Do you think of old women as people with rich histories?
I don’t. Isn’t that sad? I am one and I still don’t.
I knew this woman who was nearly a hundred. She was frail and her hands shook. At her memorial service, I saw and heard about this adventurous life she’d had living in the Adirondacks. At first, I was dubious, but there were photos. Then, I was surprised. And now, enough time has passed that I’ve blocked out what she actually did and I only remember her as the frail quiet woman she had been when I knew her.
I’d like to say I awoke to my mistake, but then it happened again. Another friend died, one who wasn’t quite as old, but at her memorial service I saw photos of her water skiing. Her family said she’d been in a water skiing show. I had never imagined her water skiing let alone being in a show. It just seemed like an anomaly, a trick picture.
I’ve begun to feel that kind of response from people when I talk about my younger days. Yes, Mike and I really did take ten days off from work every year to spend time canoe-trekking in the wilderness. Yes, I’ve been charged by a bear, twice. Yes, I was almost struck by lightning and the tree next to me exploded. Yes, I was rushed by a bull once when I tried to cut through his field. Yes, I cross-country skied at 3:00 am in temperatures at twenty below zero. Yes, a train came as I crossed a trestle and I learned to run on railroad ties. Yes, I played in a band on New Year’s Eve in a private club in the Bronx. Yes, I’ve eaten a feta cheese omelet at a Greek diner at dawn after a night spend dancing in NYC. No, I’m not using my active imagination. I did these things.
Yet, I can see doubt in people’s eyes when I open my mouth to tell about my life. And I don’t blame them. I doubt women’s stories too.
Why is it that when an old man has lived a full life, an adventurous life, no one doubts his stories of running with the bulls and shooting the rapids? Why do people look at an old woman as automatically docile, apt to have made cookies, to have stayed at home to watch TV, to have no history other than cleaning her house?
It makes me want to take a hike, to get out on the water, to sleep under the stars, dance all night, but I might fall and break my hip. Just kidding.
It makes me want to hear more stories from old women.
Thank you for listening, jules