Friday, April 05, 2013

What it's like to get old

When I was very young, I thought 40 was old. It is true that the older you get, the further out "old" seems to be. Right now I think I might be old when I get to be 80, but we will see. Just a few years ago I thought 60 was old. I am well past that, celebrating my 67th birthday today. My granddaughter, in her straightforward and totally non-judgmental way tells me I am old. For her it is simply a matter of numbers of years, not my attitude or my physical condition, though she does point to my white hair as evidence.


That photo, above, is a picture of the aging journey. Starting at the left is my great-grandmother, Cora Shelton, a paragon of virtue, pillar of the Swink, Colorado Methodist Church, signer of the prohibition abstinence pledge. She was the quilter, from whom, perhaps, my quilting genes descended. She and the Methodist ladies met weekly to make quilts to send to the missionaries and heathens in Africa. I have often wondered if there are stashes of depression era quilts secreted away in huts in darkest Africa to this day. Cora, who homesteaded in Colorado, lived late into her '90s and was a pioneer woman for sure.

Next is my grandmother, Clarice. She was a bit of a wild child, who didn't sign the pledge, hated the name Clarice and preferred to be called "Tresa." I was named for her—sort of. As you can see, she was a fashion plate. Having little money for most of her life, she sewed most of her own clothes and they were outstanding!  She was a divorced, working mother for most of her life and she worked hard, but I seldom saw the serious look above. Life was endlessly entertaining and she had a deep, cigarette raspy, hooty laugh that was truly hilarious. She taught me to sew doll clothes and made sure I finished the seams and made a hat to match each outfit. Hats were kind of a big deal with her. She never seemed old until the very end when she got very ill. Then she quickly faded away. Illness was never anything she had much patience with.

Next, Betty, my beautiful mother, only 20 years old in this photo. Whip smart, first person in her family to graduate from college, she never got old. She died at 72, but never seemed old to me. It still shocks me that she is gone. She was creative and busy and involved in everything and interested in everything. She was a force to be reckoned with, kind and compassionate and a hard act to follow, but my biggest fan and staunchest supporter.

And the baby, as you've guessed, is me, just a few days old. And now I am probably closest in age to great grandmother Cora, as she was in the photo. Now, that is sobering. I think about being old, but not much. I think that is the surprise. I guess some people my age are pretty obsessed with their age—either desperately seeking to escape the imagined stigma and image, or sadly accepting their roles as "old ladies" but really, for me and most of my friends, it isn't worth worrying or thinking about. Beth and I went to lunch to celebrate my birthday today. The order taker asked us if we wanted the "senior citizen plate."  We looked at each other in disbelief and shock. "Uh, NO!" was the horrified answer!

So, what is it about—this getting old? A few physical challenges, but I am still the same person I was at 20 and 40—maybe more relaxed, more amused and less stressed by life and ready for another day, every day. Those women, up there in the photo were good models for me. Each one different, but each one truly her authentic self to the end. I hope that is what it is like to get old. If so, bring it on!

—as if I had a choice.

27 comments:

  1. I taught memoir writing for seven years, and this is absolutely a charming piece about your female ancestors and family history as much as it is about aging. I enjoyed reading it very much.

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  2. Nice to see your generations - lovely ladies all. We don't have a choice about getting old but it would be nice to be able to control how fast our bodies defeat us. One fall is all it took to turn me into an old lady who limps and can't get up and down stairs easily. Arthritis is part of my family legacy and also a reminder to "use it or lose it". So, I'll keep plugging along, but always cautious to not take another tumble. You be cautious, too!

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  3. Happy Birthday Terry. What a lovely, and talented, group of women you come from. I especially liked the part about your great gran. My MIL Dot was the same-no nonsense person. No matter what life handed her she just got on with it. A force indeed.

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  4. Happy Birthday! As my mother used to say, "You're only as old as you feel" ... and mothers are always right ...

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  5. You wear it well dear friend.

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  6. enjoyed meeting the ladies in your family.

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  7. Terry, this is just beautiful! I love your thoughtful and heartfelt tribute to each of your maternal predecessors. (The picture of your mother looks very much like my mother at that age ... same hairdo, glasses, even the same suit!) I'm on my way to visit my Mom today (age 90), and your post makes me remember to treasure her.

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  8. It's so great to have a multi-generational photo! Your little bio of each of your grandmothers and mother were so interesting. When I was a baby a five generation picture was taken of the women on my mother's side. I don't remember my great-great grandmother Smith and I have always wished that I did. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Happy Birthday and thanks for the inspiration. My years and birthdays are flying by so fast that I often find myself in a panic about growing old, and spinning my wheels in the process. I am one who looks in the mirror and wonders "How the hell did that happen?" Your acceptance sounds much nicer.

