The Little Old Lady I Want to Become
There is a little old lady that I want to become someday. She is feisty and fabulous and says and does all the things that the cautions and responsibilities of middle life prevent me from saying and doing now.
I see her every now and then, a flash here, a glimpse there; she drinks a mimosa with lunch, writes furiously about everything that annoys her and anything that makes her laugh, and she tells the truth – the hairy, warty, saggy, desperate and hilarious truth. She wears fabulous shoes that are wildly inappropriate for a woman of her age and she twinkles when she smiles. Her husband tells her she is hopelessly stubborn, which she is, but she knows he will forgive her anything when she totters into the bedroom wearing nothing but a pair of high heels. She moves briskly but she never, ever, hurries … partly because of the shoes, but mostly because she spent so much of her life rushing around until the day she stomped her foot and decided she would move through the rest of her life at a pace she enjoyed. And so she click clacks her way here and there, overseas, around the city, but always click clacking her way home, to her family and her garden and her books.
I see glimpses of her every now and then and encountered one just a few weeks ago. It was during a work deadline, so of course the kids had back-to-back birthday parties and a quick audit of their wardrobes revealed that, as suspected, neither of my little monsters had a pair of pants without holes in the knees, and a timely growth spurt meant they didn’t have an unstained or torn top that fit either. Normally I put off a shopping mission in the way other women put off pap smears – until it becomes more worrying not to go – and that moment had arrived. That’s how I found myself amongst the heavy press of pre-Christmas shoppers, practicing the fine art of smash and grab shopping. Incidentally, on a recent occasion when I couldn’t avoid taking the kids with me, I had just finished explaining that a quick shop was a good shop and that we were going in for a smash and grab, when my eight year-old, who must have been contemplating this, said in that curiously penetrating voice that young boys have just as we walked past a security guard, ‘So, that means we steal stuff and run, right Mum?’ I really have to pay more attention to what they’re watching on television …
So, there I was, on my kid-free smash and grab mission, having ticked off almost everything on the to-do list, when my phone rang. It was a girlfriend and mother of one of the birthday boys I had been shopping for. Sensing a longer than 30-second conversation – which everyone knows is the limit of acceptable phone conversations to have in a small store, I stopped outside to chat. It took a few moments for me to register the beeping and wondered why everyone was looking at me. Still talking, I turned to see a very small, very irate woman in what was the coolest mobility scooter I have ever seen. At first I was distracted by the wheels she was sporting. It looked like a narrow version of a Mercedes Smart Car, complete with curving roof and windshield wipers. But there was no escaping what had caught everyone’s attention but mine. With her finger wagging and a look sour enough to curdle milk, she was both beeping and shouting at me to get out of her way instead of standing around talking on a phone.
Fair enough, she had a point and there was no way she wasn’t going to make it. Forget the fact that she could have driven around me – and done so in style – I was demonstrably both in her way and ignoring her. I quickly stepped out of the way and in doing so caught the eye of another shopper who had been a bit quicker on the uptake and was flattened against the wall. I started laughing and couldn’t stop, and it quickly spread to those who had seen the whole incident unfold. I recovered enough to wipe away the tears and finish the shopping, more than a little impressed by the fearsome old duck who was charging through her latter years and didn’t give a, well, it rhymes with duck, what anyone thought of her.
Just as she scooted off, I caught a glimpse of my future self.
The angry-old-lady-in-the-scooter-of-the-future incident reminded me of another feisty old lady I had encountered years ago, who was also grabbing old age by the scruff of the neck and giving it a bloody good shake.
Dearly beloved and I had been out for lunch (pre-kids, when it was such an easy thing to steal an hour for lunch together) and I was driving him back at work when it happened. Fortunately, we were talking so much we missed the lights turning green (another giveaway this was in the pre-kids days) because a flash of grey and red flew down the hill, through the red light, and became quite literally airborne right in front of us. It was a little old lady on a bright red scooter, with a safety flag flapping wildly behind her as she careened down the road. This was a woman quite clearly giving the middle finger to old age and she was, while possibly not in possession of all her faculties, quite spectacularly fabulous nonetheless.
When I think about my own grandmothers, and how they went so quietly into the long night, I see the old lady that I’d like to become more clearly than at any other time. She tilts her mimosa and smiles a twinkly smile. ‘Never worry about ageing, Tuesday honey,” she says, with a saucy wink. ‘Own it.’