Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, our writer takes us on her journey to Ireland and back to rediscover a love for her REDHEAD ROOTS — even if the only authentic ones exist on her head.
Carrottop. Rusty. Ginger. Pippi Longstocking. “How original. I’ve never heard that one before,” I want to respond. “Connect the dots with my freckles? What a clever idea. Yes, that’s right, someone did leave me outside in the rain, and my hair rusted.”
As a redhead, I’ve heard all the jokes and jeers.
The only tag that didn’t make me wince was the pet name my grandfather coined. “How’s my Pretty Red?” I can still hear his sonorous voice ask, employing the tender name he’d used for me all his life. It was always “my” Pretty Red. I was always his.
I’m the sole redhead on a family tree of dark-haired relatives (including a twin brother) whose roots sink four generations in the United States. Beyond that, the branches get a little blurry. I’m often asked where my red hair comes from and whether I’m Irish. “I don’t think so,” is my normal response.
But on a recent trip to the Emerald Isle, I began to wonder if a homeland could only be defined by ancestral roots. Could feeling at home tether me to the land too?
Growing up in Los Angeles, I felt there was a certain circus-freak fascination with my hair. Step right up, folks, and get your tickets to see The Bearded Lady, test your arm-wrestling skills against The World’s Strongest Man and don’t forget to feed a nickname to The Redhead before you go.
The authenticity of my hair color — a nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger blend — also provoked prolific questioning throughout the years, an inquiry my mother says would send her into orbit when strangers asked whether her infant daughter’s locks were “natural.”
“Why would I dye a baby’s hair?” was her frustrated response.
I spent my teens rubbing lemon juice onto my tresses to lighten them up, and in an attempt to obliterate my freckles, I slathered “fade-out” cream on my face, hoping the dots, and the attention to them, would obey. Dating was hell, especially in L.A., where blondes were bombshells, brunettes were sultry and redheads had “great personalities,” the kiss of death in courting jargon.