My Hair Tells the Story of Where I’ve Been


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 color 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.