was sixteen, a friend French-braiding my hair stopped mid-plait. “No way,” she breathed. “Autumn, you’re not going to believe this.”
“It’s not lice, is it?!” I shrieked. “Tell me it’s not lice!” Lice in a household with five daughters and ten feet of hair is a goddamned nightmare, and one my family went through at least four times. If I brought home lice, I was toast.
“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just…I think you have a grey hair.”
“What? No. Can’t be. It’s a leftover blonde one from my childhood.”
“Nope, it’s definitely not blonde. It’s kinda silvery, actually. Catches the light—”
“PULL IT OUT!”
She did, handing it to me immediately. Sure enough, it was a silvery grey hair.
I shared my news at the dinner table that night. “Can you believe this? Who gets grey hair at sixteen?”
Future Doctor Sister snickered. “Too bad. Grey will really show up with your hair being so dark.” She smugly patted her own golden locks.
Stepmother #1 tried to be comforting, saying, “I’m sure it’s just an aberration. You probably won’t get anymore until you’re forty.”
My dad cleared his throat. “Well, actually, she will. It’s genetic.”
“Is this why Mom dyed her hair?” Mom had died two years earlier, or I’d have run howling to her first.
Dad shook his head. “Much as I’d like to blame your mother for this,” which was true, Dad blamed his first ex-wife for everything from crap contraception to crap car selection, “it’s not her genes. My mom was completely grey by the time she was forty.” And then Dad smiled, like he was all proud of those prematurely old genes.
For the next several years, my mischievous baby siblings taunted me mercilessly about going grey.
When I turned twenty-one, my OCD boyfriend pulled out fifty silvery hairs before I insisted he stop.
When I was twenty-five, guys I met on the dance floor were guessing I was at least thirty.
After a particularly bad breakup, I decided to dye my hair. The stylist said, “What color? You’ve got some red highlights naturally, but blonde would be perfect– ”
I said, “Not blonde!”
“Then red,” the stylist told me. “It’ll be stunning with your green eyes.”
I became a redhead, which turned out to trickier than the stylist thought. Grey hair likes to grab the orange in most dyes, but orange highlights are only attractive on clowns (and even that’s kind of dubious). My original stylist had to hand me and my orange hair over to a master colorist. It took the master colorist several attempts to turn the orange into a more sedate auburn.
My red hair must have been a pretty good fit, because everyone I met as a redhead assumed it was my natural color.
As my hair got greyer, though, it got harder to keep the orange out. So I went brunette. My grey hair still tried to grab the orange, but my long-suffering stylist eventually tamed my hair to a nice light brown.
But as the grey won the scalp domination war, I wound up with stripe of silver roots between colorings — expensive colorings.
So I gritted my teeth and took the stylist’s suggestion.
I went blonde, which hides my silvery roots better, longer, and cheaper.
I’m an atheist, but you know what?
I still think Mom is laughing her brassy blonde head off somewhere.