My mother told me this story. She and I were on a train. I was about 2 years old. We were probably travelling from Sarnia, where my father had a war job of some sort, to Toronto, where my grandmother lived. I was restless and was standing in the aisle. One row up on the other side of the aisle were some young men. They turned around, caught my eye and had some questions for me.
“Hello. What is your name?”
“Judy,” I said.
They were nice and smiling. They asked me questions. One of these was:
“What colour is your hair, Judy?”
I put my hand on my hair. I felt my hair all over, slowly and carefully. Finally I had the answer:
“It’s … all … white.”
The young men liked this answer.
Although I do not remember this story myself, I see the young men in army uniforms.
In my mid and late teens, I was quite independent and capable, so people assumed I was older than I actually was. To be able to get into bars (the legal age was 21), I doctored some ID to change my birth year from 1942 to 1940 — smudged the “2” bit.
In my early 30s, I still looked as if I was in my 20s. I no longer needed the fake ID, but I was asked often to show my ID.
In my late 30s, my hair began to have a few grey streaks. At last, I thought. No one will doubt my age now. I still had youthful unwrinkled skin.
A few years into my 40s, I went to Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit) with my new boyfriend. His brother Fred was getting married to an Inuk woman. Despite my still-girlish complexion, the grey streaks apparently sent a strong signal. Several Inuit relatives of the bride greeted me with: “Are you Fred’s mother?”
“Oh-oh,” I thought. Not the signal I want.
For the next three decades, I dyed my hair the colour it had been in my teens, a darkish blonde.
I hated the smell, and I hated the routine. But to me that it was essential to be ageless. I worked with many musicians and actors who treated me as a colleague, not a parent. I liked that.
Then everything changed. In 2019, we sold our bar-theatre-performance building. We were glad to “retire” from that. We expected to continue doing theatre and performance in other ways, but no, wrong!
In early 2020, the world realized in horror that a deadly disease called Covid was spreading everywhere, and was unstoppable. In Canada, on the weekend of March 14, 2020, everything was shut down. Go home, stay home, and wear a mask outside. A vaccine was not yet developed.
Well, then. Since I am not going anywhere, my first pandemic project will be to stop colouring my hair. Finally!
Two years later, after letting it grow and cutting off the old stuff, bit by bit, my real hair is revealed.
What colour is your hair, Judith?
“It’s … all… white.”