This is a shot of Mum's haul of birthday cards and flowers. I couldn't fit everything into one shot. I didn't have room for the plant from my cousin. Or the bag of creams and lotions from one sister's drugstore and the cozy shawl from the other sister. The cake from the across the road neighbour also didn't get in the shot. Or the bags of fresh farmer's market beans, carrots, tomatoes, and new potatoes from Mum's cleaning lady/friend/neighbour and my niece. Mum misses her vegetable garden a lot. Because, really, nothing tastes as good as tomatoes, or beans, or cucumbers picked fresh from your own garden. Or new potatoes. New Brunswickers are great potato lovers. That's the Irish in us, I guess.
It may seem funny to be getting vegetables for one's birthday. But really, at 88, as Mum says, what does she need? Except nourishing hand cream, a new cozy shawl, flowers, cake, and lovely fresh vegetables. And a good book. Or five. That was my contribution. A gift certificate to her favourite used book store, which she frequents as much for the banter with Gus, the owner, as for the books. He sighs and says, "Here's trouble," when we arrive, then mum threatens him with her cane. And the thought of Mum and Gus sparring, albeit in jest, always reminds me of the poem "Warning" by Jenny Josephs.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
That's not all of the poem, but you get the jist. We're not that big on aging gracefully in my family. Disgracefully is more our speed. Like the woman in Jenny Joseph's poem.... we don't care to act our age.
My grandmother Sullivan did not age gracefully. This is a shot of Grammy when she was eighteen, in 1917.
This is a shot taken at my sister's wedding. That's my mum on the left. My sister's new grandmother-in-law in the middle; her Swedish husband's grandmother, or Mormor, was ninety-two. And that's Grammy Sullivan on the right, holding Mormor's hand. One didn't speak English and the other had no Swedish, but they hit it off somehow.
This is Grammy at the reception. Not sure how many glasses of that red wine she'd had, but when someone wanted to take her picture, she donned my discarded bridesmaid hat (I hated that damn thing) and folded her hands like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. I love this picture.
And just like her mum, my mum is aging disgracefully. Not acting her age at 88. Mum does not drive. But in her seventies she learned to drive the tractor and she and my stepfather got the hay in together for years after that.
Mum first learned to use a computer at 84. She reads my blog (and she's probably going to kill me when she sees that shot above) and 'googles' regularly. Now at 88, she does her darnedest to keep moving. Every morning she does her leg exercises, then puts her Eddy Arnold CD on very loud and gets on her treadmill. Go Mum!
Don't get me wrong. Aging has its challenges. Painful arthritis. Loneliness at times. Watching friends and family go. Mum lost two brothers in one week, this spring. But she keeps on keeping on, as best she can. She swears in public when she can't get her feet to go where she wants them or when her cane gets caught in the grocery cart. Gives herself a shake when she's feeling down. And then maybe puts on her old sunhat and does a bit of weeding in her flower beds.
So aging gracefully... what does that mean, anyway? I certainly don't know. But I do know this, that contrary to media hype, aging gracefully isn't really about keeping that smooth, wrinkle-free complexion into your seventh decade. Or worrying about "age appropriate dressing" and whether or not one is too old to wear mini-skirts... or pink pants.
I just know that as per family tradition, when I'm in my eighties, I'll probably start wearing floppy 70's bridesmaid hats and listening to Eddy Arnold. And hopefully I'll have inherited some of the aging disgracefully gene. I mean, I already swear in public, so there's a good chance.
If you get a minute check out this lovely video from the creators of the CBC radio show "Wire Tap." Advice from nine year olds to ninety-five year olds on aging gracefully. It will definitely make you smile.
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