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When did little old ladies transform?

When I was growing up, we lived on a street chock full of little old ladies.  Mrs. West, Mrs. Casey, Mrs. Someone Else Across The Street In The Brick House, I think there was a Mrs. Moore in there somewhere.  And they all looked the same.  Kind of like Stepford Little Old Ladies.  I remember them all looking like Mrs. See of See’s Candies. 

I know that Mrs. Casey wore a shawl exactly like that.

They usually wore flowered dresses, sweaters, beige stockings, and sensible shoes.  Their hair was always done.

All the little old ladies were widows who lived alone.  The little old ladies who lived at the King’s Daughter’s Inn looked just like them, but I must assume that they were little old spinster ladies who only lived at a little old ladies home because they hadn’t had a husband to die and leave them a house.

Their houses were always quiet, clean, dark and funny-smelling.  Whenever we went over for a brief visit, the houses felt like no one lived in them.  To a child, it was creepy.

So that was my perception of little old ladies growing up. 

Nowadays, the little old lady seems different.  I see them at the gym.  They are generally out of shape, but they ARE at the gym – they’re in their swimsuits, doing water aerobics, or in their track suits, walking with each other.

Years ago, when I was a student at the Boulder School of Massage Therapy, I had an instructor whose name now escapes me, but what I do remember about her is that she was about 63 and she was in phenomenal shape.  She was strong, healthy, slender, toned – she was an inspiration to us 20-somethings who weren’t looking forward to aging.

When did this energizing transformation take place?  When did little old ladies stop being little old ladies and become older women (sometimes with all the Mrs. Robinson trimmings?)  Their flowered dresses have been replaced by hiking shorts.  The dowager’s humps are battled with weight-bearing exercises and calcium.  In short, they don’t just wait to die when they are widowed or retire. 

I suspect this must have happened in the Feminist Era, but it was far less remarked upon than the bra-burning, free-love transformations that young women experienced.  Instead, it was more of a quiet revolution.   I wonder what it was that made them make that shift – was there one thing that inspired them? 

In many other cultures, and even in certain circumstances in the United States, older women never become little old ladies.  My old neighbor has run her own small ranch for almost 40 years.  No one could describe her as a little old lady.  This picture isn’t her (it’s a Himalayan woman), but the lines on her face remind me of her.

And then there are those women who were aged, yet ageless icons of their professions.

 Martha Graham

 Jane Goodall

 Georgia O’Keefe

 Cicely Tyson

 Dame Helen Mirren 
 (oh, to look like that
 in a bikini on my next

Perhaps these women are the exception rather than the rule, and their fortunate circumstances helped (or have helped) them retain their spirit, their beauty, their luminosity, their lives. 

But regardless if they are the exception or the rule, they can serve as an inspiration for those of us who find ourselves “of a certain age”, working to rejuvenate our bodies, our souls, our dreams and our lives.

October 2010


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