I have been bald for more than forty-five years, it is surprising that anyone
would remember that I once had hair. A few years ago, however, a man I spoke with
at a reunion of former students and teachers of Big Sandy High School referred
to the red hair I once had. When I had hair, it was brown, except for a few weeks
one year at the beginning of my teaching career. The time the man met me was during
the brief period when my hair was the color of deep henna.
brother, was partly responsible for the change in the color.
A week or
so before I was to leave our parents’ home in order to begin my first job, he
urged me to use an herbal shampoo. I had been complaining of dandruff, and he
said that the shampoo would help with the problem. I glanced long enough at the
shampoo container to note the word henna, but when my brother said, “If you rinse
right away, the dye won’t hold, but you’ll get the benefit of the herbs.”
few minutes later, I applied the shampoo and then rinsed my scalp thoroughly.
In a short time my hair was dry, and I checked my image in the mirror on the back
porch. Obviously, the henna dye did hold. The red was there to stay until it would
gradually be replaced by brown from the roots up.
I was more than a little
irritated with my brother, but I also blamed myself for having been so gullible.
the time approached for me to report to the high school, I worried about remarks
from students about the color of my hair. It was most important for me to make
a good first impression. Having attended school in a small town, I knew that teachers’
private lives were the subject of much talk among students and their parents.
tried to curb my anxiety by reminding myself that the only people in Big Sandy
who had ever seen me before I dyed my hair were the superintendent and a high
school student who conducted me on a tour of the building when I was interviewed.
I reassured myself that these few people would not remember that my hair was brown
when they met me.
first day of school was an important event, not just for the teachers and students,
but also for certain members of the community. Traditionally, some parents and
a few recent graduates visited the school on the morning of the first day of classes.
That morning the superintendent invited everyone present to meet in the auditorium
so that he could make announcements and introduce the faculty. After the superintendent’s
brief remarks, we all filed into the hall. Students and teachers began to walk
in the direction that led to the particular classrooms they belonged in.
In the crowded hallway the superintendent’s wife came walking toward me. Until
that moment I had forgotten that I had met her on the day of the interview. That
morning of the first day of school she came to the school in order to attend the
first-day assembly. “Hello, Mr. Cowser,” the superintendent’s wife said. “I didn’t
remember that you had red hair.” There was a glint in her eye.
Mrs. Murphy,” I said. “It’s good to see you again,” I lied. “I must be getting
upstairs to the classroom.”
the first week of school my stomach churned every time there was a reference to
my red hair. One day before class a student asked me whether I dyed my hair. I
told him that I did not answer personal questions and quickly began teaching the
One afternoon the secretary in the superintendent’s office told
me that a tenth-grade girl told her that she thought I was going to be a strict
teacher. “After all,” the girl said, “he’s got red hair.”
the years that followed I rarely thought about the brief time my hair was temporarily
red. After having taught for two years at the school, I went on to teach elsewhere.
Several years ago I attended the annual reunion of former students and teachers
at Big Sandy. As I stood talking
to a former student in the parking lot beside the new high school building, a
man whom I did not recognize approached us. My former student introduced the man
as a student who graduated a year or so before I began teaching at the school.
The man shook my hand and said that he remembered when I came to town more than
forty years before. Looking at the top of my bald head, he said, “I remember you
had red hair.”
If my brother were alive today, he might be chuckling about
the ramifications of his prank.
G. Cowser December
10 , 2011
Robert G. Cowser Columns