HiHo Silver: It’s OK to Go Gray

By GAIL JOKERST

My mom was a 1945 war bride and raised me to believe that letting your hair go gray was as close as a woman could come to committing beauty suicide. That seemed the norm for her generation. No matter how artificial the color might appear, as far as she was concerned any shade of mahogany or sable was better than gray.

During my 30s, whenever my mom saw me with a few silver glimmers peeking out of my dark tresses, she’d not so subtly hint I should do something about it. So I tried to disguise them.

Initially, it was a full-head dye job. But I began to loathe the telltale grow-out line, which inevitably showed up sooner than seemed possible.

Years passed, then it was streaking in enough brown to imitate a more acceptable salt-and-pepper look. I could live more easily with that variation. Yet, after a while, it, too, seemed fake, and I felt equally uncomfortable with that option.

Such was the situation until four years ago when my brother returned from visiting our mom at the Florida nursing home where she now lives.

“Do you know, I think she’s the only woman there with brown hair,” he observed.

He was right. None of the other residents had anything but silver or gray locks or none at all. As I was responsible for scheduling my mom’s hairdresser appointments, I decided it was time for her hair color to be natural, despite her past sentiments on the subject.

With her memory no longer firing on all cylinders I figured it wouldn’t matter to her anymore. Consequently, her dye jobs came to an end along with mine.

Still, I was curious how she’d accept our new looks and waited patiently for our heads of hair to grow out into their actual hues before asking. For mom, the outcome was lovely, snowy white hair. For me, it was mostly silver shimmers with a sprinkling of brown.

One memorable afternoon as my husband and I took her for a wheelchair stroll in the nursing home garden, I brought up the subject.

“How do you like your hair, mom?” I asked. By this point, her communication skills were almost nonexistent, but she nodded her head and said, “nice.” I then queried, “What do you think of my hair?”

She smiled and gave me one of the best mother-to-daughter compliments ever. “Pretty,” she said.

Next, my hubby, who sports as much bare scalp as hair then doffed his cap and asked, “How about my hair, Elsie?” And that dear lady just giggled.

Frankly, we were delighted that she could even grasp the conversation, never mind her opinions about hair.

What eventually enabled me to go natural was the honesty required when seeing myself in a mirror. As I’d pull back my hair to wash my face, I had to admit the silver tones looked better than any manufactured hair color. And that proved to be the case. I started receiving more compliments on my hair as a silver head than I ever did with my natural or bottled color.

One thought-provoking outcome of going gray occurred—of all places—on a hiking trail last summer. A man who spoke broken English had just passed me when he suddenly stopped, turned around, and inquired, “How old you?”

I surmised he was asking because of my hair, which marks me as most likely a Baby Boomer. I politely answered, “None of your business.”

He looked puzzled, as if he didn’t understand, and repeated the question. This time I said, “Old enough to be your mother,” thinking that would end his query. But it didn’t. Looking me in the eye he replied, “My mother 80.” I couldn’t help but burst into laughter as I shook my head and stated, “I’m not that old,” before resuming my trek.

I think he was surprised to see a hiker with gray hair. Though to me, a trail is where anyone belongs, regardless of age, who can put one foot in front of the other to retreat to the woods or enjoy a mountain view.

The experience reminded me that feeling old is a state of mind unrelated to the number of times Earth has circled the sun.

It certainly has nothing to do with the color of someone’s hair. MSN-ISI

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