In Praise of Older Women




I’ve always quite liked older people and I must say that usually, they quite like me as well; maybe it’s because I am an old soul myself or simply because when I address them I don’t use a slower, LOUDER, special voice and I also like to avoid cyclical conversations about weather, Sudoku,  or their bowels.

(Or anyone’s bowels for that matter …)

I enjoy many of the older patrons at the library where I work but my all-time favourite is a sort of Katharine Hepburn type: slim, fiercely intellectual and still very beautiful; she wears dresses that would not be out of place on the set of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, all filmy sea-spray greens and swirls of pale pinks which she dismissively calls her “gardening dresses” and they flutter nearly to her ankles as she walks, which she does very quickly. I have seen her a few times sporting a bright, papery parasol as well. This woman is still curious about any number of interesting topics and is constantly researching everything from opera to Paul Robeson to astronomy and everything in between. She routinely leaves the library with six or seven books slung over her shoulder in a carpet-bag kind of tote and all that, after an extensive internet searching session.

As I said to her lately, “I want to be you – but NOW!”

She is cheerful, kind but somewhat private (also like myself) and although I know little of her life, she has hinted a few times at a past sadness.

She may not be aware though that she spreads a little gust of happiness wherever she goes.

When I was a callow youth, my first job was at a seniors’ facility– first in the kitchen (placing a bright spring of parsley on top of a soon-to-be silver domed plate of tri-colour, puréed food seems the ultimate irony) and then later as an actual care attendant.

As I cleaned rooms or bathed people, I was struck by how many of them had large, ornately framed photos of themselves in their youth, a testament to their former beauty.

There were two sisters I recall especially – Minnie and Rebecca – who, still together in old age, had pictures of themselves as girls, hair tightly braided and wound into flat coils on either side of their heads (think: Princess Leia). Their faces were smooth and housed large, dark gentle eyes full of hope.

Every time, without exception, that I went to leave their room, the elder sister would squeeze my arm tightly and confide: “It’s my head, you know. It goes a-rooond and a-rooond and a-rooond!”

She would then smile and nod solemnly as if imparting a vital and grave piece of wisdom.

And you know, the scary thing?

I think I am beginning to understand just what she meant.

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