I have two sisters with very different attitudes towards aging. One plucked out every gray hair as it came in, until finally she realized she’d have to dye it or go bald. The other said, “I earned every one of those!” And she wears them proudly.
When I went out for fish ‘n’ chips with my friends Pat and Sharon, I was a little shocked when the guy behind the counter offered me the senior citizen discount. No mistake! I qualified for the 55 and older 10% discount!
Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve been carded. Worse than that, the guy took my word for it!
Mom once told me she was riding the escalator at Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit. She saw her mother riding down the other side and waved before she realized she was looking at a giant mirror, and was waving at her own reflection. She said it was always a surprise to look in the mirror and see an old woman, when inside she still felt like twenty-five.
But my mom was always young at heart, brave and adventurous. When suddenly widowed with seven young children, she packed us into a VW van and drove us up 1200 miles of gravel road on the Alcan Highway through the Yukon to Alaska.
She had an open heart and an open mind. She never stopped learning, she traveled at every opportunity, and never took herself too seriously. She set herself challenges, read everything she could get her hands on, learned new pieces on the piano, played Trivial Pursuit. At fifty, she memorized The Iliad, in Greek! It all kept her young.
My mom, when she was terminally ill.
We have choices. I’ve heard it said that life expands or contracts in direct proportion to one’s courage. We can live in fear of old age, and watch our world shrink. Or we can find new ways to savor it. I know someone who resumed smoking cigars and eating sausage at eighty. I’m not judging him. Well, yes, I am. I think it’s great. I want to grow old, you know, wearing purple and enjoying my Good ‘n’ Plenties. When my knees go, I’ll find other ways to travel. When I can no longer walk, I won’t be an armchair traveler. Like my Aunt Loena, I’ll be a wheelchair traveler. The world is full of stories, and I want to hear and tell them all.
All photos and images copyright Naomi Baltuck