Friday Speak Out!: On Becoming Seventy-Eight, Guest post by Jo Barney

Friday, May 31, 2013
For much of my life I’ve avoided old ladies. Not that I didn’t like them. Mostly, they just didn’t interest me much. A few of these almost invisible, women come to mind:

My grandma Anderl, a pudding of a woman who lived with my family for several of the last years of her life, her daily glass of bourbon, doctor-prescribed, she insisted.

Mrs. Kauffman, the housemother in my college sorority with her lacquered hair and manicured nails who taught me how to iron my marriage sheets.

Ms. Pedersen, the spinster English teacher in the room next to mine, recycling meticulous forty-year-old lesson plans and asking if I’d like to borrow them.

The elementary teacher in the room down the hall, who at sixty, attained her life’s goal of becoming a school principal, just in time to retire.

The Medicare-eligible counselor, dissatisfied with daytime TV, returning to her job on the kindergarten story rug, it meant leaning on at least one five-year-old to rise up.

My unnaturally coal-black-haired, neighbor, with her push-up bra decolletage, searching the Internet daily for a newer, younger bedmate.

The shopper in the plastic rain cap leaning over the head lettuce, asking how it’s doing today.

For years, I observed these women. From a distance, smiling a little, turning away. They had little to do with me, with who I was, with what my life was all about.

And now I’m one of them.

Today I heard myself talking to the Brussels sprouts in the vegetable section. ‘Nasty little buggers. Why did I marry a man who loves you?”

Last week I ironed our cotton sheets because the wrinkles in the top hem chafed my chin. “Should have bought polyester,” I muttered into my ironing board. Mrs. K. didn’t have that choice back then.

For some reason, I sidled into Victoria’s Secret this weekend and, with boobs smashed into steel-like armature, felt as if I were an ancient stand-in for Super Woman.

A week ago, I advised the copyeditor of my almost-published book that her excessive salting of commas needed to be tamped down; also, semi-colons, not to mention colons and M-dashes . I could hear Ms. Petersen cheering.

This lazy morning, I drank a third cup of coffee and glanced at the want ads. Someone needed a tutor willing to work with reluctant learners. I almost called for an interview when I realized I truly am not able to get up off the reluctant learner rug.

Tonight, I poured myself a sip of Scotch and settled into the news on PBS, a nice way to end the day, even if my doctor did not prescribe it. Grandma knew.

Tomorrow, I will receive the proof of Graffiti Grandma. I am to give the go-ahead on its publishing, a little like getting a principalship and then realizing that you don’t have the time to create your perfect school. I’m understanding that from here on out, my goal will most likely be what it is for all old ladies: one day at a time, seize that day, breathe, be glad to be alive and kicking; always carry a plastic rain cap in a coat pocket.

* * *

Once I retired from working as a counselor in public schools, I started my second career as a writer. During these ten or so years I've finished four novels, published two, and have had a number of short stories and essays appear on line and in print. I usually write about women, and as I age, so do they. Old ladies keep popping up in my stories and in my dreams, and they all learn that they can still choose which path they will take next as they head through the thickets.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Robyn Chausse said...

Oh no! I'm only 49 and already talking to the Brussels sprouts!

Thanks, Jo, for some light hearted encouragement to keep on truckin'. Congratulations on Graffiti Grandma.

Sioux Roslawski said...


You had me at "a pudding of a woman." If this post is indicative of your wit and your way with words, "Graffiti Grandma" is going to be a hit.

Thanks for providing a much-needed chuckle.

Margo Dill said...

I completely agree, Sioux. I loved this post--I was hoping for some more "old lady" descriptions at the beginning. Those were cracking me up! :) Best of luck on Graffiti Grandma. Let us know when it is out! :)

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis said...

Loved the post! It's exactly what I needed today. Will have to invest in the book. No doubt, as an older generation affiliate, I shall comment aloud while turning the pages.

Lynn said...

Love this piece. I can think of several friends who would love a copy of Graffiti Grandma. You might have just completed my Christmas list.

Unknown said...

You are quite a charmer Jo! I look forward to reading your book too.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top