Memory Lane

Being A Redhead … Being “Red”

So, when Black mentions Redhead Appreciation Day, I know it’s related to Red & Black and not her being “nice” and giving me a day off (or telling me that she appreciates me). And when she asks, “What is it like to be a redhead, Red?” part of me wants to reply, “What’s it like not to be a redhead?” because, for my entire life, I’ve been “Red.” (There’s a story there, but I’ll get to it later.) The honest answer is, well, I never thought about it, until now …

I know that redheads often have a reputation for being fiery and hot-tempered, but I managed to escape that characteristic. (Although it amuses me that many people make that assumption about me before they even get to know me.) Ironically, I’ve always preferred to blend in and not make any waves (good or bad). But being a redhead does tend to make you stand out in the crowd (unless, of course, you’re in Scotland or Ireland, in which case, being a redhead helps you blend in), and growing up, I just accepted the attention in my stride.

It never seemed to bother me. Not even when I lived in China, which was definitely an experience on so many fronts. But while many things were to be expected (and, to some degree, endured, but that’s another post for another day), being a redhead wasn’t something I thought about. Until the first time I went for a bike ride through the streets of Shanghai on a hot summer’s day,

Everyone was pointing at me. Was it because I was a Westerner on a bike? (This was in the 1990s, and I was part of the first wave of ex-pats in Shanghai.) Or maybe a woman alone? I know my pale skin and whiter than white legs weren’t anything special. Then I noticed that everyone was pointing at my hair. Being a redhead (especially with very long hair and before the days of bike helmets to hide it) in China meant I’d never escape being noticed.

Unfortunately, the other thing I’d never escape, like most fair skin people, especially redheads, is that my skin burns easily. Growing up, it was extremely frustrating as all my friends tanned (ok, this was in the days before we knew of the dangers of the sun), and I had only two color options – white and red (as in bright red!).

Then I started wondering whether being a redhead explains why I blush so easily (I can only imagine the research Black will send me, so I won’t mention it to her). Or whether it’s just a function of having such pale skin that makes it more noticeable. But just the thought of how easily I blush is embarrassing, which in turn causes me to blush. Which I guess makes me Red with a red face.

Interestingly, although I go by the nickname Red, I never knew of any other redheads called Red. Even my daughters, both redheads, have never been called Red. (Although they’d tell me that occasionally someone would call them “Ginger,” but each of them shut that down pretty quickly.) But being called Red has never bothered me, although it might be because of how my nickname originated.

Which is the story I alluded to earlier, and, of course, it’s all Black’s fault, so I’ll let her tell the story,

On the day my parents brought my sister home from the hospital, I quickly glanced at my new (and not entirely welcome) baby sister with her bright red hair, and immediately called her “Red.” To which my mother told me, and not in a kind motherly way, but instead rather emphatically, to NEVER call her that again. So, from that day forward, I never called her anything else.

‘Tis the season for joyous celebrations – of whatever holiday you may celebrate. And fond memories. Even though Red wasn’t born when this happened, it’s still one of her holiday favorites (yes, she initially thought Black must have been on the “naughty list”) and a reminder of what the holidays are truly all about.

BLACK: I do not know at what age my Christmas memories began, but I do remember being very young and in awe of a very large – and very well decorated – Christmas tree in our family room. I even remember peeking down the stairs late one evening and seeing my mother standing extremely close to Santa Claus. OK, you might not find that an unusual memory, except my family is Jewish.

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Photo by klohka on iStock

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