My Relationship with Red
We have a lot of red hair in our Ulster Scots/German family. Strawberry blonde, auburn, red. Growing up, it garnered not just a little antagonism from our peers...and others. Neighbors would call out to us, "Something's burning...And I think it's you-oooo!" We had friends who raided other's gardens and we got lumped into the blame: "I hope you and your little red-headed friends had fun eating my watermelon!"
And naturally, the requisite freckles came with the package. I was very stoic as a youngster, believing that if I acted as though I didn't care, people would get tired of taunting me and leave me alone. That didn't really work all the time. I never complained about having red hair and freckles, and as a matter of fact I remember my father telling me, when I was very young, that if I ate black-eyed peas, the number of freckles on my skin would proliferate. I believed him. People also said they were angel kisses. I wanted to believe them all, because at three and four years old, who knew freckles were going to be so much trouble down the road? Although, my daughter knew when it came time for her to experience it. She came home from first grade one day and said, "Someone made fun of my freckles today. I knew this was going to come up!"
When I was a teenager, a family friend brought a magazine to me, with a picture of a very pretty young woman who had just won a Freckles Beauty Contest, and the friend said to me, "See, Penny. Freckles can be pretty!" The thing that got me about that was that I had never mentioned to her or very likely anyone else that I was displeased about having freckles and red hair. I don't think I ever really was. I just really hated the teasing. I thought her saying that to me said more about what she thought about my red hair and freckles than what I did.
My father's nickname was "Cherry," having been given that name in the army. It was actually more than a nickname because that's what everyone called him all the time. Friends, neighbors and relations, all, and it didn't seem feminine to me. Somehow, being a man named Cherry seems a little jarring today. Like you wouldn't give your son a fruit name, (but we had a teacher who named her daughter "Peaches." For real.)
And then my younger sister was born and our parents hadn't been able to decide upon a name, so at the last minute to have something to put on the birth certificate, she was named, "Cherrie." She has red hair. Over the years, people would tell me they remembered my name by associating it with my copper-colored hair. Neither my sister nor I was named a red-headed name because we had red hair. Just happy coinkidinks! I was the first-born daughter and given the name my mother had chosen from a favorite childhood story that she had carried around all her life and eventually given to me.
My kid brother had the cutest red curls. He was born in 1976, a time when it was pretty cool for little boys to have longish hair. He was not quite three when he asked me, "Penny, what's my hair doing?" It took me a minute to realize he was trying to remember the word, "curly." thinking that when we talked about his curly red hair, he understood that as an action. "It's curly, Michael." (You beautiful blue-eyed, red-haired little cherub!) When he got older, his name changed as a matter of course to "Red."