I was a round child with curly copper hair, freckles, buck teeth, big feet, and fat knees, who mostly daydreamed about meatloaf.

Today is World Redhead Day. And as a longtime redhead, I am in full support of this important national holiday.

It is difficult growing up as a redhead. For me it was doubly hard because I was also chubby.

I was a round child with curly copper hair, freckles, buck teeth, big feet, and puffy knees, who mostly daydreamed about meatloaf.

To make matters worse, in fourth-grade P.E. class, our uniforms included a white T-shirt with our last names on the backs.

Across my shoulders, in permanent marker, was written: “DIETRICH.” Which, if you’ll notice, clearly looks like the two words: “DIET” and “RICH.”

You can imagine the jokes.

“Hey, DIET RICH! Did you eat a RICH DIET today, pucker face?”

At the beginning of each gym period we were supposed to jog around the parking lot for twelve minutes straight. I don’t know why twelve instead of, say, three, but I believe our gym teacher was a sociopath.

I ran with the same grace as John Belushi. The P.E. teacher, Mister Danny, would sound his whistle whenever he didn’t feel I wasn’t showing enough “hustle.”

Mister Danny was obsessed with hustle. It was all he talked about. And I’m sure it was his favorite dance to perform at various wedding receptions.

But it didn’t matter if I were running harder than Forty-Mule-Team Borax, still he’d yell, “Dietrich! Show some more hustle!”

The skinny kids would howl when I lagged behind the rest of the joggers. They would run past me, fuzz my hair, and say, “Rub a ginger for good luck!”

Or: “Hey DIET RICH, Your mama should pay the ice cream man to keep on driving!”

It hurt. In fact, it still hurts. But I tolerated it because I knew that as soon as school let out, my mother would make meatloaf for supper.

And I love meatloaf.

I’ll never forget the hot day when our class was having a relay race around the parking lot. The midday heat got to me. I tripped over my feet and skinned myself bad.

Mister Danny had to escort me to the nurse’s office. I was humiliated

“Is he gonna be alright?” asked one teacher.

“Ah, he’ll be okay,” Mister Danny said, slapping my back so hard that I coughed up bits of bronchial matter. “This woulda never happened if Dietrich just showed more hustle.”

The school nurse, who was also the art teacher, was Miss Linda. Miss Linda was a large woman with bright red hair and a friendly smile.

She applied alcohol to my scrapes. Then Miss Linda sat beside me and hugged me for longer than a usual embrace.

I could tell she wanted to say something, but didn’t. Probably because she knew what all good teachers know—a boy’s pride bruises easily.

“You’re such a handsome guy,” she said. “You know that? Such pretty hair.”

She was lying, of course. I was no fool, I owned a mirror. But I appreciated it just the same.

Then, she handed me a stack of books.

“What’re these for?” I asked.

“I want you to read them, I think you’ll like them.”

“But what about P.E. class?”

“I’m gonna keep you inside. It’s too hot out there for a redhead. We gingers gotta look out for each other, you know?”

The books were filled with Peanuts comic strips. I loved them. I read through the Charles Schulz masterpieces for an entire gym period, and spent time in the company of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and Peppermint Patty.

When the period was over Miss Linda told me I could keep the books. Then she placed them into a brown Piggly Wiggly bag and gave them to me as a gift.

Before I left, she hugged me again. She smelled like every woman of my era. I don’t know what you call the fragrance, but it’s the universal scent of good teachers, librarians, and mothers who care.

She touched my cheek and said, “They can’t see the real you, but I can.”

And I didn’t mean to start crying on her, but growing up is harder than it looks.

Today, I am older, with stiff joints, and one back surgery. But I still have red hair, and I still trip over my own feet. I am not chubby anymore, I sprouted upward when I hit sixteen. But I still see that child in mirrors.

This afternoon, I was checking the mailbox. It was a hot day. I rifled through the mail. It was mostly bills, coupons, and realtor magazines.

But I noticed handwriting on one envelope. I thumbed it open and discovered that someone had sent me a Peanuts greeting card with a very sweet note inside. Perfect cursive. I’ll let you guess who it was.

Anyway, tonight is meatloaf night at my house. I’d better show some hustle.

Hug your favorite redhead today.

31 comments

  1. Cathi Russell - May 26, 2019 10:28 am

    Redheads rock! Gotta a lot of them in my family tree…lots of Scots-Irish in the mix…and y’all are special creations!

