Being Old: All in the Mind and in the Genes

My grandmother Sullivan always looked old to me. But she never identified as old. Even when she was undeniably old. She thought that being old was all in the mind.

When Grammy was young her hair was red, but I only knew her when it was white. She always wore it long, tucked up into a neat roll at the back of her head. I never knew her to visit a hairdresser. She wore no makeup, not even lipstick. And she always wore dresses and nylons and sensible, laced shoes. Except in the house when she wore slippers. The ones with a bit of beading on the toes and fur around the top. Most days she wore what we called house dresses, simple, mostly cotton and loose. But she always had one or two good dresses, like the one she’s wearing below. And she always had a “good coat” to wear to Mass and on special outings. We all had a good coat back then, didn’t we?

That’s Grammy with me, my sister Carolyn, and my cousin Mark in June 1970. The occasion is the wedding of my mum to my stepfather. Grammy was seventy-one in this photo. Mum always said that having been born in 1899, Grammy was one year older than the calendar. The other thing Mum always said was that Grammy took care of her skin; she never washed her face with soap and she used Pond’s Cold Cream every day. Mum said even when she was ninety she had hardly any wrinkles. Chins, yes, wrinkles, no.

Me, sister Carolyn, Grammy, cousin Mark, in 1970. Grammy was 71.

My grandmother never worried about how she looked, as far as I can remember, beyond looking clean, tidy, and appropriate for the occasion. I remember when I stayed with my grandparents as a child, she would come downstairs in the morning, fully dressed, including nylons, and do her hair in the small mirror over the kitchen sink. She’d comb it, and deftly roll it into a bun at the back of her head, securing it with old-fashioned hair pins.

Grammy grew quite portly as she aged. Not surprising since she had given birth to ten children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. I don’t believe she ever worried about her figure. When she was young she had no time to worry about her appearance. Raising eight children, cooking and cleaning for her family and two hired men who boarded with my grandparents and worked on my grandfather’s drill machines, plus keeping a hawkish eye on my grandfather to make sure he behaved, kept her very busy.

When she was older and her kids had all grown up, she liked to go for gentle walks in the evening. I used to accompany her when I was little. After a lifetime of hard work she was not interested in anything more strenuous than that.

And here’s my point. While Grammy might have looked old to me, she never thought of herself as old. We laughed when, in her mid-eighties, she said she’d never go into a care home because she didn’t want to be around so many old people. She thought being old was all in the mind.

When Grammy turned ninety Mum called the local radio station, and they announced her birthday on the air. Mum said she was an avid reader, a prolific quilt-maker, and never sat down with idle hands. There was always a crochet square on the go. Grammy could rock and talk and crochet at the same time. Ha. But what pleased Grammy the most was the fact that Mum told them she still did her own housework. Still scrubbing her floors at ninety. That made her proud. She might be old. But she didn’t feel old.

I’ve been thinking about getting old this week, ever since I listened to Alyson’s Walsh’s That’s Not My Age podcast in which she interviews Lyn Slater about her new memoir How To Be Old. Slater tells Alyson how she abandoned life as the Accidental Icon when her influencer life became untenable. When she, as she put it, “lost her authenticity” in the face of so much publicity, so many brand deals, and so much emphasis on fame and physical beauty.

What I found most interesting in the podcast was Slater’s discussion of the presentation of aging in the media. The view of aging as one of two extremes. Aging is portrayed either as something to be feared, a time of decline and illness and despair. Meanwhile this and all the anti-aging talk, the promises of youthful faces, plays on the fear of aging that many young women feel. As if an artificially unlined face can change the ultimate outcome. Or, conversely, the glib presentation on social media of the few older models who still strut the runway at age seventy, eighty, or even ninety. Look how wonderful being old can be, these posts proclaim. As if walking a runway means these women are not facing the very real challenges we all face as we age. Slater said most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

This resonated for me. I remember reading a post on Instagram a few years ago about Daphne Selfe, touted at the time as the world’s oldest super model. Selfe was one year younger than my mum. And I remember feeling pleased for Selfe, that she could still do what she did in her late eighties. But it also made me sad that the physical challenges she must surely feel at almost ninety were not addressed. I remember thinking that my mum who had such a struggle getting out of bed in the morning with her arthritis might see this and feel somehow less. When in fact Mum’s indomitable spirit, her refusing to give up, her daily struggle to exercise just to keep her body moving, was every bit as laudable as having a modelling contract.

