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Only the good dye young

(Amy McVay Abbott’s humorous essay originally appeared in The Broad Side. Reposted by permission.)

As we age, parts of us change color.  We want our teeth to be white, but not our hair. We want our arms and legs sun-kissed and bronzed, but certainly no brown age spots on our faces. It is a problem we women “of a certain age” deal with every day.

A few weeks ago I was visiting my father who lives in a retirement home. Another resident saw me in the hall and asked, “Are you a new resident?

This is my life now.  I have been eligible for AARP for five years and have earned the right to buy the senior portions at Bob Evans.  I consider myself young, even if the fine folks at the grocery store ask me every week if I’m eligible for the senior discount. In my mind, I’m about 37.

Notwithstanding my “50 is the new 30″ outlook on life, about four years ago I gave up coloring my hair to see what God hath wrought.

I can’t afford $80 every four weeks for the Magic of Being a Blonde.  I had my own sorry history with Color-in-a-Box and decided to let it go.  Within eight weeks, I was quite gray — well, let’s call it sexy silver.

Genes are, frankly, not my friend except in the area of skin and hair. My maternal grandmother and mother both aged with beautiful skin and silver-to-white hair, and it appears I’m on that journey.  With her beautiful white hair in a bun, my grandmother was mistaken for Maria von Trapp in Stowe, Vermont.  She loved the attention and did not correct the mis-identification.  Had she been asked to sing, her cover would have immediately been blown.

My mane began to lighten when I was in my late 20s. I colored my own hair for many years, except for the nine months I was expecting. (Hide those hospital-with-baby photos.)

Coloring your own hair is a challenge. Women who say, “Oh, it’s so easy” are lying or have a sister-in-law who is a stylist.  Mark my words.

And while the hair gets whiter, the teeth go in the other direction. I’ve never been blessed with sparkling white teeth like those Chiclets Suze Orman sports. My choppers were already yellowing when the orthodontist pulled off my braces in 1968. Yes, I am a coffee drinker, and I know this compounds the issue. Without the pleasures of white sugar, flour, and real Coca-Cola most of the time, don’t try to take my coffee away from me.

So what to do? On a friend’s suggestion I recently tried activated charcoal capsules, a homeopathic fix. My friend emptied capsules of activated charcoal in a paste or “slurry.”  This may be an old wives’ tale, but I’m an old wife. Apparently the charcoal is quite corrosive and removes plaque.

I’ve never tried to open a capsule before.  There must be a trick to it, but I didn’t know it, so I cut it open with cuticle scissors. Surprise! Immediately after opening the capsule, black stuff was everywhere on my white countertop. “Activated charcoal” is code for “black tar that sticks to everything.” I opened another pill, enough to make a paste. Leaning over the sink, I put my brush into the ebony stuff and rubbed it against my ivories.

Having worn braces — both upper and lower bands and a face bow —  for five years, I brush well.  Apparently too well, and with too much vigor.

Are you aware that if you are brushing  with an inky material, said inky material may fly over the walls, the mirror, the sink and the counter top?

But, that wasn’t the end of it. In the mirror, I saw black teeth, a black tongue and black lips. And silvery white hair. I brushed and brushed, and the black came off my teeth. This might be the secret of the activated charcoal. Is it possible your teeth are so tarred with the charcoal that you brush and brush like you’ve never brushed before, resulting in the cleanest teeth of your life?

White hair, black teeth, not exactly progress. Want to hear about my sunless tanning experience last October for boarding a plane to Italy?  The sunless tanner tech said to me as I went out the door into a rainstorm, “Don’t sweat and don’t get wet.”  Telling “Don’t sweat” to a post-menopausal woman is like telling a rooster not to crow.

As for my legs, they are normally so blindingly white that small children hide their faces when they see me in my Capris and summer sandals.  Last October I was the hit of the crowd round Rome’s Trevi Fountain with my streaking skin.

Silver hair, black and yellow teeth, white pasty legs and arms — I think I’m the “thing” in the saying, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

— Amy McVay

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines. Amy specializes in health writing, with a passion for rehabilitation and disability issues. She also enjoys writing about politics, travel and the arts. Follow her on Twitter at @ravenonhealth.

Reflections of Erma