Everything associated with aging, it seems, sneaks up on us. Gray hair, for instance.

There I was getting ready for work. I got out of the shower, got dressed and combed my hair. Then I dried my hair and noticed what I thought was a gray hair! Wait a minute, maybe it was the lighting? Maybe it wasn’t a gray hair at all. Nonetheless, I did not freak out. However, I was extremely surprised. I combed my hair and laughed at the very thought, me with gray hair. I left the house, drove to the office and never gave it another thought.

Only Her Hairdresser Knows

Remember the ad, years ago, that said, “Only her hairdresser knows”? The presumption was that nobody but a woman’s hairdresser would know whether or not a woman colors her hair. When I lived in Roswell, I went to a hair salon that I really liked. I got excellent haircuts there. Although I didn’t color my hair very often, every once in a while I would have my stylist do blonde highlights. He said, “Pam, redheads do not gray like other people.” I did not know that. He explained that when redheads turn gray it is more like blonde and their hair gets lighter. He said that if I turn completely gray, I will look like I have blonde hair, so maybe I just thought I saw a gray hair. Maybe it was a blonde hair which I guess, for me, is a gray hair?

My husband and I laughed about me noticing my first gray hair. He said he didn’t understand the big deal. I told him I always thought that first gray hair would be a symbol of aging. My mother was a brunette and she had a really pretty undertone of red in her hair. Mama was 91 years old when she passed away and her hair was not entirely gray. Her mother passed away at 82 years of age and her hair was not totally gray. That to me is remarkable.

I find it interesting that gray hair on men makes them look “distinguished.” Men don’t see what the big deal is about having gray hair, but don’t they freak out when they start going bald! Who among us has not seen a man who styles his hair with the dreaded “comb over?” There is nothing funnier in this world than an aging hippie who is going bald but insists on having long hair.

The Science of Gray Hair

People can get gray hair at any age. Our hair follicles have pigment cells from which our hair gets color. As we age, those pigment cells in our hair follicles steadily die. When there are fewer pigment cells in a hair follicle, that strand of hair will no longer contain as much melanin. Subsequently, that strand of hair will become a more transparent color. Our hair, as it grows, will turn gray, silver or white. That explains why we have all seen women, for instance, who look very striking with silver hair. Other folks, as you know, have white hair. I find it all fascinating.

My hair stylist recently said, “Pam, you have not had the first gray hair!” So, as the saga continues of my hair possibly going gray, I will certainly keep a sense of humor. I am always ready and willing to laugh at myself. Sometimes we infer that we’ve done something to deserve gray hair. However, I don’t think stress makes us gray. Even so, I remind myself that I’ve heard it said many times, “I earned every one of my gray hairs.” Indeed.

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, a writer, avid cyclist, history enthusiast and ardent reader of Southern fiction. Readers may email her at pamterrellwalker@gmail.com.