Friday, July 17, 2009


As a crowd flowed from the surrounding neighborhood, past the bright red municipal fire truck specially buffed and polished for the occasion, into a park already filling with picnic blankets and lawn chairs and children waving glow-sticks and flags, two families who had never met before spotted each other across the crowd, and began moving toward one another subtly, inexorably, through the sea of people. One family party was composed of a mother, a father, and a five-year-old child; the other, two parents and twins aged two or three.

Sharing only the briefest of glances, the two groups moved without any overt appearance of intention until both families settled, side by side, in a little grassy hollow to just the side of the main crowd, an island to themselves.

The newly formed circle remained silent while unpacking their camp chairs and blankets and snacks. Then, once everyone was seated, the father of the twins said, joking, "Boys, that's not your brother over there." The parents of the older child laughed.

All three of the children had ivory skin and brilliant, copper-colored hair.

And as the stranger families sat together, isolated, together, as they were, in anticipation of the fireworks, no one asked the blond and brown-haired parents of these redheaded children "Where on Earth did that red hair come from?"

No one half-jokingly accused the children's mothers of dallying with a milkman (and really, who has a milkman to dally with these days?) .

No one gushed loudly and incessantly about taking the children's hair color and bottling it. No one insisted upon rubbing the head of a child they had never met for good luck. No one threatened to play connect-the-dots with freckles.

No one called the boys fairy changeling children, or brought up elves, or attempted a bad Irish joke. No one confused the boys by winkingly insisting they must have been left out in the rain to rust.

No one made a crack, in front of the children, about the parents being guilty of kidnapping.

No one asked, in front of the children, quite seriously, whether they had been adopted.

No strained, compressed explanations of the rules of basic Mendelian genetics or vague references to Scottish great aunts or lamely delivered jokey replies or cold stares were necessary.

No, indeed -- after that first remark acknowledging the reason for their sudden compainionship, the two families sat in amiable silence, quietly admiring their children's similarity.

Two families who had never met sat together on the Fourth of July, applying the old adage of safety in numbers, and gained two hours of rare, blessed silence from strangers about their children's red hair.

It was nice.


Anonymous said...

People will insist on saying the most insensitive or silly things in a misguided attempt to be jovial, or maybe even friendly. It can be tiring to receive. Especially the touching.

Having heard enough about my eyes and hair as a child to last forever, I really try not to comment on other people's bodies, even if it's a common method of making conversation. In my observation it spells trouble just about every single time.

Elizabeth @claritychaos said...

very sweet story. you tell it well. :)

Anonymous said...

I can see getting tired of many of the comments that people say about your child's hair. However, if a person compliments your child's hair color by saying they wishs they could bottle it, you should be grateful. Yes it might get old, and annoying to hear it a lot. However complaining about a compliment, even if they did say it "gushing loudly" is RUDE. Your child's hair probably really brightened their day and they wanted to let you all know the impact it had on them. That should bring a smile to your face, not a "can you believe I have to put up with this" response.