    Reply
  2. Jean - May 26, 2019 10:37 am

    I can identify with being the fat kid,,,big feet…and PE. Red hair is in my genes but i didn’t get it. Your hair is a wonderful shade of red….enjoy it!

    Reply
  3. Jan - May 26, 2019 11:09 am

    I too was a redhead who was round and hated gym class. Even worse than running to me were the dreaded hurdles. For some reason, our slim, athletic gym teacher thought she could make us all into track and field stars… I spent my high school years trying to get out of P.E. in any way I could. I even tried to get our family physician and good family friend to write me an excuse saying that I could never attempt jumping hurdles or running for prolonged periods of time. (He refused) Even greater than my fear of falling was my fear of making a fool of myself!

    Reply
  4. Ginger - May 26, 2019 11:20 am

    Good one. Charlie Brown loved the little red haired girl, and I have a little red haired girl in my life that I love. She has a new granddaughter, my Great granddaughter and we all have our fingers crossed that her hair will get redder than it is right now- just a tinge now, but she is just a baby. As a teacher, thanks for mentioning the good one as well as the over- zealous gym guy. Sometimes a person just loses sight that everyone is not the same, whether he be teaching gym, or second grade, or English literature. But, hey, you’re doing all right! Enjoyed this.

    Reply
  5. Joe Townsend - May 26, 2019 11:28 am

    You are an amazing writer!

    Reply
  6. Naomi - May 26, 2019 11:43 am

    My best friend is a red head but she’s tough and nobody better mess with her, even her husband. She will do anything for other people but there is a line you better not cross. It’s not only red heads who get mistreated in school. It’s the girl who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, who didn’t have the pretty dresses that the other girls had, but this girl was smart and was a straight A student and actually skipped a whole year of school. This made it even worse for her; the other girls treated her worse than they already did. I didn’t know why until I was an adult. Children, especially girls, don’t like girls who aren’t like them, the girl with curly hair and wears hand-me-downs or clothes from the Salvation Army and still manages to make straight As in school.

    Reply
  7. Grace Murdock - May 26, 2019 11:47 am

    I was a teacher. I hope I smelled like you described. Great piece!! I appreciate you and your craft.

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth - May 26, 2019 12:18 pm

    Oh Sean, got me again. Fabulous! And all kids suffer through adolescence, with or without red hair. We are terrible to each other just to make ourselves feel better. The hope is that we age and grow out of it. Some do and some don’t.

    Reply
  9. Myra G. - May 26, 2019 12:42 pm

    Oh Sean, you’ve no idea how this resonates. While I was neither chubby nor red-headed, I’d a big nose and terminal case of clumsiness. I didn’t dream of being pretty; just, UN-ugly. Your Mr. Danny sounds like every PE teacher I’ve had the displeasure of knowing. Years later, yes. Some comments still hurt. God bless Miss Linda!

    Reply
  10. Shelton A. - May 26, 2019 12:53 pm

    How can I hug my favorite redhead when it’s you. I’ll settle for second best and third. Gym teachers can be as bad as kids themselves sometimes when it comes to what comes out of their mouths. Congrats, we’re both clumsy.

    Reply
  11. Debbie Britt - May 26, 2019 1:09 pm

    You never forget kindness! That’s why I try to always choose it!❤️

    Reply
  12. Barbara Pope - May 26, 2019 1:11 pm

    Thank goodness for Mr. Danny who cared enough to push you!
    They called me freckle farm, carrot top, rag doll, Old Yelliow, twiggly, etc, growing up in the 60’s when all the voluptous girls were golden tanned, brown and beautiful like the Homecoming Queen Aunt Cat–as funny then as she is now and loved by all!

    Reply
  13. Connie Havard Ryland - May 26, 2019 1:33 pm

    I won’t go into my own stories of elementary school. Suffice it to say, I grew up determined to be nicer than the people around me. Every day of my life though, I’m thankful for teachers who “saw” me and encouraged my love of books. And, you should have been in band. You didn’t get made fun of less, but it counted as PE class. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  14. Karen Templet Irby - May 26, 2019 1:47 pm

    Well, hugs to you, Sean, because YOU are my favorite redhead! Love you!

    Reply
  15. Joe Patterson - May 26, 2019 1:51 pm

    Thanks my brother was red headed but he was a helluva athlete so the kidding was much less severe.First at bat or pitching he would make them pay.

