Autobiography Of An Elderly Women:
Shadow Of Age
My Mother's House
Conventions Of Age
Other People's Medicine
Compensations Of Age
Spending Of Time
Land Of Old Age
Grandmothers And Grandchildren
Young People And Old
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Compensations Of Age
( Originally Published 1911 )
I GRUMBLE a good deal, it seems to me, about my children's too anxious care of me ; I make life seem shorn of many of its pleasures,and so it is ; but age also clips life of complications. It is the great simplifier.
For instance, the moment my eye fell upon my new neighbors, I knew I wasn't going to like them. This may sound as though I am disagreeable and ill-natured, but I don't think I am.
Indeed I have lived so long in this world that I feel free to express my opinions without being afraid of being misunderstood. A younger woman might not give out so frankly what she thinks, as she has her reputation to make but one opinion, more or less, of my neighbors, will not alter my reputation, for if I have proved myself, in the long time I have stayed in this world, kindly and not hard to please and ready to make allowances, I believe people will make allowances for me, and it will not hurt me one bit to ease my mind by saying that I do not fancy my new neighbors.
I don't suppose I had any reason for it, for they seemed very nice and pleasant people.
The older woman, the one Margaret picked out as a companion for me, was fastened into one of those new-fangled frocks that have hooks in every conceivable spot where a hook ought not to be and none where they ought to be.
Not that this had anything to do with my liking her, as I have plenty of friends of my own age who enjoy keeping up with the styles and like to have the dressing hour one of martyrdom. I just didn't feel that these people and I would have anything to talk about and conversation would always be of that rudimentary kind that happens on the outskirts of acquaintance.
I said nothing about this, however, and in a few days, when Margaret suggested we should call, " It seems," said I, " rather damp to me today. You run over, Margaret dear, so as to be nice and cordial and leave my cards. If we are in for a spell of bad weather, I may not get around for a week or two."
So saying, I settled myself comfortably in my chair and told the maid to telephone to my friend Mrs. Wellington to see if she would come and play logomachy. I sat there waiting with that most comfortable of all feelings in my heart, a feeling that comes of having decently avoided a disagreeable duty. I looked back over my long life and thought of the many times I had called and called and called on people I didn't want to, new church people who I thought were lonely; people who were friends of friends of mine with whom I had no more in common than I had with a flagstaff.
Before she went out, Margaret asked, " Are there any more calls you don't feel like making? for I might as well do them all up, now that I am started."
At that I made out a list of all the people I didn't especially want to see in town. It was not a very large one, for I am fond of my fellow creatures. Though, strictly speaking, my day of calling is over, when I want to see any one I go and see them and spend a good hour or more in a real talk. I am no longer a young woman;
I am an elderly woman, and will soon be old, and the day for me, thank goodness, is past when I spend an afternoon in that most senseless occupation, fifteen-minute calls, where the people are called upon according to neighborhood, and not because any one feels any particular need of their conversation.
In many ways, as we advance in years, we return to the attitude we had when we were children. If we grow old wisely, we lay aside the senseless forms and meaningless conventions of society and go back to a more primitive mode of social intercourse, picking our friends the way children do, because we like them, spending time enough with them to get some real good out of them.
It was with joy that I saw my daughter depart to call upon the Towners, for this was the name of the new people. In this world, of course Towners have to be called upon, but oh, glorious day ! the time is pa t when it is I who must do it. If I have to forego some things I would like to do; if old age in the shape of waning strength says to me often, " Thou shalt not ! " so do my years smile upon me and say to me, " Thou needst not."
I have moments of unhappiness and rebellion, as I suppose most older women have as old age creeps on them unawares as they work and dream and live; I have moments of sorrow that my real work in the world is done, and moments of sadness that my children no longer come to me, but spare me, not wishing to trouble me; but oh, with what happiness do I leave the performing of some duties to the younger generation. Think what an emancipation it would be if some voice should cry, " No more calls ! " This is what the voice of age said to me, as I sat that afternoon by the window watching my dear daughter ply dutifully forth. Many years will have to pass by before she can sit down quietly before her pleasant open fire and rejoice that never, never again will she need to make a duty call.
As I watched Margaret go her way on her round of calls, I saw all the family of tiresome duties before me; not only calls, but committee meetings of one kind and another. Not a committee meeting do I have to go to. I don't have to feel like a beggar getting money for the church organ or the new church carpet. I did these things willingly and cheerfully in my time, and now, thank goodness, I don't have to do them. I even make the confession that there are some times, when Margaret says to me, " Mother, it's too rainy for you to go to church," that I agree with her with a certain alacrity.
Oh, blessed are the immunities of age !
This morning there walked past my house a young person. She was pretty, she was young. I have no doubt that I should have been an object of pity in her eyes as I sat there in my comfortable wide chair in my comfortable dress, which, if 'you please, is a waist and skirt, the waist hooking in the front. This pretty young person's back hair was built out one foot behind her head with what aids I am too innocent to pretend to tell you; her frock was of the kind that fits with distressing closeness until it bursts out in a flare of pleats at the knees, and she wore upon her head a prodigious hat. Her type was not extreme. I see young women and maidens every day more fantastically and uncomfortably arrayed.
" Oh," I thought to myself, " there's a spring in youth, to be sure, and a joyousness in it, but oh, how uncomfortable youth makes itself ! "
I see my daughter Margaret clawing around her spinal column, trying to hook her clothes up the back, and rejoice that I am of an age where, fashion book or no fashion book, things may yet fasten up the front. I don't need to wear a hat that looks like a chimney or a monstrous mushroom; I can wear broad, low-heeled, cloth-topped shoes while the styles in shoes skip around from heavy mannish to paper soles and pointed toes.
There are women, of course, who do not take advantage of the blessed privileges which age brings them, but, after all, not many of us. Most of us have sense given us to realize that there are certain fads in this world that we are through with.
So I confess that I saw the little girl with the imposing hair and hat go her way without envying her her youth.
Would I not like to be young again?
Who would not if they could have youth plus the wisdom which their years have given them?
It may be that it is " sour grapes" that makes me feel as I do, but a profound thankfulness sweeps over me when I run through the long list of things I need not do any more, and if I rejoice that certain distasteful duties are removed from me, how much more do I rejoice over the amusements that did not amuse me that I no longer have to go to. No more do I have to attend concerts of an ultra - classical nature; no longer do I have to read the newest book if I do not choose to; if I am ever bored, it is not any longer by those things which are supposed to divert me.
Fancy your life stripped of all the things that are tiresome to do, that are a weariness to your spirit. What does all this cry about the simple life mean, this turning to nature, this camping in Maine woods, this flying to little shacks by the seashore? Not so much the desire for beauty, for that is accessible to very many people, but leisure to enjoy it, and attaining this leisure by throwing out of the window what one might call " the padding of life." I do not have to leave my comfortable home for an uncomfortable, half - furnished shanty to revel in the beauty of the maple tree which makes a golden glory outside my window. Without effort on my part life has handed me these extra hours in which to look around the world and enjoy the beauties of it with peace in my heart, and it seems that for those who look upon age rightly, life becomes a spacious, roomy place. For some the spaciousness means loneliness; through the vaulted roominess of the days voices echo infrequently; the wide vistas of time are unpeopled and bare; memories only walk through, shadowy and with sad eyes. I can only thank God that age has not come to me in such a guise. For me and many of my contemporaries the priceless gift of time has been the recompense of our having lived so long in this world; and instead of our days being full of the needful but distasteful duties, and chittered, besides, and choked with the pleasureless pleasurings in which I see those younger than myself spending their days, we may now turn and do the things which we have always wanted to do. And for those who have lived with zest and vigor, that is to say, those who have lived at all, there is hardly one who has not had some pursuit or some taste which was crowded out of their lives. If you look around the world you may see any number of vigorous elderly women doing the things they wanted to do all their days, and doing them with the earnestness and relish of children at play.