How old is old enough?

Photo of three middle-aged women in the 1950s
Our Grandmother Mim on the right with her sisters Cos and Bim: all middle aged, but perceived as old

Everyone knows it’s best to be young—
or do they? Even a three-year-old knows how
to summon the ultimate insult
to crush a woman in power, a woman of influence
and so when our grandmother Mim
popped little Penny safe on the sideboard
away from the Hoover and away from fun
for at least one awful minute
our little sister knew precisely what to do:
you fan the furnace of your rage and scream,
you’re an extremely old woman and you look it!
So there!” Those words should break her bones
drop her sobbing to the carpet
fuel five ice creams and twenty sorries
so reasoned Penny
from her vast experience of life.
But no, this time the magic curse
was powerless and worse,
she’s cracked a joke it seems.

Mim roars with laughter
and forever after signs her letters
(there were many letters, it was a time of ink
and blotters and postmen riding bikes)
she signs them with a chuckle and a flourish:
“Yours sincerely, An Extremely Old Woman.”
It seems old age can be benign
for anthroposophists—or maybe just for Mim
who was frequently amused.
A three-year-old is old enough
to mimic ageist attitudes.
A woman in her prime is old enough
to find the label of “extremely old”
incongruous and comical and true.

Audio file (mp3)

This is the first recorded instance of ageism in our family, and its goodnatured rejection by our amazing grandmother Mim. Our other grandparents might otherwise have given us a generic impression of the old old as not so sprightly, but Mim was the antidote. Did ageism rear its head in your family, I wonder, and if so, how…

Alternative audio file (m4a) in case the first one doesn’t work for you

Photo from the Taylor family archives, poem and recording by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. That means please do share and reblog, but always name me as writer.


37 thoughts on “How old is old enough?

  1. Loved the poem, the picture, the sentiment. My three year old granddaughter told me calmly one day, “You old.” Yes I am. I loved it. Then she followed it with “you will leave here before I do because you got here first.” A true understanding of the mortality of us both said with calm certainty.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I remember thinking when I was in primary school that Miss Bain was old – imagine my surprise when I turned up to a school reunion a decade or so ago and found Miss Bain was still around, maybe a lot older but definitely not in her grave… (I suspect Miss Bain may just have left teachers training college in the 1950s)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the poem! It captures the sentiment I used to use to sign emails to my daughters – ‘Attila the Mom’. To my son-in-laws – I signed emails ‘Smother-in-Law’.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was convinced I was grown up when I reached the age of seven. I thought seven was a wonderful age to be. I had just left the “primer” classes and was now a big girl in the “standards” classes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What a wonderful story and title. When my father died, my mother was 70, I was in my 30s. I thought, what’s this elderly woman going to do. Well, what she did was live another 22 years, and became an elderly woman. Now, I’m 72 and thinking, ‘when am I going to get old’… I guess I’ll know when I get there.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like Mim’s spirit. I, for one, will not deny my age. I wear it like a badge as a gift to my grandchildren who must be taught that old age comes to the lucky ones and can be observed with curiosity and worn with dignity.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Love that idea! I’ll get up there myself and splash some paint around. I believe if enough of us extoll the advantages of being old we can change attitudes. This is not to deny the disadvantages – every age stage has those.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I like the poem and photo reminds me of family when being 50 or 60 was old, most assuredly 70 was. I was never aware of any ageism until my decade older brother unwittingly voiced the attitudes of the time admonishing his two young children they should “…be nice to your old maid aunt…”. I was unwed and in my early twenties. He had no idea how insulting that was.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wrote a blog recently for Age Concern about terms used for older people. So many of them are negative, but your story shows that straight description is hard to beat- relative age.

    Liked by 1 person

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