In his 1990 autobiography, Ronald Reagan wrote that he was pleased when his hair finally turned gray, as it stopped reporters from asking if he dyed his hair. There is considerably less interest in the color of my hair, but now that the change in color is picking up steam, I, too, will soon be spared the “hair dye” question.
When people asked me whether I dyed my hair, I was aggravated, for two reasons. The first, I am exceedingly lazy. I am so lazy that I don’t even bother using conditioner, though everyone tells me I should. I am able to muster just enough energy to apply a little Brylcreem to my hair, and that’s that. Coloring my hair would require way too much work.
The second reason I get perturbed when people ask me about dying my hair is that the question presupposes that I find gray hair objectionable. I do not. Gray hair, whether in the form of streaks, salt and pepper, or the full-blown silver mane, tends to lend an air of wisdom and sagacity to the bearer. I could use that, from time to time.
I’m not sure what causes gray hair. Age, certainly, plays some role, but it can’t be the only factor. I have had friends go completely gray in their 30s, while people like Ronald Reagan make it into their 70s before turning completely. Surely genetics must play some role, but the extent of that role is unclear to me. My father was gray in his 50s. I do not know about my mother: only she and her hairdresser knew for sure.
In 2005 I was teaching at a boarding school in Dunwoody, GA. We had a week off for spring break, during which time I failed to shave. When the week of spring break was over, I decided to keep the beard, which was predominantly gray to white in color. I had a touch of salt and pepper at the temples, but the rest of my hair was brown. One day, in the Kroger I frequented every week, the little girl running the cash register asked me if I was eligible to receive the senior discount. I was 52 at the time, and so I answered “no.” She flushed. I recalled that my bank, First Union (otherwise known as FU), offered the senior discount at age 50, so I asked the girl about the age eligibility. I forget her answer, but it was somewhere in the distant future. I shook my head “no” again, and she began to turn red. After a little thought, I asked “It’s the beard, isn’t it?” At this point she turned cherry red, and checked me out as quickly as she could without giving me an answer. I went home and shaved the beard.
It is one thing to portray an air of wisdom and sagacity, but quite another to look several years older than I am.
I see more gray strands every day in the mirror, and that part of growing older is something I can live with.
Did I just end a sentence with a preposition?