Shades of brown, not gray


Like many conflicted decisions in my life, it began harmlessly enough, with a coupon clipped from a shiny, Sunday circular. It was $2 off a box of hair color, promising "youthful, vibrant, natural results."

How wrong could that be? Alas, the answer to that question continues to weigh heavily, truly, on my head.

I began life, 54 years ago, as a brunette, and have attempted to stay that way for most of the subsequent five decades, with the exception of a brief period near the millennium, when I thought the world might really end and I experimented with becoming a platinum blonde. It was an unfortunate experiment and blessedly, since the apocalypse did not ensue, I had time to let my battered, peroxide-soaked strands regain their dignity and start again.

That trajectory of dips and dyes, foils and snares in the hairs and all sorts of chemical and cosmetic creativity is the subject of these musings. I just wanted to wash away the gray, cheaply. Perhaps that was my mistake.

Trips to the salon had become more frequent, expensive and time consuming. The tension between me and the merciless march toward gray hair was costly, in so many ways. I decided to take a more natural approach; a more "hands on" approach; a simple approach. It sounded good on paper, that is the paper on the box of hair color or "colour" if I opted for the fancy brand.

What followed has been the subject of great laughter among my friends and family and quite possibly shock and awe among my college students. The various "colours" of my hair ... in pursuit of my original shade of chocolate brown is the stuff of legend.

Take, for example, the attempt last summer to go completely "vegan" and rinse my hair with a vegetable dye/henna concoction found in a drug store on the island of St. Martin. I was on holiday and the French chemist, or pharmacist, assured me that all the "beautiful ladies" swear by it. "No need for dye," he told me with great assurance.

Well, the henna turned my hands, my scalp and much of the sink a lovely shade of auburn ... but not much of my hair. The actual hair was slightly pumpkin colored, but a brownish pumpkin, very autumnal.

In another experiment, this time with a nod toward the Christmas holidays, I decided to mix two boxes of color in order to achieve a more nuanced, tonal look, but with a vibrant holiday theme. The result was, indeed, spectacular. I knew it when I visited a kindergarten class to observe one of my interns from the university teaching her lesson.

Seated in a small chair in the vicinity of small children, I was charmed when two little girls wandered over to pat my head.

"I must be a vision," I thought. This was confirmed when one of the little ones sighed, "Your hair is so pretty Dr. B. It looks like grape Kool-Aid."

Her companion disagreed. "Nope. ... It looks like cherry Kool-Aid."

Out of the mouths of babes.

Attempting to keep the gray away requires constant vigilance and creativity. On a recent trip to the Midwest to deliver a keynote address to a few thousand teachers, my box of hair dye was snatched away by TSA. I had intended to do an emergency hair painting before the talk.

Left defenseless, I resorted to anointing the most telling white strands with a wand of mascara.

The mascara, unfortunately, was black and not brown, giving me a decidedly youthful "punk" look that I believe made the audience think I was actually more cool and daring than I actually am.

Undaunted, I continued to clip coupons and try out new brands. I am particularly drawn to anything promising enhanced shine and some variation on the plain, old brown.

Currently, the lure of avocado, almond and Moroccan oils captures my attention. And, while the first day or three of a new color seems to be acceptable, the length and depth and resilience of my hair wins out and strange patterns and hues emerge.

Recently, my best friend and I were out walking my beast and I bent down in strong sunlight, to fasten the pup's leash. My long hair was secured in a sporty pony tail, rippling halfway down my back. It was time for a new rinse of color, but I had not yet decided on the plan of attack.

My honest friend remarked: "You have got to spend some dollars and get your hair colored all one color. It looks like a calico cat."

I have always preferred dogs, so I took her seriously.

I found a coupon, this time for an actual hair salon and made an appointment. The young woman seemed fascinated by this new project. Several of her colleagues were summoned over to assess the situation.

"It is very pretty," one of them smiled, "but what color IS it?"

"What color do you want it to be?" I responded. They didn't laugh. Two hours later, I was rinsed to a pleasant, even tone of dark brown. "What color is this?" I asked her.

"Dark brown," the young cosmetologist replied.

"Doesn't it have a better name? Chestnut? Chocolate? Cherry Chocolate Chip?" She looked frightened at this point, so I gave her a nice tip and left.

"It should last four to six weeks and then you should come back or the gray will come back," she called after me.

That's a long time for me to ponder my next move and at least six Sundays of coupons to clip. Last time, with the right coupons, I got the "colour" for free.

Dr. Linda Karges-Bone is a professor at Charleston Southern University and creator of the "Prayerful Parenting" radio program heard nationally on the Family Radio Network. She and her husband, Gary, live in Summerville.