Family / Muse

Ode to The Red Heads

The meek {insert redheads} shall inherit the earth. 

Mac KellyIt was one of those unusual days, the middle of winter, but pleasantly warm. My schedule ended in the mid-afternoon and I was looking forward to slipping out of the dental office to enjoy some daylight. One last patient was added to my schedule, an emergency. When I walked back into my operating room,  a twelve year old girl sat, hovelled in my dental chair with a bag of ice over her mouth in trembling fingers and eyes wet and puffy with tears. My assistant explained on her behalf that both of her front teeth had fractured playing ball and she was consoling her. When the girl removed the icepack to speak she was calm, but in an upset voice she said these words through her broken teeth: ‘I am never going to be pretty’.

Rather than tell about how we restored her teeth, I want to share the comment I made, the way I shared it to her mother and father that waited anxiously in our reception area.

Mr and Mrs Smith, I want to tell you that Jane is going to be okay. She be will up here in a minute with her teeth fixed, but before she comes, I think it would be appropriate for you to know about something I told her. You see, Jane shared with me that she thought she was never going to be pretty. I could see in her eyes that their was so much behind that statement. You see, I was a red-headed kid once too and I think I know what she was thinking. I want you to know that I told her that red-headed people are special. I told her that we are unique and that sometimes we feel like people see us differently. I told her that when we are young sometimes we feel like we don’t fit in. Mr and Mrs Smith I told her to be patient, I told her that she was special and that one day she would realize it. I told her that red-headed women grow up to be especially beautiful. I hope you find my taking the liberty to tell her this acceptable.

I am quickly approaching forty years old. Rather than turning grey or going bald, I am disappointed that my once flaming red hair is darkening into a dark auburn that can be mistaken for a brunette’s brown. When my beard comes in, I am reluctant to shave away those little sparks of red stubble. My childhood freckles have receded, my darker complexion (for a red-head) sometimes hides the ‘red’ in my appearance– but I am all red-head inside. When I see my oldest son, Mac, I see a facsimile of myself: that wild spirited young fellow that marches through the world conscientiously to the beat of a different drummer. I know that he is special. I know that he lives with passion and I know that he probably has the affliction of every red-headed child, a struggle with self realization that has a late coming of age. He will probably be a little shy when he starts to be interested in girls. He will probably act out like a class-clown (trust me, I can relate) to mask his insecurities. But I know he is special and I know he is full of greatness and will grow up to do great things– as long as we show him love and encouragement.

I am part of a trickling line of red-heads, my mom is one, my grandfather on dad’s side which I am named after, was too. Here and there in all those Scots genes, a red-head or two seems to pop through in each generation. I think everything I shared with that fair little girl at the office was born from the conversations my mother related to me from her childhood experience of insecurities and insecurities abated in the love and encouragement of family .

Red hair occurs in less than two percent of the human population, in America it is more frequent, comprising 2-6% of the population. In Scotland and Ireland, nearly 45% of the population carries the recessive red-head gene which is located on chromosome 16 that must be expressed with a copy from both parents. Because a high proportion of the South has Celtic blood, odds are a bit higher that a Southern red-head might be in good company. Red is the most rare hair color in the world, because of its genetic distribution it stays that way, but is unlikely to decline. It is thought that red hair evolved as a genetic advantage in climates far from the equator, where the sun is less intense, so that red haired peoples could absorb more vitamin D. Red headed people react differently to analgesics, science proves it is harder to get them numb and they react differently to pain. In fact, red headed people retain more heat that others. This could be, along with the visual appearance of a crown of flames, why red-heads are thought to have a fiery disposition. I personally believe that this stereotyped fiery personality is a result of both nature and nurture. Nature in the genetic disposition to be full of the alleles of the freedom loving people of Eastern Europe and through nurture in the way they are perceived and treated as children.

In literature:

“People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie [his dead brother] never did, and he had very red hair.” -JD Salinger, Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

“It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity.” -Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels

“When red-headed people are above a certain social grade, their hair is auburn.” – Mark Twain

The Hebrew word translated to “reddish-brown” was used to describe both Esau and King David in the Old Testament. Esau was the older red-headed son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham. He was born just before his twin brother, with brother Jacob grabbing at his heal. Jacob deceived Esau out of his birthright by taking the venison that Esau hunted and tricked his blind father, Isaac, by offering the meal for his blessing and inheritance. Red-heads have been playing second fiddle ever since. And to think, at that moment they could have inherited the modern world! No damn wonder they’re so fiery.

I am proud to be a red-head and in league with my copper-freckled brothers and sisters. We seem to live in a world that is so flustered up race identity and mired down with multi-culturalism that there is little room for our secret minority to have margin to celebrate who we are or whine about the insecurities of our youth. But I know that being red-headed is special. (Everyone is special and deserves to be loved for who they are!) If you know a red haired child, be sweet to them, for they (these meek souls) shall inherit the earth. Moreover, if you see a red headed little girl– tell her she is beautiful!

(This is reposted from 2014)

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