Fire in the Woodshed!

My mother once told me I had a great-uncle who played fiddle at barn dances, and that he had a red mustache. The growth on his upper lip was the first red hair anyone could remember in our family; it found its way to her head and then to mine.

To be a redhead early in the last century was not considered a blessing, and during her school years, my mother had to endure a lot of hair-inspired taunts:

“Carrot top!”
“Red-head, red-head, fire in the woodshed!”

Maybe the teasing toughened her, because years later – during the era of black cars – Ma bought a cream-colored Chevy convertible with red leather top and upholstery. It caused quite a stir, but no more so than that red hair flying in the breeze as she drove.

And then I arrived, equally cursed. For some reason, kids my own age pretty much ignored my carrot top, but my mother’s generation still seemed to enjoy exclaiming, “Oh! RED-head!” when they would meet us. One Easter my mother dressed me in pink, provoking a neighbor woman to call out for all the world to hear, “Don’t you know you should never dress that child in pink?! She’s a red-head !”

As I got older, things got a little easier thanks to Charles Shultz. “The Little Red-headed Girl” in Peanuts was the object of Charlie Brown’s affections. She never had any other name, but boyfriends in my youth called me by hers.

My landlady back in 1975 was ninety years old, white haired and deaf. (The latter characteristic, by the way, is a desirable quality in a landlady). She had moved to the house we then rented in the winter of 1919, bringing herself and her belongings by sleigh. One day she beckoned me to her side of the house and then upstairs to her bedroom, opened a dresser drawer, and produced a cardboard box containing a beautiful long braid of red hair. She had cut it off in the 1920s (as was the fashion), and she laughed and said that her husband didn’t speak to her for a week afterwards!

These days there are redheads everywhere you look. None of them quite match the glorious natural auburn and gold mix that was once mine (and my mother’s), but the bottled option does offer some exotic shades of purple and blood which would have certainly interested me in my teens.

Why the rush to red? I’m betting it’s because women recognize that Charles Schultz and my landlady’s husband are not unusual: boys have always loved red hair. “Red-head, red-head, fire in the woodshed!” You bet!!!


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