ROMANCING THE CRONE
I have friends who view aging as a battle to be waged. One that necessitates an entire armory of weapons at their disposal. An array of expensive skincare products. Botox injections. Cosmetic surgery. These women have no intention of surrendering to Father Time and Mother Nature without a fight. Not any scuffle, mind you. A knockdown, do whatever-it-takes-to-win street brawl.
While I don’t consider my widening waistline and graying locks as cause for celebration, my own approach to middle age is more accepting. It’s not as if I haven’t had a good run. Even after giving birth five times in under six years, I wore a size five until my mid-forties. Then reality snuck up on me. A few pounds extra pounds became a dozen, and then another. At first, my friends and acquaintances commented on my looking healthier. Code for no longer skeletal. But as my plummeting metabolism and advancing age have turned me into my grandmother—the padded middle, the glint of gray in my hair—I’ve no interest in joining my friends in their quest to diet and jog their way into maintaining their youthful figures.
I’m comfortable with whom I’ve become. I’m not twenty. I’m a grandma. Not the sexy kind like my friends, but the type more likely to be pictured on a box of homestyle cookies. Not that I bake, but I do resemble my grandmother who did. That doesn’t mean the woman who helped raise me was solely a domestic goddess. Long before my twin and I came along, my grandmother had a life of her own choosing. When her mother needed additional income, my grandmother dropped out of school to work full time. Despite her lack of a high school diploma, she became a telephone operator back in the day when a phone number was alphanumeric.
As a child, I was fascinated by the scenes picturing operators in action in the old black-and-white movies I loved to watch on television. How my grandmother knew what cable went in what hole in what looked like a giant pegboard—but what she informed me was actually called a switchboard—mystified me. Yet one thing was certain. Working with the constant hum of her fellow operators’ voices ringing in her ears, my grandmother helped make communication across great distances possible.
It is only as I type this that I realize that in choosing to become a writer, I’m channeling my grandmother’s chosen profession. My work, of course, uses strings of sentences instead of cables. I work with the voices of characters whispering in my ear instead of those of my coworkers. But is the process of deciding what to put where, in order to ensure communication is clear, so very different?
My grandmother worked until she was almost seventy. Comfortable in her own skin—no matter its increasing lack of elasticity, the wrinkles that crisscrossed her brow—Myrtle Dorothy Williams was a woman who didn’t consider her age to be a burden. A survivor of both the flu epidemic of 1918 and the Great Depression, my grandmother viewed any aches and pains resulting from her advancing years as just another fact of life to be shouldered with stoic good humor. While so many of my own generation have floundered with a mid-or-later life crisis, my grandmother embraced her mature status. Reveled in it, in fact. For with age, she insisted, came wisdom.
Wisdom, of course, comes in many forms. I admire my friends who refuse to be defined by societal expectations of what a grandmother should be. Vibrant, energetic women who’d rather run a 10 K race, or dance the night away in a salsa club, instead of whiling away the hours in a rocking chair. My inclination, though, runs towards hours spent sitting at my desk. My mind abuzz with story. I might not be burning calories, but I’m creating worlds.
Just as my grandmother did with the stories of her youth that she used to tell my younger self. Transfixed, I’d let my grandmother’s words transport me to an earlier era. Then the woman who used to hike in Yosemite, who’d known doughboys before they were sent off to the trenches of the first world war, who’d eloped with my grandfather in defiance of her domineering mother, would proclaim she was as satisfied with the latter stage of her life as she was with her far more energetic past. Something I never doubted. In retirement, she’d come to prefer the slow-paced rhythms of her daily life. Delighted in the doings of her grandchildren. Now that I have grandchildren of my own, the woman who helped raise me has become my role model. Let my friends chase youth. Like my grandmother, I’ve come to embrace being a crone.