I’m not saying that finally seeing older models on the fashion catwalks is not progress. It is. I welcome the presence of the likes of Helen Mirren or Charlotte Rampling on the runway or in fashion ads. Especially since neither of them makes any bones about being older. Or looking older.

But I agree with Lyn Slater that both extreme depictions of aging (as something to be dreaded, or as something which will leave us vibrant and youthful until we keel over) are unhelpful. Especially when so much of the way our bodies age is down to genes and luck. And money to some extent. Aside from plastic surgery, of course. Then it’s solely down to money. And before you protest, I agree that healthy lifestyle is important too. But we can only do so much to offset our genes.

This is my other grandmother, below. My father’s mother. Everyone in the family called her Bubbie. She’s in her mid-seventies in this photo. She died in 1967 at age seventy-seven.

Bubbie in the 1960s, when she was in her mid-seventies.

Since my parents separated when I was six, I didn’t see much of my grandmother Burpee growing up. She always sent me lovely Christmas and birthday gifts, dresses and sweaters from a rather expensive children’s store on Queen Street in Fredericton. I still remember the princess Halloween costume she sent me when I was eight or nine. And how devastated I was that, since Halloween was very cold that year, I had to wear it over my winter parka. Ha.

I think I must have inherited my snowy white hair from my grandmother Burpee. No one else in the family had bright white hair. My grandmother Sullivan’s hair, while white, was always white-ish with a tinge of faded red. I don’t know how my grandmother Burpee felt about old age. Certainly she didn’t have as many years to think about it as my grandmother Sullivan who lived into her nineties.

I do think from photos that my grandmother Burpee was a bit more vain than Grammy Sullivan. She was always well turned out. One photo I have of her I love. She’s sitting on a woodpile at the summer camp they owned on Grand Lake, holding a dog leash. She always had a Pekinese dog. And she’s wearing a light summer dress with a pattern of cherries all over it, snow white ankle socks, and what looks like two-toned athletic shoes. Maybe they’re tennis shoes. My aunt once told me that, when she was young, my grandmother worked in California for a time, as secretary to a man who was part of the gold rush, and that she played tennis. I remember thinking that this sounded romantic.

My grandmother Burpee came from what people in New Brunswick used to call a “good family.” They were in the shipbuilding business “over north.” My grandfather, her husband, was a professional engineer. So she would have always had more money than my grandmother Sullivan. And fewer children; there was only my uncle and my father. And as a result she had to work less hard than Grammy. She had more time and more money to worry about how she looked.

But I’m only guessing. Maybe she never worried about her looks either. Or about aging.

I do know that she knew sorrow. She was widowed very young; my grandfather died at age forty-nine. And my father, her handsome, much beloved younger son, never lived up to his potential. His alcoholism made her life chaotic for many years. And must have seemed like a tragic waste to her. As indeed it was.

I wish I had visited my aunt, my uncle’s wife, more when she was living and asked her about my grandmother Burpee. After my grandfather died, my uncle and aunt, and their children, lived with my grandmother for many years. But maybe my aunt didn’t know how my grandmother felt about life and aging. Did people talk as much about this stuff back then? I somehow doubt it.

My mum said that growing up she and her brothers and sisters envied my father and his brother. They had more money and and drove nice cars, and didn’t have to work as hard for either. They lived only a block away but were worlds away as far as class was concerned. Or at least that’s how Mum saw it. When she married my father years later, she loved him, but she was never comfortable around his family.

So here’s my point. Maybe my grandmother Burpee was vain. As I said, I’m just guessing. Maybe she had the time and money to worry about her appearance beyond looking clean and tidy. But in the end what did that get her? Not a happier life. Not a longer life.

I listened to the CBC radio noon call-in show the other day. It too was about aging, and fighting the signs of aging. Lots of women called in to say that they use botox, or fillers, here and there, to stave off looking old as long as possible. Lots of other women decried this practice. One or two reflected on their own experience with serious illness to say that they just wanted have the privilege of getting old. Period. A few talked about how they had, like me, abandoned dying their hair during the pandemic. And how wonderfully freeing that felt.

I cheered a little at that.

Anyway. I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say with this post. Most of the time, when I’m writing these reflective posts, I can’t tie everything up into a neat bow, with a clear thesis or theme. I write and write and then about halfway through I stop, go pedal my exercise bike, and then come back to see if I can see where I’m going. Kind of like the bear who went over the mountain. Ha.

Sometimes all my ideas fall into place. Sometimes not. I could go back and delete a few paragraphs so that all the ideas work to a single point. But that would mean leaving out some stuff that I wanted to say. And besides, life doesn’t always work that way. Neatly and tidily building to a climax and then revealing the moral of the story.

One thing I did want to say is that worrying about whether we look old is not helpful to us. Nor to the young women who follow us, and who maybe take their lead from us. Let the young ones be the young-looking ones. It’s their turn. Let’s start showing the world that looking young and feeling good about how we look are not mutually exclusive things.

And I wanted to emphasize that looking old and feeling old are NOT the same thing. Unless we want to employ the services of a plastic surgeon (or someone who is good with a needle) looking old or looking young is down to good skin care and good genes. And can we please stop praising women simply because they look young when they’re not. And start building up women who are brave enough just to get up in the morning and keep on keeping on.

And in some way I really just wanted to talk about my grandmothers. Both of whom I loved, even though I knew one so much better than the other. I was really not trying to turn their very different life circumstances into an object lesson about the pitfalls of relative wealth or about the virtues of hard work. Life is way more complex than that.

I have no idea what my grandmother Burpee thought of my grandmother Sullivan. But in the end, it was my grandmother Sullivan who took me to the funeral of my grandmother Burpee when I was ten. My parents had been separated for a few years by then, and mum did not feel comfortable attending. Grammy understood that, and at the same time felt that I should attend. I think that Grammy Sullivan felt it was the least she could do to show respect for my grandmother Burpee whose life, it must be said, was not as easy as some might have felt it was.

I don’t remember much about the funeral. I remember my grandmother Burpee looked just like herself in her coffin. All pink and white, and powdered, and soft.

And I remember that Grammy Sullivan wore her good coat and held my hand the whole time.

P. S. I just realized that when my grandmother Sullivan, who I always saw as old, took me to my grandmother Burpee’s funeral in 1967 she was the same age as me. Almost sixty-eight. And if she didn’t identify as old at eighty-five, she most definitely did NOT see herself as old at sixty-eight. And neither do I. Ha.

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70 thoughts on “Being Old: All in the Mind and in the Genes”

  1. It used to make me angry when people would comment on a particularly beautiful actress or model that seemed impervious to aging.
    “Isn’t she incredible? She never ages!”
    It set unrealistic expectations for the rest of us. How can we be expected to compete with people that spend their whole lives trying to avoid aging? It’s their job.

    As I inch closer towards 60 learning to let go of the mental image I carry of myself in my mind and freely accepting what I actually see staring back at me in the mirror is a daily struggle. I hope it gets easier.

    Suzanne

  2. Getting old has its challenges but it is a privilege. It’s been a tough weekend here in Sydney. At the shopping mall where many years ago I used to go with my mum to buy my school uniforms 6 people, 5 women and a male security guard, were stabbed to death by a lunatic. Eleven others were injured, including a 9 month old baby and are in hospital with stab wounds. I can’t get my head around how a weekend shopping trip can end in carnage. Such violence is rare here until it happens.

    You are absolutely right, worrying about looking old is unhelpful. I’m glad you have such fond memories of both your grandmothers. They sound like fine women who loved you, as you loved them.

  3. Your post made me very sentimental. I only knew my fathers’s mother (my mother’s mother died before I was two) and Grandma Antic (first name – On-tick – Armenian) always seemed very old to me. She also had long gray hair she braided and put into a bun. I didn’t really know her very well as she didn’t speak English very well and, alas, I didn’t know much Armenian. You make me wish I knew more about her. Thank you for the beautiful words.

  4. This is my favourite kind of post . I read a lot of memoirs & the most moving are those written by ‘ ordinary people ‘ living their ‘ ordinary lives ‘ . What is never ordinary is the way people cope . You write beautifully about your family . I’ve already read it twice & I know I’ll read it again . What tales your two grandmas could have told . I think later generations will find it far harder to age than previous ones , simply because of their expectations . Like young is beautiful, old is ugly . Beauty is odd though . I know it’s a cliche but I really believe beauty comes from within . If there’s a dull or even ugly nature then the beauty quickly palls but a plain face is enlivened by wit & intelligence . Those who’ve pursued youth & beauty to the exclusion of all else are going to struggle as they inevitably age . I hope they develop some wisdom .
    I even see it in my old dog . He was a cheeky , cute puppy . Now he’s an old gentleman. Losing his glossy coat , so many white hairs creeping in plus he’s getting very stiff & looking a little moth eaten . Not many strangers notice him now , they head for the puppies – every dog has its day , as they say , but to me he’s still gorgeous. The same could be said for my husband !

    1. I was lucky enough to hear lots of tales from my grandmother Sullivan. She’d sit rocking and crocheting and answering my endless questions about “the old days.” I wish I’d been able to do the same with my other grandmother. I have so many questions.
      P.S. I’m glad you didn’t say that Max is looking a little moth-eaten. Ha. I’ve begin to notice this year that Stu has aged. I have to admit when I notice it, I feel a little pang.

  5. I love how your grandmother dressed everyday. I love how she looked like an adult. Something that seems to be lacking. Reverence is given to the youth. It’s no longer a right of passage to dress like an adult. It seems now we all want to go up to dress like we are fifteen again. Reading your reflections on your grandmother made me think about my mom’s mom. She was elegant even though she had five children and helped my granddad run a dairy farm. She was a beautiful seamstress. What resonates with me now is how her word was law and how much she was respected and listened to. For me, the most disappointing part of aging is that those with experience are ignored in favor of those who are less experienced.
    I’m reminded about the beauty of aging when I watch and read about the “Blue Zones”. I appreciate the vibrancy of these populations. Instead of going to the gym they work in gardens, eat healthy foods, enjoy adult beverages, and each other’s company, but what really impresses me is the respect that is shown to the elderly people in these cultures.
    I’m not particularly wanting respect but I think appreciating the journey of those of a certain age has some wisdom to it. In manner and dress.

  6. Another great post, thank you Sue!

    It is sometimes difficult to accept the fact that we are aging, however once you do , you feel happier with yourself.

    Bon dimanche!

    1. Yes. I kind of felt that when I stopped colouring my hair. Doesn’t mean I still don’t care about how I dress etc… just that I feel a little less pressure to look young.

  7. Votre propos me touche particulièrement.
    Je n’ai pas connu mes grand parents ,morts en déportation.
    Je n’ai aucun souvenir et je ne connais pas leurs visages puisque aucune photographie n’a été retrouvée par mes parents a leur retour d’Auschwitz.
    Des russes avaient confisqué leur maison et dormaient dans leur lit .
    Je sais que je ressemble a ma grand mère maternelle, par ma coquetterie et mon ”mauvais caractère ”!
    Mais est ce vrai ?
    Je n’ai aucun repère ….
    Le vieillissement ne m’inquiète pas ,tant que je peux m’occuper de ma maison et de mon jardin .
    A 74ans bientôt et un infarctus récent ,je restaure mon jardin et ma maison .
    Mon apparence physique ne m’inquiète pas non plus dans la mesure où j’entretiens mon apparence et ma santé.Je porte de jolis vêtements,des souliers a talons .
    Je crois que je suis en paix désormais.
    Je n’ai plus rien à prouver .
    Je cherche à vivre pleinement,sans états d’âme le temps qui me reste sans perdre mon humour,ma bienveillance et mon humanité.

  8. There is nothing wrong with a older women putting on make-up, doing her hair and dressing well!! It almost seems your ashamed of the Grandmother that did!! Having fewer children and doing well economically was also a good thing!! Did you have as many children God would give you?! These two women led very different lives!! They both did well with what they were dealt in life!!!

    1. Oh my goodness, I did not read Sue’s essay as critical of her paternal grandmother at all! If anything I sensed regret that she did not know her better. The disease of alcoholism is enormously destructive to families (ask me how I know,) whose members will cope as best they can. How sweet that her grandmother took her to her other grandmother’s the funeral.
      One benefit of growing older for me (75) is that I know enough of life to appreciate that we all struggle. I may not be thrilled when I look in the mirror but I’m happy I’ve become less judgmental with age.
      That said, it bothers me greatly when anyone criticizes the size of another’s family. I would have more money if I didn’t have my four very wanted children but my heart would have ached for those missing children. They have enriched my life beyond anything I could have imagined.

    2. