The Spice
of Time

When you see more salt than pepper

By Bill Fields

I got a much-needed haircut recently not long after eye surgery. My vision was limited to the other eye, but that was plenty to notice the clippings on the black cape when the stylist had finished. There was enough white on the cover-up to make it seem as if a polar bear had been in the chair.

Forty years after finding my first gray hair, on my 22nd birthday, there is much more salt than pepper to be swept up after getting a trim. It’s been headed in that direction for two decades, an inexorable journey that, like achy joints after a taxing day, is just part of the landscape when you’re north of 60. As P.G. Wodehouse said, “There is only one cure for gray hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.”

Don’t think for a minute I’m not grateful to have a head mostly full of hair at my age, regardless of its hue. I thank my maternal grandfather, B.L. Henderson, for whom a pocket comb remained a useful stocking stuffer as he made his way into his 90s, if one’s hair prospects are indeed rooted in that part of the family tree.

Plenty of men are dealt a different hand, losing their hair, or most of it, at a relatively young age. The combover can be a comical reaction — see images of former Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady for confirmation. This is the ultimate losing battle, and the willingness of more folks to go the shaved-head route when faced with a bare minimum is a victory not only for style but common sense.

I’m glad I haven’t had to make that decision. A couple of years ago while getting a haircut down South, as I sat down in the chair, I asked the barber if he could do anything about all the gray I could see in the mirror.

“Better to go gray than go gone,” he said.

Those seven words of barber philosophy have become my mantra.

If my father had heard them as he started getting lots of gray as he approached his 50th birthday, he might have avoided his brief hair dye experiment. Something looked different about his appearance as he sat down to supper one evening, but the real evidence was in the bathroom sink — black stains from the hair dye he had applied. We teased him so much that he never altered his appearance again. For the last decade of his life, he let his short flat-top go increasingly toward white, and set against his blue-green eyes it was a very handsome look.

“No play for Mr. Gray” has been a catchy line for Walt Frazier to say in the “Just for Men” television commercials, but I’m not sure how accurate it is.

If someone wants to dye his or her hair to maintain a look that has been theirs for years, more power to them. It’s none of my business. But tell me that singer Emmylou Harris doesn’t look gorgeous these days with that silvery hair of hers, and I’ll wonder what you’re smoking.

When it comes to hair color, I’m leaning toward letting time tell its story.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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