Do you remember When I’m an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple? The poem, entitled Warning, was written in 1961 when the author, Jenny Joseph, was just 29 years old. Here is a link, with Jenny herself sassily reading the poem aloud just a few short years before her death.
I think I was a young woman aged about age 29 myself, when I first read that poem. I smiled affectionately at the thought of that cheeky old lady finally letting her hair down; finally acting any way she darned well pleased, free from social conformity at last: wearing purple if she wanted to, drinking brandy if she wanted to, learning to spit, sitting on the pavement if she got tired, and ‘hoarding pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes”.
It should have been a hard holiday for my Mom. The week before Christmas, I was all packed and ready to leave for a week-long visit when my sister called to tell me she and my brother-in-law were both feeling poorly. No, she reassured me, it wasn’t Covid, but they didn’t feel well at all. Because I always stay with them when I come to visit my Mom, we regretfully made the decision that I should stay home. My sister was in no shape for company – not even her sister (!!) – and I’d just end up getting sick, too. Because we are ultra careful about not bringing germs into our Mom’s seniors residence, and because we would never lie about such a thing, neither of us would have been able to visit Mom in any case. It was with immense sadness that I unpacked my bags and stowed away their Christmas presents, which had been sitting in a box, wrapped and ready, beside my suitcase at the door.
“I’m in an exercise class!” my Mom announces excitedly one day, as we chat on the phone. “Do you want to come and see it?”
Mom is 84. She uses a walker to get around; she has mild dementia and lately, she’s been sleeping a lot.
Until my stepfather’s health began to fail, my mother was an active woman. She was one of those energetic people who have little patience for the people who can’t keep up; the people who have showed signs of slowing down. She gardened. She delivered Meals on Wheels. She took line-dancing classes. She was always going to ‘this’ sale or ‘that’ event with friends. Right up until bedtime, she was always puttering about the house: cleaning this, organising that. She never stopped: it could be exhausting, just watching her. My sister and I used to joke that she would end up burying both of us and would still be going strong at our funerals.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1907: one year before the model-T Ford was made available to the public. It would be almost two decades before cars would become widely popular in North America but my young grandfather – always a clever and resourceful man – quickly espoused this newfangled technology. He built a ramp right in his own yard which he dug out of a nearby embankment and he always did his own car repairs. Money was tight and a car was already a luxury: I’m not sure he ever had to go to a mechanic.
I can only imagine how much his knowledge and resourcefulness would have impressed his parents, who were born in an entirely different era, back in the 1800s. They would have been dinosaurs, in comparison to my grandparents.
I mostly love getting older – I am calmer, far less self-conscious and so much more confident. I’ve embraced my white hair. I accept my glasses. I live with the fact that I never have very much energy. I love that I don’t get hot flashes anymore.
But every once in awhile, getting older can really suck.
Like, how, when I look in the mirror, I still see my twenty-year old self looking back at me. And I swear, she hasn’t changed a bit.