The Eyes Have It
From the time I was a young, towheaded girl, I’ve been forced to endure the commentary pertaining to eye color that has circulated in our family for generations. Some of us in the family have blue eyes, while others have non-blue eyes like me, and it is quite clear that there is a preference in my family — blue.
My father, Herman Lanier, had eyes the color of pale sapphires. Genetically speaking, he acquired those eyes from his two blue-eyed parents. Even though he died in 1992, I still see his blue-gray eyes in photographs, in my dreams, and if I close my eyes tightly and imagine his face.
My mother, on the other hand, has brown eyes — a perfect contrast to her skin, hair and features. She had a blue-eyed mama (from the Jarrards) and a brown-eyed daddy (from the Jarriels and Cowarts).
My two siblings and I ended up with hazel eyes — not really brown and not really green, but a blend of those two colors. Indeed, my husband says that my hazel eyes change color depending on what I wear and what the lighting is around me. He finds my hazel eyes to be interesting.
“If your father and I had had a fourth child, I bet he or she would have been blue eyed,” Mom has said on many occasions. “But the three of you got plain old eyes like me. Oh well…” But our eyes aren’t brown. They are hazel. There’s a difference. Mom has never meant any harm by her comments. She’s just an honest person who says what’s on her mind, and she’s never been silent about her desire to give birth to at least one blue-eyed child, and that didn’t happen. Anyway, I heard this kind of banter throughout my childhood. Playing with a dozen or so cousins at my grandmother’s house in Tattnall County, we would eventually march into the house to wash up for supper and strut singlefile through the living area.
“Come here you precious things,” my Great Aunt Beauty would beckon to us as we walked by. “Let me take a long look at all of you.”
My grandmother’s sister, Beauty Jarrard Tillman, had iconic Bette Davis eyes — blue and as big as saucers with arched, thin brows framing them on her face like a Hollywood starlet.
She focused on our eyes. “Oh look at those beautiful blue eyes,” she’d say to my blue-eyed cousins. “You got those eyes from the Jarrards.”
They were special, and suddenly, I felt as ugly as a piece of trash — something to be discarded. And I suppose it was around that time that I started noticing people’s eyes more, even preferring blue eyes, though so many of the people I loved in life had brown eyes.
I even dated a couple of guys with blue eyes before meeting my husband, Gene. Gene has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen and they aren’t blue — not even close. His eyes are brown. Go figure.
Eye color is simply based on eye mechanics. The colored part of the eye is known as the “iris,” and the iris has pigmentation that determines a person’s eye color. They can be one of six colors: amber, blue, brown, gray, green, hazel, or red. Half of the world’s population has brown eyes. Blue eyes (based on recessive genes) are becoming rarer and rarer, as racial groups intermarry, and perhaps that is why so many think that blue eyes are the bee’s knees — because they will someday be as rare as a pearl or a diamond.
They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul. When someone gives us a mean look, we say they are giving us ‘the evil eye.” We tell our children to look us in the eye when they talk to us so we can determine whether or not they are lying or telling the truth. When we are irritated, we roll our eyes.
In our society, it’s all about the eyes. I’m not knocking blue eyes. In fact, I think they are pretty. But so are brown eyes. Can’t those of us who are non-blue eyed get some love from time to time?