Bev Wood is a Hamilton writer. She has written stories and poems for children and adults, travel articles, a wine column and short memoirs. She is addicted to reading and writing, walking and talking, wining and dining, people and travel – and words, words, words…
Them and Us: Feisty Old-ish Women Fight Back
“How’s your day going?” they ask.
What would they do if we replied, “Fast,” or even “What’s it to you?”
Would they even register, or would they continue packing our shopping, smiling in that way they reserve for us women of the grey-haired brigade as they look right through us.
What would they say if we replied to the comment “There you go my dear” with “I’m not going anywhere, my precious, my scally wag, my sweetie pie…”
“What are you going to do with the rest of your day?” is an intrusive question that makes our thinning hair stand on end. I guess it doesn’t require an answer. It’s really a rhetorical question. “What’s a rhet, rhet… we can imagining them asking? What would they do if we replied in the manner we’re tempted to?
“We’re going sky diving; we’re going bungee jumping; we’re organising a protest march; we’re going skate-boarding; we’re off to make mad passionate love to the milkman…” (Maybe that should be milkmen. We may do lots of things together but we do keep certain standards.) And then again, when did we last see a milkman?
We may have wrinkles where we’ve never before had wrinkles. We may have sagged and bagged where we’ve never before sagged and bagged. My husband once commented that my rear end was a little closer to the ground than it used to be – and I laughed in a far from lady-like manner.
“It’s just that gravity is taking over,” he added. He survived – just.
“That’s as much part of life as being slim and trim as we were in our long past youth,” I replied as I eyed his own far from perfect profile.
Someone once said as you age you can’t have both a pretty face and a pretty bum. It is either, or… So true. But we can remember…
The fresh bloom of youth may have blown away in the gales of time but we can survive a few more stormy years. Our eyes are subjected to close scrutiny, lights shone into them and drops dropped into them. Our eyesight may not be as sharp as previously but we can still shoot the breeze, but these days we might struggle to thread the needle. That’s why our arms are getting longer, and why we have grandchildren with young eyes and steady hands.
We have a regular mammogram, the “Big Squash, to keep abreast of things”, some wag said. We get prodded and poked and secret places peered at. When the surgeon told me my inside was as clean as a whistle after a colonoscopy, I was very tempted to reply that I promised not to blow it.
Our teeth, or what’s left of them, are regularly plugged and polished. These chompers mightn’t chew as well as they once did but we can still chew the fat.
We reckon our minds are ticking over as well as they ever did. It’s just that sometimes words and names disappear when we’re not looking. Perhaps we’ve dropped too many in the past. Where do they disappear to? Is there a great big stack of them floating around the universe? Anyway, we have fun looking for them. If anyone finds a pile of them going begging, please send them back to us, we never know when they may come in useful.
To keep us running on all cylinders we go to the gym, the pools, the physio, the optician, the chiropractor, the osteo, the dentist, the podiatrist, the manicurist and the hairdresser. We walk, we run, we swim, we go horse riding, we practise T’ai Chi and go to Zumba and Pilates. We go kayaking, canoeing, tramping, skiing, snorkelling, mountaineering… We play tennis, Mah Jong and Bridge and we love to play up.
We use computers, I-pads, facebook, twitter, apps. and smart phones. We look after grandchildren – or they look after us. We read books and write them. We go to films, concerts and lectures. We sing in choirs and play in orchestras. We learn new languages and embarrass our husbands, partners, lovers, friends, children and grandchildren with our excruciating accents. We travel by car, foot, motorbike, kayak, ship, bicycle, scooter, skates, helicopter, plane or train. We try out the latest restaurants and cafes. We experiment with new recipes, new foods and new wines. We go to dinner parties – and throw them.
And that’s not all we throw. Some of us are pretty adept at throwing wobblies.
We run businesses and we run marathons. We run our grandchildren around in the car, and sometimes we drive them mad. We’ve learnt to drive a hard bargain. And some of us have become a driving force in the community.
