GrayHairWhen I was 45, I let go of the notion that I could stave off old age with hair dye. For one thing, when you have dark hair, keeping ahead of gray roots is obscenely expensive.  You’ve got to do it once a month to keep from looking like a skunk.

Furthermore, I was married to a balding man who didn’t do that comb-over thing, wear a toupee, thank God, or take Rogaine. Since I loved his bald head, I figured he could love my gray one. And for a while, except that I got grayer and he got balder, not much changed except the tab at the end of a salon session.

Then one day I was in one of those hip salons with brick interior walls and a concrete floor –this was in Richmond, in The Fan. Very cool. The stylist finished cutting my hair, lifted his scissors with a flourish, snipped the air a couple of times, and said, “There you go, Dearie.”

That was the first time it happened – the senior salutation – a Dearie here, a Dear Heart there, perhaps the frequency for a while depended on the lighting. But now there’s no hiding from it. I am bombarded with the honorifics of age, which I accept as opportunities to consider how I might share the wisdom of my years.

If a grocery store cashier asks, “Did you find everything you need today, Dear?” I think, “Thanks for asking. And actually, no. I didn’t find everything. For the life of me I couldn’t find the Preparation H. Would you get on your intercom system and call one of the other children who work here to go find that for me?”

Then, while we wait for the Preparation H, I can tell the cashier about off-label uses. “Oh, it’s much more than plain old hemorrhoid treatment. Some women swear by it as a facial moisturizer [actually I tried that, but quit when I read that it can cause high blood pressure]. Body builders oil up with it before competitions. And it’s supposed to speed up the healing of new tattoos. Maybe you tried it? I mean, isn’t that a cobra’s head I see peeking out from your cuff?”

Or if the question is, “Do you need help getting your purchases to the car, Love?” I think, especially if it’s raining, “Oh, yes, how kind of you, but first, would you mind re-bagging everything in alphabetical order?” While the cashier and bagger work on that, I ask them how old they were when they could sing the alphabet song all the way through without missing a letter. I should point out that I would not ask if I think either of them may have learned English as a second language.

When I am called Love or Lovie by a man I’ve never seen before, I want to make the conversation more personal. Here I might say, “Excuse me. Did you call me Lovie? How interesting, because I could swear I have never met you before. Have we ever known each other that well? Did we know each other in the biblical sense and I’ve just forgotten? Oh, dearie me.”

Men also ask, “How are you today, Young Lady?” And sometimes, I can’t resist. “Oh, I’m doing great, even though, as you can see, I am not young. But how are you, Sonny?” More than one has responded, with eyes rolling, “Well, gosh, I was just trying to be polite.” What I want to say is, “Just use deodorant. That would be really polite.”

Sweetie.  That one really gets to me, because the bald husband called me that. Once he called me that—just once—and it was a big surprise, because it was completely out of character.  “Did you call me Sweetie?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” he said, looking a little surprised himself. “I guess I did.” As it turned out, the brain inside his head, which was really bald by then, was a little confused. He forgot who he was talking to. It was me, the gray-haired wife who could run a half-marathon—not the plump blonde he had come to prefer, the one who got her hair dyed, on his recommendation, at the same Buckhead salon where I had mine cut. Talk about a Sweetie.

The other day I was surprised by a loquacious cashier who breaks the monotony of ringing up the contents of overflowing carts with tales of dysfunctional relationships and misfortune. When I finally made it to the register having learned more about several people than I wanted to know, I handed him my driver’s license to prove that I am old enough to purchase a bottle of Daily Red.

He looked at my license, handed it back with a flourish, and said, “Well, you’re just a Spring Chicken, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not a Spring Chicken, as you can surely see,” I said, “ but you, well, you are a real turkey.”

Next time I came through his line, he muttered with a forced smile, “How are you today, MADAM?” To which I said, “Oh, just great, and you can call me Babe.”

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick