Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chronic Ancestral Amnesia

Andy Leppard via Flickr

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about hair dyeing. She was lamenting how often she needs to cover her grays these days. I told her I was sorry, I’ve never had to color my hair and have never wanted to. I told her that recently I’d seen an article saying redheads don’t go gray, and that it gave me hope that maybe I’d not have to worry about whether or not to dye my hair. She talked about the onset of gray hair running in families. I shared stories about my husband and my best friend from college, both of whom went gray very early in life.

Later, I realized how strange my half of the conversation must have sounded. I didn’t say I thought I wouldn’t go gray because others in my family hadn’t; I talked about an article I’d read. I talked about the heredity of other people close to me. I didn’t talk about my own, because I couldn’t.

I’m not sure of my mother’s natural hair color. I’ve only seen it bleached very blonde. In faded older pictures, her hair appears a shade of red that could be similar to mine, but I don’t know that it wasn’t dyed then, too. I’ve never seen a picture of my mother or any of her siblings as children.

I’ve never seen a picture of any of my grandparents as children, though it probably wouldn’t matter much since those photos would likely be black-and-white. I’ve met a paternal aunt whose hair color is similar to mine, not at all gray, though again, I have no idea if her color was natural. My father’s hair has become more gray since I’ve known him, but I don’t know if it ever had as much red in it as mine.

I’ll find out how my hair will age the same way I found out how puberty and pregnancy would affect me—via firsthand experience. I’ll learn about menopause this same way, without the guidance of elder female relatives. I suffer from ancestral amnesia that—unfortunately, in my case—reunion has been unable to cure. Thankfully, these days I’m able to go through entire weeks forgetting that I used to feel I was dropped down on earth from the sky rather than grown in another human’s body. And then, in an unexpected moment, that feeling returns.

Karen Pickell
Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She is the founder of Adoptee Reading Resource, a catalog of books by and for adoptees. She blogs about writing, adoption, and other topics at karenpickell.com.