We spend time doing cryptic crosswords, sudoku and codecrackers. We go to pub quizzes and show the bright young things that we haven’t lost all our marbles yet. And I bet we could beat them at marbles too, if we can remember where we put them.
Anyone pinched my googly?
We can still do hop scotch, hide and seek (mostly looking for lost keys and glasses), play skipping games and climb trees. We can go water skiing, or ride on a biscuit (if we don’t eat it first). We can dive from the high diving board – or belly flop. Some of us have more belly than others to flop.
We still like to make a splash.
We can do the hula hoop. We can jive and twist with the best of them – and with the worst of them. And some of us can even rap. We can dance the night away and lead people on a merry dance. We can jump fences and jump up and down in a rage.
And we often jump on the band wagon – and fall off it.
We can knit, weave, sew and crochet. We can spin, especially a good yarn. We can cook pikelets, pavlovas, scones and sponges. We can bake macarons and croquet-en-bouche, beef rendang and Parmigiana di Melanzane. And we can enjoy polishing off these delectable dishes without worrying about that extra inch or two – or is it centimetres? That’s far more fun than polishing the silver. We have thrown away our full length mirrors and our bathroom scales so we don’t notice those extra rolls.
And we’re not talking sausage rolls either.
Some of us have special gifts – a gift for music, athletics, writing poetry, embroidery, acting, film making, painting or pottery. We also have the gift of time to give to our children, grandchildren and the community. And one thing most of us have is the gift of the gab. We’ve spent many years perfecting that.
We wear red hats, purple clothes, jeans, boots and bikinis – though not all at the same time. We paint pictures and houses, and we love to paint the town red. We go to university and night classes. We learn new skills and teach them. We become judges, prime ministers, opera singers, actresses, film directors and babysitters – though that doesn’t involve much sitting…
And we laugh a lot.
After all this it seems amazing that grey hair can rend us invisible. How often have we been overlooked in cafes, shops, on trains and buses? And how about those smart dress shops? Do they think we are just there as part of the decoration. Oh no, we forget we’re no longer decorative. We’re obviously not looking at that elegant silk dress for ourselves. We’re too fat. How do they know we’re not going to lose all those spare tyres in the next week or two? That dress is obviously too expensive for the likes of us, they seem to imply. And when would we get the chance to wear it? How do they know these things? Have they checked our bank balances, our credit card limit, our invitations, our diaries, our holiday itineraries? How do they know we’re not being introduced to the Queen or the Governor General, or Heaven forbid – the Prime Minister?
Or even Richie McCaw?
We can’t decide which is worst, being invisible or being condescended to. We may look decrepit, but by heck we’ve done a lot and know a lot, and what fun we’ve had along the way. And that way is still beckoning.
We don’t like being overlooked, condescended to, or pigeon-holed. We may look like a great amorphous lump but we are individuals with individual likes, dislikes, talents and interests.
Grey hair doesn’t necessarily mean we are past it, staid, boring or set in our ways. We like to experience new things and enjoy the same things we’ve always enjoyed. We still have opinions, preferences and ambitions.
And we like to air them.
It is time for us feisty old-ish women to rise up or at least as far as we can with our creaking joints and dodgy knees. We may be old in their eyes but there’s still plenty of kick in us oldies yet. After all our hours at the gym and kick boxing some of us are pretty good at kicking.
And some of us know why we want to kick, who we want to kick, and where.
We’re not yet ready to be dumped on the scrap heap of life. There’s life in the old girls still. There’s too much still to do – mountains to climb, books to read, people to meet, places to visit…
We’ve been around awhile. We’ve seen it all before. We’ve experienced things they can never imagine us experiencing – how did they think they came into the world? And we’re going to eke out every bit of pleasure while we can.
They might tread on our toes but we can jump up and bite them on their knee caps – as long as we don’t put our backs out in the process.
Life is for living and we’re sure doing everything we can to do just that.