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  10. You have a wonderful attitude about the whole process!
    Hope you have a wonderful day!

    That photo is a priceless treasure!

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  11. What a lovely post; you honor those women.

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  12. I love your description of each of the women in the photo. With just a few sentences I really get a feel for what kind of person they must be. Makes me wonder how my offspring will be describing me someday. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. I forgot to say Happy Birthday!

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  14. Happy Birthday, yesterday. :)

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  15. I too have been thinking about age, lately, having turned 71 in March. Or more, accurately, I've been obsessing about what we do when we no longer can do what we had been doing. That's what "age" is mostly about -- generally change, often losses, and the need to figure out, once again, what it's all about [resembling, alas, some of the angst of our teenage years]. This is particularly true because we live longer than 72 (mostly) and so have more years that we have to sort through.

    You have some luck, Terry, in that you can continue doing what you've been doing all along -- art, grandparenting, household loving. You are independent and healthy (although not without a few glitches, I'm sure). And your photo shows women who perhaps also could continue in their own paths -- weekly meetings to make quilts could go on for a long time and fulfil a lot of needs.

    But when the old modes of living slip away, they need replaced by something new -- or bitterness, depression, sorrow, waiting -- set in. That's what I fear -- the setting in of those emotions. I'm sorting things out, but I'm not sanguine. Maybe the sorting is what I'll be doing instead of settling into "waiting."

    And happy birthday, again. Nice photo, nice thoughts about the women you've emulated, good cheer and wishing you many more years of the same! However, at 71, I've started to think the senior menus are on to something --snort--

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    1. Ah June, do you have to be such a realist? You see through me, I am sure, and know there is an element of denial in what I wrote. I do know that things will change, probably sooner rather than later. I choose, at this point, to put off worrying about those changes until they are upon me. "why borrow trouble?' my mother used to say. Yes "waiting"—that would be sad. Too sad. Reinvention, at our advanced ages is possible, I hope. And we shore each other up. That is what I count on the most. Friends.

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    2. Thanks, Terry, for responding. I wasn't really calling you out; I was (duh) thinking of myself. You are in a good spot and definitely, don't trouble trouble, til trouble troubles you.

      I have to think not of "getting old", so much as "getting changed", 'cause this is what is happening to me at the moment. This change requires all those old questionings we had to do over the years: what do we need, what do we want, what can we do, what are our passions, what are our achievable passions?

      Terrible questions, and don't _you_ trouble trouble til trouble troubles you! Going back over the old tired ground is a bloomin' nuisance, that's what it is. So if what you wrote has an element of denial -- Good! Good, good, good! But you know me -- I am the center of my universe, so I prick you until you notice I'm around

      But I'm much older than you, so trouble for you won't even appear until you've long forgotten this post -- and my response to it:-)

      Happy b-day, and I love it that you were horrified at the thought of the senior menu. Waiting is the thing I dread the most. And I don't think "reinvention" exactly, but rather, inventiveness in continuation. Or at least that's my thought this afternoon. Thanks, friend, for bucking me up by making me continue the process.

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  16. happy birthday, i will be 72 in nov. and maybe 90 is old

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  17. A very Happy Birthday to you! How wonderful to have a relationship with your maternal lineage. So often it isn't possible for varying reasons.

    Regarding age - I keep thinking that I'll "grow up and feel responsible". At 40-ish it still hasn't happened. I think I am starting to understand the sentiment of "An old woman is only a young woman who looks in the mirror and wonders what happened!"

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  18. Happy Birthday! I always enjoy your posts. This was especially nice.

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  19. Happy Birthday Terry! I believe that aging is a state of mind as long as we can ignore the physical. The other day someone on the news called a 63-year-old an "elderly woman". Elderly? Excuse me? I'm fast approaching 65 and I'm not elderly! Most days, my children are older than I am. I wish I had been wiser when I still had the wonderful "elders" in my life. So many questions I would have loved to ask and in my heart, I believe they would have been great friends. I wonder if my daughters are yet aware - probably not. They are kept alive because we carry part of who they were with us and pass it on to our children. And our children and grandchildren carry us with them. Here's to the next 50 years!

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  20. Happy birthday. This is a really nice article and photo. Even the youngest among us are getting older at exactly the same rate we are: one day at a time.

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  21. Happy Birthday! I too love your generational vignettes -- especially the part about your grandmother insisting you make hats to match your doll outfits. I enjoy seeing people, especially women, accept age (and it's attendant wisdom and humor) without fighting it. You are a wonderful role model. Bring it on for sure!

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  22. Happy Birthday! And that is a photo to treasure.

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  23. What a really nice story to read. I really enjoyed it!

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  24. This one brought tears to my eyes. Gorgeous piece of writing, Terry.

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  25. Happy Belated Birthday, Terry.

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