Monday, November 28, 2005

The New Young Old

When one hears the word "Grandma", certain images come to mind: A kind, loving old woman with spun sugar white hair who bakes apple pies and talks about church. She's big, soft and sends you checks for your birthday and pinches your cheeks. Oh, and homemade cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. That sweet lady, though still very much around, has grown a new layer, a fascinating swaggery stripe that becomes her. She's 70+ going on 55 and she hasn't got time for you this weekend, she's booked. You can pinch your own goddam cheeks.

I recall my grandmothers, in their 70s, slightly hunched and politely making sure everyone had enough to eat. My mother, age 72, does that as well, befitting her Midwestern training, but she also has the jukebox playing, or the Superbowl on, and definitely has plenty of booze on hand. She does all this after working a 40-hour-a-week job and acting as a very busy membership chairman for a seniors single club. (They used to be called "Life Begins at 40" until they realized all their children were 40. It was unanimously changed to "Young at Heart . . . But Older in Other Places.")

She loves her life and it loves her back, no outside assistance necessary. The doddering, passive "whatever you decide is fine" granny is going extinct. It's not about loving the kids or grandkids any less, it's more about building one's life beyond them.

I recently spoke with a friend who described her mother (also age 72) in a similar fashion. Her mom had recently moved to Cincinnati to be closer to another daughter and grandchildren and, having come from a California beach town, she dreaded it. She has since joined a singles group and is now racking up social adventures, including making out in front of bars at 2 a.m. "Apparently," my friend said, "they find her exotic because she's from the West, has been a fashion designer and has smoked pot." At this point, the local daughter complains that grandma is no longer readily available for babysitting, that she often has (ahem) "plans." Mind you, the cookies still get baked, but on her schedule.

I still credit Joan Collins for earning us ladies a sorely-needed extra decade when she posed in a sell-out issue of Playboy at age 50. Though her peers may not admit it, they have unwittingly taken the gesture to heart. Indeed, there are no shortage of role models. When my mother complained about being an old lady one day I calmly informed her that she was two days younger than Yoko Ono who, having just come out with a new album, was currently being played in all the nightclubs of Europe. This seemed to quiet her a bit.

And it's not just women! William Shatner (age 72) how do I love thee? So many ways! Leonard Cohen (age 71!) still wearing his perfect blue raincoat. Willie Nelson! The only guy to smoke a doobie on the roof of the White House! Woody Allen! Talented and twisted mo-fo! Even those 70+ers that have passed on, (Johnny and June, RIP) continued creating at an impressive pace despite their many years on the road.

Once again, as I face 40 (yes, a theme is developing) I feel relief that I do not have to conform to a blue rinse and country ducks-decor in my kitchen. Strangely enough, it's always the friggin' boomers who get credit for changing societal expectations but these folks are the pre-pioneers who quietly turned their backs on stereotypes. Furthermore, they are less needy and self-involved, which is why I'm proclaiming them: "My Favorite Generation of the Week."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Harrumph. I still think the punctuation goes inside the quote marks.