It seems like when you leave youth behind, you should at least know it. There ought to be a requiem of some kind. A demarcation.

Mama_0001 copy.jpgThis year, at 74, for the first time I feel old. I’m not unaware that I’ve BEEN old for quite some time, but other than a twinge here and there, my ring finger increasingly getting stuck in the bent position, an aching knee when I walk too far, and forgetting a few more names than usual (I’ve had dysnomia since childhood – my own particular learning disability – and have consistently called my kids by their siblings names and my current husband by my first husband’s name), but still, I have FELT young. I’ve continued to live my life full steam ahead as if I was 30 – or 50 – and do far more every day than any reasonable person ought, exactly like I always have.

With the help of L’Oreal, I appear a little younger than I am, so people are surprised when I tell them my true age, pleasing me no end. Inside I still feel 17. My essential nature is girlish, the rebellious teenager. I continue to push myself to see as much of the world as I can before I bite it, and find a way to lug around my growing grandchildren whom I love beyond reason, though one-year old Harrison is a giant!

But this is the year – 74 – the year I feel the difference. I ache in more places, long for a nap every afternoon, and like nothing more than coming home and climbing in bed early, piddling, reading a book or watching a series, or if my energy’s up, writing. When I overextend, I feel it, sometimes for days. 

I find I have less and less interest in intellectual arguments, arguments of any kind, though I am as opinionated as ever. “Leave well-enough alone,” my father, an inveterate conflict avoider, always said, and at 74, I am beginning to agree with him. I like to see myself as a woman of strong feeling but peaceable instincts. I am happy most of the time, and there’s a pile of good stuff about getting old, but that is an essay for another day.

It seems like when you leave youth behind, you should at least know it. There ought to be a requiem of some kind. A demarcation.

74 is my demarcation.

Mama had said it one day: “I couldn’t conceive of ever being like Papa and Mama. I felt sorry for them. They worked and worried and never seemed to be having any fun. Mama even fretted over meals, what she was going to have, and then when it was on the table, she talked about whether it was cooked right or not. Not long after supper, they said they were tired and went to bed. Poor things. They were old, but I’d never be that way.”

 “It kinda sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?” I agreed.

“Even when you and Carol used to ask me how I felt, and I’d say, ‘Not too well’ or ‘Oh, I guess I’m all right . . . just tired,’ and you’d get this look on your faces—the same blank expression I’m sure Papa and Mama witnessed on mine. I could have told you that I don’t really feel old inside, in my spirit—that I feel exactly the way I’ve always felt inside. It’s just my body that’s tired and getting old. But that look of incomprehension would still be there, because there’s no way to bridge the gap. Not then. You thought your skin would never get soft and wrinkled, and that your slim little waists would never thicken. You’d never feel sad because life was flying by and you hadn’t had time to do everything you wanted to.” 

“Well, that stage is long past,” I said, patting my belly. 

She continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Youth blinds you, and it’s a good thing. We need blinders at times. I wish I had some now. You let feeling take over and possess you. Even sadness, being miserable, is good when you’re young. Sorrow has a kind of beauty; it’s all of a piece, and you are in it, instead of it being in you.”

“Yeah . . .” 

“But later on, you try to temper all that emotion because it’s uncomfortable if it’s too strong. Better to be lukewarm than to burn with too bright a flame. You’d rather be comfortable. It’s a little like being in a harness. You feel the traces on either side, and they keep you in the middle of the road where it’s safe, away from the ditches and the deep embankments—the wide, open, scary stretches that could lead anywhere.”

I was only partially following.

“Sometimes, I wonder how I got on this safe, straight road to death. When did I cross the invisible line between young and old? At what moment, exactly, did I discover that strong feeling was bad on my heart and my blood pressure, that peace of mind was the be-all and end-all of living? When did I decide that cooking the meat just right was all-important? It seems like when you leave youth behind, you should at least know it. There ought to be a requiem of some kind. A demarcation. When you care more about cooking the meat just right than you care about how many people are starving all over the world or how a black man feels when somebody calls him Nigger, you at least ought to know when you changed.”

From Getting Old, a chapter in my new memoir: Shopping with Mama: Write ’Til the End. Buy my book and read more at

2 thoughts on “Seventy-Four

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.