The first time I realized being a redhead was something different I was pretty young. While attending a local folk festival we were passing the Irish booth when it happened. "Oh look at the nice Irish lass!" exclaimed a loud, large man. He lifted me up for the crowd to examine. I was pretty sure I wasn't Irish -- but everyone else thought I was adorable. I was confused and happy to be put down. It was to be the first of countless conversations beginning with "you must be Irish" throughout my life.
Elementary school is where I learned that if you stand out teasing will follow. The most popular taunt "Freckle-Face-Strawberry" was heard often on the playground. It never really bothered me much -- I had plenty of friends, but it made me look around and realize there weren't many of us redheads around. A few sunburns also made me a shade-seeker in the summertime. That cultivated a lifelong love of books and creating things with my hands.
In adolescence no one feels like they fit in but as I continued to read, I found out many famous people had red hair -- or dyed it to pretend that they had. I also learned not many people understood the principles of genetics -- otherwise they would not have been asking me if my father was the mailman, milkman, delivery man, etc. -- ha ha ha! I found that I could make heads turn when I entered a room because of my hair but keep people interested because of me.
As a young adult I found others who shared this unique coloring with me. I attended a college with many Irish Catholics. The redheads were a force to be reckoned with in every shade. On a trip to Mexico I found out "roja" is a great bargaining chip in countries where the trait is rare. And nothing looks as beautiful as red hair in a mirror when the face beneath is kind, intelligent and unintimidated.
As an adult my uniqueness became my friend. Redheads have higher pain tolerances, need less pain meds, really don't have bad tempers and make more Vitamin D with less sunlight. We really aren't witches, vampires or werewolves as reported in the Middle Ages. We are the genetic offspring of an ancient Indo-European culture whose single recessive gene lies unknown in many, openly declaring itself in those with the rarest natural hair color in humankind. Now as I see my hair begin to turn grey, it's a bit sad to part with such a distinctive part of myself. But I wouldn't trade my time as a redhead for any other hair color. I know that my uniqueness has been my greatest gift -- being different is a strength. And someday, like me, one of my descendants will be born with that distinctive tint of red hair. It is a gift.