English Garden(00012)A small corner of the garden

I hate to say that Sophia Loren taught me how to be old, but it’s the truth. Sophia has that certain something that makes you wonder how she does it. Is it her impossibly thick flowing locks, or her perfect posture? She is no spring chicken, yet she still emanates sexuality.

Years ago I read an interview with her in which she told how she prepares for the part of an older person. I realized I knew people who fit the unpleasant image of old age, including the thick ankles, the sad face with turned down mouth, the shoulders tight and raised, cramping the chest so that a deep breath is impossible. This of course without saying a word.

In a matter of seconds she became an old woman slumping gratefully into a chair with a loud sigh of relief. You could feel the aching back, the tired feet and the resignation.

We can’t help growing older, in fact we should be grateful to have lived a full life, but we don’t need to advertise the fact by frowning, slumping, groaning and otherwise making ourselves smaller. No wonder the young sometimes don’t see the old. Why should they? Did we? I have a young African-American man who clerks at our local grocery store, who never fails to stop what he is doing and give me a hug & say “Hi Ma! How’re you doing today?” I smile and it helps make my day.

According to a friend of mine, he is handing out “peanuts”, or a cheerful thought. I heard another man say goodbye to someone the other day by saying “Have a nice day, it’s the only one you got”. I was reminded of that all the way through the store. It really WAS the only one I had.

I try to think of Sophia every time I catch myself humping over the computer or otherwise giving in to the ravages of time.

As many of my more long time readers may remember, I still meet my high school girl friends once a month at a favorite restaurant in our hometown. We celebrated two birthday this week of newly arrived 89 year old beauties. As one friend, a former San Francisco ballerina, put it, we are “high performing seniors”. She regularly receives e-mails from a male classmate who was a well known ball player. Nothing to get excited about, but it kind of assures all of us that we can still attract the opposite sex. I took a younger friend from our town to join the group, and I think she was pleased to find that we are not awash in the past, but are interested in what is going on right now.

So Sophia, now that I have figured out the slumping and sighing, I would really appreciate knowing how you, at the age of 81, have kept those thick flowing locks?


bathing ladies

These women with whom I spend time every month are tied together like knots in the rope mooring us to shared memories. We traveled in parallel lines in the long ago, touching base when necessary, but not really reaching the stage of complete truthfulness.

Knots“Knots” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Memory is a complicated thing. A relative of truth but not its twin. Ann Beattie says “People forget years and remember moments.” I’m sure that is true, because as we meet over lunch, moments of our pasts are revealed and relived by some but not all. “Where did we go for our Senior picnic, do you remember?” Several choices may be given, but who can be sure?

Our ballet dancer remembers marching a squad of ROTC boys straight into the railroad yard, whereas I, marching along beside her with another squad, have no recollection of it. Memory can be a squirrelly thing. Looking back I was clueless until the age of 50.

We are beginning to lose friends, but I’m at a time of my life when illness and death and grief aren’t the surprise visitors they once were. The casualties are increasing among the people I loved and even the people I didn’t love, but they still shock and unsettle you.

We had role models as young people, but none in old age. How do you learn how to be old? My friend says we are ‘high performing seniors’, and that seems good enough to me.