When I was in third grade, Sr. Mary Roch allowed us to complete our schoolwork at our own pace. When we were through with the assignments, we could go to the classroom library -- a shelf of mostly religious books underneath the windows. Always, I'd rush through my work to get to the books. Handwriting was the main subject of my early education. And even more than I loved the endless handwriting assignments, I LOVED reading. Any my favorite books were religious stories, tales about gods and saints.
I will not forget the day I plopped down on the purple rug in front of the shelf and filed my finger along the spines of books to choose from. I hit upon an arresting title: Superstition. Knowing that the Catholic religion denounced superstitious beliefs (we'd been told religiously during Religion class that superstitious beliefs were "evil"), when I found the book, a thrill ricocheted through my brain. I opened the book, skimmed the pages. A phrase caught my attention: "Hair Color."
The author of the book classified hair color into three categories: Blonds, Brunettes, and Redheads. It said, and I quote: "Blonds are vivacious, friendly, pretty and talkative; Brunettes are deep thinkers, loyal, and they make good wives; Redheads are witches and should be burned at the stake."
I did not understand cliché, nor was I developmentally ready to understand stereotypes. In third grade, I was still pretty literal; I felt slapped, stabbed, diminished and discovered by this verdict. I hadn't CHOSEN to be a redhead. Why should I have to suffer so?
I wondered, "Does Sr. Mary Roch know this is here?" I shoved the book down the front of my jumper and stole back to my desk, intuiting that if Sr. Mary Roch caught me reading it, she would take it away. I really wanted to see what other truths about the world this book held. I would immerse myself in Superstition at home. I sat back down, picked up my pen and resumed practicing penmanship.
I can remember walking home from school or from Shorty's market, and some of the public school kids would pass me and mutter under their breath, "I'd rather be dead than be red." It happened so many times, I now realize the absurdity of the situation (1970s Orange County, post-communist anti-communist sentiment, weirdly enough) Sometimes an older guy -- a teenager -- would ask me as he passed me, "are you red all over?" which sounds totally evil to a 11 year old.
Believe me, I asked God for a lot of help and a lot of forgiveness for my inherent evil nature. Original Sin is a piece of cake compared to the fate of hair color.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
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