Monday, March 2, 2009

Better Red Than Dead

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My Dad's name is John, but anyone who knows him calls him "Red". When he was young, he was a real carrot top, and the name has stuck with him his whole life. In England, they'd probably call him "Ginger", and over here in Oz he'd be known as "Bluey". Don't ask, because I really don't know why. It's got something to do with Australian humor.

I was called a ginger man once. The guy who did it was, in fact, named Guy. He was running one of the company's magazines in the UK, and he wrote trying to help one of his former staffers get a temporary job with our group while that person was touring Australia. However, Guy sent a separate e-mail to his mate, and forgot to remove my name from the cc: section.

In that he wrote, "Don is the biggest ginger man I have ever seen in my life. Wait until you meet him! It's awesome." Guy was one of the smallest pale towheads I'd ever seen, but it's not like I would write that for other people to read.

Anyhow, the picture of me at the top shows that I held on to my red hair almost as long as I held onto my hair at all. I was 30 at the time of that shot, doing my best Philip Seymour Hoffman impression and deliberately sitting in front of an orange curtain in the hopes that I would be invisible.

As you may recall, about two years ago several scientists speculated that redheads would no longer exist by the turn of the next century. Some thought we may have as little as 60 more years as a tribe.

That's because the gene that makes red hair is recessive, which means when we marry any of you darker haired people, you end up taking our precious DNA and discarding the most unique thing about us. And redhead thing is unique, because only about 2 percent of the world is red-headed. And only 4 percent of the people in this world have the gene to pass it on.

I was thinking about this because the UK website Don't Panic ran a report on an exhibition now showing in London by photographer Jenny Wicks called "Root Ginger". You really should click through to that site, as some of her photographs are absolutely gorgeous. Looking at the beauty of the redheads she has photographed does kind of make me sad to think that it may all be gone in a hundred years or less.

Mind you, some scientists say all is not lost. They point out that we barely understand the genes that cause hair color, and they add that probably the greatest hope for the future tribe of redheads is that the gene surely resides in lots of people who aren't redheads, but who have just enough of a percentage in their genetic makeup that every once in awhile out pops a little orange haired kid to a pair of brunettes.

My own hope for the future isn't dead. The other photograph at the top of this post are Ben and Tom when Ben was 2 and Tom 1. They wouldn't pass for anything but members of the dark-haired tribe today. But looking at that picture, I know that they were once redheads, if only for a year or two, and some day that odd bit of DNA may let them keep the pale skin tradition alive. Now if only we can find some nice Irish girls for them to date.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the origins of "Bluey" as the Australian colloquial term of endearment for redheads comes from the blue heeler dog. Many of this breed have large or small amounts of red in their colouring patterns. This leads to the follow-up question of 'why are they called Blue Heelers when they are predominantly grey (or often red)'? I'll answer that one too. When working as a "rousie" (I'll let you research it) on a sheep station larger than Massachusetts I was told it is to do with their silver-flecked coats reflecting the blue sky of Australia's wide open spaces (and they do).
A former subordinate
P.S. I enjoy your blog.