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Golden Years are more like several shades of gray

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I have always enjoyed getting my hair cut.

Even as a kid, I don’t remember complaining about getting a haircut until about ninth grade, when I was more interested in trying to impress girls with my long, curly locks than I was in maintaining my comfortable, functional buzz cut.

I think I came by it naturally. My dad used to get his hair cut every other week at a place called Francour’s. Then one day Mom stopped by and saw that Dad wasn’t getting his hair cut by an old French guy but by a young blonde woman wearing what Mom called “a see-through blouse.” That’s when Dad switched to Bob’s Barber Shop, which he only visited monthly.

I don’t get haircuts that often. I tend to cut it short, then let it grow for a couple of months. But when I go, I enjoy it. I love the strong, clean mix of smells — shampoo meets lotion meets hair product. I find the gentle whirring of the electric clippers near my ear to be soothing — almost comforting. And I am always impressed with the transition that takes place as I enter the establishment looking shaggy and leave mere minutes later looking almost presentable.

But there is part of the process that I find a little disconcerting. It’s the part where I’m sitting in the chair and the stylist is beginning to clip and trim, and my shorn hair falls on the smock she’s given me to wear.

And the hair is gray.

Not just a little gray. Several shades of gray, from all over my head.

Of course, I appreciate the fact that at my age I still have hair on my head. That is a blessing I freely acknowledge — especially when I see men with much less hair who are much younger than I am (yes, I’m thinking of my wife’s three brothers, who can do pretty much everything better than I can except grow hair on their heads).

But in my mind, I still see the same light brown hair on my head that I saw 30 years ago, combed in pretty much the same way I’ve combed it since ninth grade. And so when my hair is being cut and I look down and see those frizzy ends that are falling from my head and landing on my chest and see it is gray, it surprises me.

“Where are you getting that gray hair from?” I always ask the hair person (what is the politically correct way to refer to the 20-something woman who cuts my hair? Barber? Stylist? Coiffeuse?). Most of them look at me in a way that suggests they are trying to decide if I’m really that dumb. But occasionally one will respond with wit and understanding: “Oh,” she will say, “I keep a little bag of gray hair here so I can throw it on you and freak you out.”

What she doesn’t know is it does. It really does. Every time.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not opposed to growing older. There are things about it I really like — and not just because I’m not crazy about the alternative. I like being a grandparent (more fun, less responsibility). I like AARP discounts and ordering from the senior menu. I like having an excuse for when I can’t remember someone’s name. Or my cellphone number. Or the difference between Twitter and, you know, that one social networking thing with all pictures.

But every once in a while something comes along in the aging process that catches me by surprise: kneeling down to pick something up off the floor and then having to figure out a way to gracefully and unobtrusively get back up; suddenly finding myself straining to hit the high notes in the church choir; being able to remember the names of all the Mouseketeers, but unable to remember the names of all my children.

They call them the Golden Years, but from where I sit, it’s not gold I’m seeing. It’s gray.

Several shades of it, in fact.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr