Today is my birthday. I am 69 years old. I have no idea how that happened. One minute I was 50 and just hitting my stride. Then I was 60 and people were gifting me with prank senior citizen jokes like inflatable walkers. Truthfully, I don’t feel a day over 50 on the inside, except for the days when I get to hang out with my great-grandson and play. Then I feel like a 4-year-old again. That’s the mean part about getting older that no one tells you. On the inside you don’t feel any differently than you always have, ageless. On the outside, well, my joints are telling a completely different story.
People have been asking me what I want for my birthday. Honestly, what could a 69-year-old woman possibly ask for that she doesn’t already have except maybe for a younger body? One of my online friends asked me: “If you could have anything you want in the entire world, if anything was possible, what would it be?” I didn’t have to think twice about it: “If anything was possible, I’d want to be able to spend this day with my Mom.”
My Mom passed in 2002 right before her 80th birthday. When we were kids, she was the quintessential 50’s housewife complete with the obligatory cotton house dress. My Mom had several of them: sleeveless for the summer, short-sleeved for the rest of the year, with or without a belt, zipper up the front and, most importantly, nice, roomy pockets on each side to hold her hankie and keys (she locked herself out of the house once which involved getting a small neighbor kid to climb in a window and let her back in so she was never without her keys after that). If we came home from school and she was dressed in anything other than one of her house dresses, especially if she had makeup on, we knew she’d been out somewhere. Those dresses were like her badge of honor in the Official Housewives club. I can remember how they smelled when I hugged her, that definitive scent of freshly washed cotton that came from hanging out on the washline all day capturing the sun and the wind.
As I have gotten older, with each passing year, I have come to understand my mother and what her life was like as a woman of the 50’s and 60’s, especially as she started that journey towards aging herself. I am reminded of the fact that when she was born in 1926, women had only had the right to vote for a few years. She grew up in a culture that married you off young, tied you to home, hearth, and children, and gave you absolutely no voice of your own. When you got old, you were not revered like elders in other cultures, you became invisible and irrelevant, except as live-in household help if your spouse passed before you and you had to go live with one of your kids.
It was me, the black sheep in the family (every family had one and as the middle child I had the added need to prove myself anyway) who marched in D.C. for the ERA and wrote angry editorials, who argued with the man at the appliance store because he wouldn’t give me credit to buy a washing machine in my own name because I wasn’t married, even though I had a full-time job and it wasn’t my fault that my husband had left me for a differentcotton model. It was me who lost out on a sweet apartment for myself and my two little girls because the landlord would only rent to me if my father signed something to assure the rent and I called him a sexist pig. Sure, I did all those things because it was something that I believed in with all my heart, and still do to this day, but I also did it for my mother, and my grandmother, and every woman everywhere who had lived as a second-class citizen.
This morning as I was getting dressed, I pushed some hangers aside and found something that would, in a symbolic way, make my birthday wish come true: one of my mother’s house dresses. I don’t remember how I came to own it. She may have passed it on to me when it no longer suited her, or, it may have come in the box of things given to me when she died. It is nothing special, just a brown plaid, cotton, sleeveless, summer house dress with a zipper up the middle and a big pocket to carry my hankie in (yes, I am also a hankie kind of woman). Today of all days, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather put on more than this dress. Slipping it on, I was a kid again, coming home from school and having my mother meet me at the door in this dress.
I’m not sure why I have been so nostalgic these last two weeks, writing about my Dad last week and my Mom this week. Perhaps it is just the fact that the older I get, the more I long for those days when thinking about getting old and dying were the furthest things from my mind. Perhaps it is because having become the wisdom elder in the family, “the one who knows,” as Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote in “Women Who Run With Wolves,” I feel the need to review my life and look for those moments that made me who I am. Perhaps it is a way for my parents to wish me a Happy Birthday. Thanks, guys.
This week over on the Home Page, we’re going to use symbolism to connect with our childhoods. So, get ready to step on to the Yellow Brick Road. Remember to have fun with it and to always, always, keep writing.
Peace and blessings.