He was right. The whole freckle-face, ­carrottop thing works a little like the story of the ugly duckling. At a certain point in my late 20s, I, like most redheads, began to feel more like the swan. The splintered debris of a taunted youth eventually transformed into thick protective plumes, billowed by confidence and teeth-grit determination. And eventually, like most redheads, I learned to love my fiery hair and embrace the attention and distinctness I had once shunned.

In a taxi on the way to the airport on my final day in Ireland, the chatty driver looked at me in the rearview mirror.

“I can hear ya are American, but ya must have a little Irish in ya there, eh, pretty red?”

There’s something about the Irish lilt that makes my knees weak and my eyes pinwheel. It took away some of the sting of hearing the beloved nickname I hadn’t heard for a while.

My grandfather had died the November before my last trip to Ireland. I sat with him on the couch, holding his hand, teary-eyed, anticipating the goodbye.

“Well, Pretty Red, it looks like I won’t make it until Thanksgiving,” he said.

He didn’t.

But in Ireland, surrounded by a coterie of Carrottops, Marmalade Heads and Ginger Nuts, I felt like I belonged. I felt my grandfather near again.

I felt like Pretty Red. 

KIMBERLEY LOVATO is a freelance writer and author from San Francisco who takes any chance she gets to celebrate her inner and outer redhead.