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Monday, June 20, 2011

Am I A Little Old Lady?

Did you hear the latest?  Women are living so long that we’ve got a whole new stage of life— “active old age”— which we get to enjoy when are between  fifty and seventy-five years old.  Well whoopdee- do, I’m seventy-four.
            I was sitting in my little old rocking chair on the porch of my riverside cabin a couple of weeks ago when I heard the thump of a boat against my dock. I went down to investigate.  In a  yellow kayak sat a bright-eyed and bushy tailed little old lady (even littler and older than I am) grinning up at me.
            “Can I help you?”
            “Oh, no, dear, is it all right if I wait here for the others?
            “Are you with a group from the canoe livery?
             “Heavens no!  I’m the baby of our group, but I’ve gotten a bit ahead of them. We go kayaking every Thursday.”
            “How far do you go?”
            “About two to three hours paddling. Trouble is, I’m only seventy-eight. They tend to be so much slower. But we have a lot of fun—in the winter we go downhill skiing every Tuesday.”
            I returned to my cabin, not to the porch but to the garage, where I hauled out my blue kayak and dusted it off.

 I love baseball. My favorite moment in a game is the second out in the ninth inning, when the Tigers are a couple of hits behind but we have a man or two on base. We’ve struck out more than we should have and made plenty of errors, but the game isn’t over.  There’s one last chance for a base hit to keep it alive, or the gloriously last-ditch possibility of a home run, and extra innings.            
   Last year, when I published my first novel at age seventy-three, I surfed the web to see if there was anyone out there veering off on a brand new path at such an advanced age. I pulled up a video of a little old lady tap dancing. Mary McHugh ( in her eighties, hands at her waist, legs in the air, was vigorously illustrating her philosophy that “Life is Like Tap Dancing.”
            “Think about it, You shuffle along for a while, then take a few bold steps forward, a few backward and a lot in a circle, and then, just when you think you know what you’re doing, everything changes.”
            Is it a coincidence that LOL also stands for “laughing out loud”?
We emailed back and forth, and she sent me her book about how not to act like a little old lady.  She’s not alone in assuming that this is a bad thing to be—sedentary, perhaps, or creaky, and pathetic. Sometimes I see people looking at me as if I were sedentary, creaky, and pathetic, but I don’t look at myself that way.  Let’s be realistic. I am little (5 foot two, and 125 pounds soaking wet), decidedly old and, I suppose, a lady, in the generically female sense. On my bad days, when my arthritis is acute, my family has worn me down, and the thought of dying is scaring me to death, I know all about creaky and pathetic;  but most of the time I’m a bright eyed and bushy tailed old soul, full of piss and vinegar.
On the bus the other day a young woman remarked to the teenager beside her.
            “Smooch over a bit. Let’s see if we can make room for this little old lady.”
 I had competently caught the bus to downtown Detroit, spoken up to the board of a governmental committee I’d gotten myself onto in order to forward my political agenda,  and treated myself to a hike along a new Detroit River walkway.
 I’m a little old lady all right, but I don’t take it as an insult.
When I get to be seventy-five next spring it will be the second out in my ninth inning, and I hope that the bases will be loaded!

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