    Reply
  16. Mary Ellen Hall - May 26, 2019 1:52 pm

    I LOVE this story Sean!!! Some of my VERY FAVORITE PEOPLE ARE RED HEADS!!!❤

    Mary Ellen

    Reply
  17. Susan Kennedy - May 26, 2019 2:17 pm

    💕💕💕👨🏻‍🦰

    Reply
  18. Keloth Anne - May 26, 2019 3:38 pm

    Well you know I love redheads!! My precious grandson has beautiful red hair ♥️♥️
    As I read some of the comments and encounters you tolerated as you were growing up—it was so hurtful. But you “hustled” beyond the hurt and what a wonderful kind person you are!!
    Thank you and Happy Redhead Day to YOU♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️

    Reply
  19. Jeanne Butlet - May 26, 2019 3:52 pm

    Love you Sean. You had a rough life but a good one. Happy Redhead Day. I am proud to know you.

    Reply
  20. Linda Moon - May 26, 2019 5:03 pm

    I will hug my favorite gingerhead today. The other one’s in another state. And, you are somewhere I can’t reach far enough to hug. THIS Ms. Linda is sending virtual hugs to you and that other far-away one!

    Reply
  21. Judy Broussard - May 26, 2019 7:05 pm

    Happy Red Heads Day Sean. Red heads are special

    Reply
  22. Edna B. - May 26, 2019 10:05 pm

    We have lots of beautiful red heads in my family and I love every one of them. They have the pretties hair! Happy Red Head Day! You have a wonderful evening. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
    • Kay Cook - May 27, 2019 3:16 am

      Myniece and nephew have red hair and so do their parents. When they walk into a restaurant , heads turn. This happens partly because it is unusual to see that many red heads together and partly because they are handsome and gorgeous. If the Lord had let me pick my color of hair, my choice would have been red.

      Reply
  23. Dan Wise - May 27, 2019 12:13 pm

    My brother and I were born with flaming red hair. Generationally, there was no prior history of red hair in our gene pool. Our father James Wise had a wonderful sense of of humor. When out and about with him, he would often be asked about the his two ‘Durocs’ and where the trait came from. His stock answer was that during those early years, we did have a rural mail carrier that had red hair.

    Reply
  24. Karen Erwin-Brown - May 27, 2019 1:12 pm

    My Daddy was a ginger. Henry (Red) Erwin. He was a Medal of Honor recipient. My Momma had my baby picture tinted so I’d have red hair.

    Reply
  25. Judy - May 27, 2019 3:07 pm

    One of my favorite people is a Red Head. He has bright blue eyes and a smile that lights up the room. I have seen this Red Head stop in the middle of a game and help a fellow player, not necessarily a team mate, stand after falling – several times. When I stop to add gas to my tank, he jumps out to do it for me. I have watched him hold doors open for people until no one else was coming. He loves the Lord, starts his day in His Word and sends me a daily Bible passage by text. I could go on and on because this young man continues to impress me. He has such a servant’s heart that he assures me that he will be the one to take care of me in my “old age”. He doesn’t introduce me as his grandmother, but as His Mimi, because “I am way too cool to be called a grandmother.” This Red Head is only 14 years old and I am eager to see what God has for him in the future.

    Reply
  26. CaroG87 - May 27, 2019 4:31 pm

    I have a slew of red undertones. I always say God got distracted and forgot to come back and finish the job. Luckily, Miss Clairol completes it….

    Reply
  27. Dru - May 27, 2019 8:33 pm

    I was golden blonde heading toward strawberry but wanted to be a full-on redhead like my grandmother. She had an identical twin, and the two of them were the coolest in the days of silent movies, silk stockings, bobbed hair, and the Charleston. They sang duets in church on Sunday. It was impossible to tell who was prettier, but my grandfather caught one redhead and his brother the other. There are lots of red-haired children and grandchildren in our family, and lots of wannabe Reds. The Lord loves a redhead.

    Reply
  28. ccgoesdutch - May 28, 2019 5:47 am

    Big hugs red!

    Reply
  29. Estelle - June 7, 2019 7:50 am

    A quote assigned to Bear Bryant : “It doesn’t cost anything to be kind.”
    Nobody forgets those who are kind.

    Reply
  30. Estelle - June 7, 2019 7:56 am

    my husband was a redhead until his hair fell out. Now what’s left is getting white. But he still gets plenty of hugs as he is kind.

    Reply

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