My Hair Tells the Story of Where I’ve Been

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Diana Trautwein -The Key5

Gran had long, thin, gray-and-white hair that she wore wound in a bun on the back of her head. It was a style reminiscent of the 1880’s or 90’s, and somehow suited her. For several years after my grandfather died, she would stay with us for two to three weeks at a time and when she did, she shared my bedroom. Every night I would watch, fascinated, as she wound up chunks of her long, thin hair around leather strips, which served as wave-setters while she slept. Then, in the morning, she would expertly comb and position every strand into a perfect loop, holding it in place with long hairpins.

At that stage of my life my own hair was the bane of my existence. It was almost as white as it is now, as my brother and I were complete towheads until we hit puberty. It was thin and very, very straight. My mom thought it would be nice to have a curly-haired daughter, so she would periodically put me through the process of a permanent wave, which I considered to be nothing less than torture. The irony was, it never worked. Never. I would end up with frizz on half my head and stick straight hair on the other half. Delightful.

I realize now that for each of us our relationship with our hair says a lot about who we are and where we’ve come from. On one side of my family, I come from that tall, thin, southern schoolmarm who married later than most and carried a lot of racial prejudice deep in her bones. On the other side, there was Nonnie, who was almost as wide as she was short (4’11”), lived with serious heart disease for half of her life (which extended 101 years despite that handicap), and began her own, very successful, business in her late 50s. She was an immigrant from Canada, and a very strong woman, though she hesitated to let that strength show, preferring to work underground in ways that were sometimes detrimental to the health of her family. While I knew her, Nonnie’s hair was short and curly.

At this stage of my life, as I am staring at the last leg of my own journey on this planet, I remember with love and gratitude the contributions of those two women to the richness of my story. Gran would be shocked to discover that I served as a pastor in mid-life. I choose to believe that, after some thought and prayer, she would have been proud. She died when I was 18.

Nonnie, on the other hand, died the first year of my ministry life here in Santa Barbara. And as I commuted from the LA area for the first few months of that ministry, I would stop and visit her in the rest home. She grabbed my hand on one of those Thursday mornings and told me, through tears that I was continuing the journey she never finished, a story I had never heard before that moment.

She was headed to Winnipeg at the tender age of 19 to enter ministry training with the Salvation Army when she chose instead to marry the older, handsome man who had admired her singing on the street corners of Vancouver. That sweet moment of revelation provided one of the strongest benedictions of my life.

Each of my grandmothers survived difficult marriages, had their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses, carried within themselves deep intelligence (one educated, the other not) and pretty decent people skills. And Gran’s old fashioned hairdo and Nonnie’s more modern style said something about who they were.

I wonder, what does my own hair say about me?

After years—decades!—of short, artificially colored hair, mine is now shoulder length and naturally white, white, white. I like it. It suits who I am now, the person I’ve grown into being. I am at the point in my life when I like options and this length gives me those. It is still thin. It is still stick straight. The longer I live, the less I like artifice of any kind, so I’m grateful not to be using chemicals on these aging strands. I did that, for a very long time, and was grateful for the way in which lightening my then-ash-colored hair made me feel more myself.

I think maybe that’s the key, isn’t it? Feeling like ourselves. And also …  liking the selves we are. For those of us who are blessed with the freedom to choose what our hair looks like, it might be important to ask ourselves a few questions about our choices from time to time. Do we feel like ourselves with the hair style/color/cut we’ve chosen? Is it comfortable for us, easy to manage and maintain? Do we want our hair to make a statement of some kind? If so, can we carry it off?

When you reflect about what your hair might have to say about who you are, or what hair-in-general means in your own particular family story, share a detail or two in the comments today. I’d love to know what you think.

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

Latest posts by Diana Trautwein (see all)

Diana Trautwein
  • I’ve chosen not to color my silver hair – which tends toward an explosion in a wig factory in volume and demeanor. For me, that would feel like one more self-maintenance nightmare.

    And I think it’s funny how you think of your hair as thin and straight, and I covet it as well-behaved and manageable. I think you’re spot on in your conclusion that (as Amy Carmichael put it) “in acceptance lieth peace.”

    • pastordt

      Oh, Michele. ‘An explosion in a wig factory??’ I see strong, sturdy hair and wish mine had a bit more character. Let’s each give thanks for who we are, even our hair, with its own unique quirks!

  • Lisha Epperson

    I go back and forth now from a medium sized for to the cropped one I wear now. I love both but feel most powerful with it shorter. It seems to connect me to the growing sense of power I feel within. Man, would I love to meet you!

    • pastordt

      I LOVE your short crop – not sure I’d even recognize you with a really different ‘do.’ And if it helps you to feel the strength that is so definitely yours, then stick with it! If I ever get to NYC again I will most definitely make contact because I would love to meet YOU.

  • Helene Burns

    I just love your stories – they are always a gift.

    My hair has never been easier to maintain…it’s straight and I wear it straight and highlighting it blonde (back to my original colour) is getting easier and much less frequent as it blends quite well with all the white that keeps showing up, I am grateful that all those unflattering perms are behind me and I am living pretty close to what I was originally given. Seems right. 🙂

    Always thankful for you and your wonderful words Diana. xo

    • pastordt

      Thanks so much, Helen! And your hair journey sounds pretty much like mine. “Living pretty close to what I was given” seems exactly right!

  • pastordt

    If anyone is interested in seeing some old photos of the women mentioned in this piece, you can find them at my own linking site today: http://dianatrautwein.com/2016/08/what-does-hair-say-about-us-sheloves-august-2016/

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    This was such a fun peek into your family Diana from such a different perspective! I’ve only known you with what I’ve always considered to be a beautiful head of snowy white hair and thought it suited you so well.
    My own hair was blonde and stick-straight as a child, and much to my dismay, never held sponge-roller-curls long enough to show them off by the time I arrived at school which was a 20 minute bus ride. However, interestingly, my hair grew increasingly curly after each daughter was born (hormone changes I assume) and now if it’s the least bit steamy outside, it gets so frizzy it has its own zip code! The blonde gradually faded over time, so I happily highlight it because as I age, I’ve realized that blonde and gray play very nicely together 🙂
    Overall ~ I never complain about my hair, no matter what it looks like. I have friends who have lost every follicle of their hair because of cancer and I am very, very grateful that I have hair to “work with”.

    • pastordt

      Amen to all of this, Caryn, except for those curls. I do, however get th frizz!

  • Handsfull

    Diana, I’ve always thought your hair looks lovely – I admire heads of beautiful white hair, and hope that mine does that one day, instead of going yellow-ish white. Time will tell! My hair is fine (maybe you could use that, instead of ‘thin’) but because it’s also wavy, looks like there’s lots of it. I’m just starting to get the occasional white hair, in my early 40’s, which doesn’t show up yet because my hair is still naturally blonde. I like my hair – apart from the cowlicks, which make styling it a challenge! I was once told by a hairdresser that I had ‘very determined’ hair. I told him it suited the rest of me, lol! I keep it shoulder-lengthish, and generally just let it do what it likes. Can’t be bothered with colouring or products or straighteners or perms – I work with what I’ve got, and try to find styles that my hair doesn’t mind, and that mostly suit my face. Lol!

    • pastordt

      Love this!! Thanks so much for chiming in.

  • I love your beautiful white hair. Mama’s hair was pure white, curly, baby fine, soft and thin. She always wore it short. I’m wearing mine straight and just above shoulder length, long enough to pull back and gather in a pony tail or barrette if I’ve a mind to. I’ve not been brave enough to stop coloring it, though!

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Elizabeth. I, too, love having the option to pull it back.

  • Megan Willome

    Part of cutting my hair short was to work with (not against) its waves. I do not color my hair, and since I’ve gone to a short ‘do, even family members accidentally call me Merry Nell, after my mom.

    • pastordt

      I totally get that – and I LOVE it short! I don’t think I’ve seen a pic of Merry Nell.

  • Diana, I have had highlights in my hair for almost twenty years now. If I let it go, my hairdresser assures me I’d have lots and lots of grey. Lol! I wear it shoulder length; like you, my hair is thin and fine, but using a product called Uniq 1 has greatly improved the thickness and overall health of my hair.
    Yes, I like my hair just the way it is – it does suit the me I see in the mirror.
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful stories of your grandmothers.
    Blessings!

    • pastordt

      You’re welcome, Martha. Maybe I’ll check that product out.

  • Loved this, Diana and it really had me thinking. I never gave my hair much thought, although I secretly hoped that I didn’t have my moms genes. Her first grey hair appeared when she was only 19 and by the time we were teenagers she had more grey hair than my grandmother. I liked my natural dark brown color and only about a year ago – ten years later than my mom – those first grey hair started to appear. At first it didn’t bother me, but about a year ago I started looking for a local hairdresser to get it colored. This turned out to be a mission since we’re living in Thailand and at first I found a good hairdresser in another town able to speak English, but it cost me a small fortune since I have to pay the ‘tourist price’. About a month ago I thought I’m going to try to go local, thinking that my Thai is now at a level where I could at least communicate what I want. (Not keeping in mind that the locals do not have brown hair). To make a long story short I walked out of there with pitch black hair. I have not yet figured out the next step, but I’m strongly considering to just make peace with growing older and let nature run it’s course… I like the idea of “feeling like ourselves, and liking the selves we are.”

    • pastordt

      Wow, Dorette, what a story!! Blessings as you figure out what to do next. Any possibility you could color it yourself? Maybe get products sent from here? Or maybe you’re right – it’s itme to see what you feel like as a silver-head!

  • My hair is straight and fine and I had more than one perm that immediately “fell out.” 😉 When our daughter was born, my mom decided to grow out her gray. She was tired of dying it and decided to embrace her role as grandma. Despite some comments from her sisters, I think she looks more beautiful with the gray – it tells of her journey and confidence in who she is.

    • pastordt

      Good for your mom. I think each person has to decide when to make changes in terms of color/texture and when they do decide, it’s good to have friends and family who encourage their choice. I have a dear friend who, when I first knew her, had the most beautiful head of silver hair I’ve ever seen. A comment from her mom about looking too old for her age sent her back to brown for a decade. Now it’s silver again and I actually think she looks younger and more beautiful now. Words from loved ones have so much power.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    My hair has been part of my patience and perseverance training since I started to care how I looked going out the door. Between its fine texture, squiggle waves here and big C-waves there, a serious lack of body, and a few cow-licks–well, challenges abound. I’m wearing a short bob these days, with the sides tucked behind my ears. Just the tucking takes care of a few issues! I, too, began to spot grays in my late twenties. “Frosting” was the first line of defense; now it’s a complete dye job. Adding color actually improves the body, though, and goes better with my pale skin tone–at least for now. (Your silver locks look FABULOUS on you, Diana!) Each birthday I consider, Is now the time to go gray?!

    • pastordt

      SO TRUE about the added body with coloring – I had forgotten. You’ll know when it’s time. When mine was completely white around my face, I knew.