By Jane Genende
On a typical day, Steven and I would accompany Mom on her errands. We might be waiting for a light to change at a street corner when someone would inevitably stop to look at us and say, “Oh, what a beautiful baby. Where did he get such beautiful red hair?”
Strangers would never fail to notice the cute little red head but not the brunette little girl standing right next to him. I would begin to feel myself shrink and get really angry. I Wondered why people had to make comments about Steven’s hair? The streetlight would change from red to green, and these brief encounters would end.
Years later, when I was pregnant with Emily, our first child, Jack and I thought she might have red hair but she is actually a brunette, like me. Our second child, Seth, was born with, that all too familiar, strawberry-blonde shade of red hair.
Unbelievably, the phenomenon that I had experienced so long ago and had forgotten, reemerged. I would be with my children waiting for a green light at a street corner and someone would invariably make that familiar remark, “What a beautiful baby. Where did he get such beautiful red hair?”
Instead of being the little girl I was now the mother in this new version of the old scenario. As time went on Seth grew annoyed asking, “Why do people care about my hair color?” He did not like the fact that he was the only one in our immediate family with red hair. “Why am I the only person in the family with red hair? I should have a brother or sister who has red hair like mine.” Emily reacted to these encounters nonverbally. She would roll her eyes, and cluck her tongue. When it happened we would look at each other knowingly and say, “Here we go again.”
It seemed to me that the fates must have a sense of humor to impose this particular pattern upon us once again. Two generations of a mom, a sister and brother, past and present, converging around a laughable twist of fate.
After we moved to a house in the suburbs, Seth began a determined plea for a dog.
“I need a dog!” “I want a dog!”
At some point during this period of time, I learned of a program in which seeing-eye dogs in training become ‘released’ for adoption to the general public if they do not pass the various tests to qualify as a working dog. Had I found an answer to Seth’s quest for a dog? If we could get a one or two-year-old ‘release dog’ already trained and healthy that might work for us. We contacted organizations for the blind and got on waiting lists. We began to get calls about dogs available for adoption.
The first of several options was a two-year-old dog named Lady. I didn’t like the name at first and that was a bit of a strike against her. She was described as a mix between a Golden/ Labrador Retriever. The issue causing her to be released from the seeing-eye dog program was her difficulty adapting to the special leash/harness they wear. Was this, strike two strikes against her? We were told that she had a tendency to chase after chipmunks & squirrels. It seems her instinct to retrieve was stronger than any desire to please her trainers and become a working dog. Was this, strike three?
On the positive side she was trained and we were told she would make a perfect family pet so long as we had a fenced in backyard. The scales tipped in her favor when we inquired about her coloring and appearance. Lady had the short hair of a Labrador, and they described her as having, “… a strawberry-blonde coat.” We decided to pursue her adoption. When Jack brought Lady home I couldn’t believe I was looking at that familiar shade of hair, on a dog! Somehow Lady was meant to be ours.
Seth came home and we surprised him with the dog. When he saw her he blinked back tears and cleared his throat, straining to appear composed. He began petting the dog, as we told him, “Her name is Lady and we adopted her, she is ours.”
Seth responded, “I can’t believe you got a dog for me. Is she really ours to keep?”
“Yes she is.” We answered happily.
Emily was nonchalant, “What is with you people, why did we need to get a dog and such a big one?”
Then my son made his final comment and captured the essence of the moment.
“Look, I can’t believe it, her hair is the exact same color as mine. Finally someone in this family has red hair like me!”
You would think this was the end of the story, but it seems the fates were not through with this particular theme in our lives.
I often found myself home alone with Lady. She’d rest beside me, sitting at my feet, as I sat and wrote at my computer. We would often go for long walks, one brunette and one red head and guess what happened…? Who do you think got all the attention, and what do you suppose they said?
The 12 years that Lady was a part of our lives was an unexpected and precious gift. She loved to go for long walks, swim, catch tennis balls and chase squirrels. Although her hair had turned grey and lighter with age she will always remain our beautiful red haired Lady. She was a wonderful addition to our family who lived a long, happy life and she will be missed.
Chappaqua resident Jane Genende, a Psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, is the author of “The Lost Tribe of the Andes: A Jewish-American Family’s Struggle with Assimilation.”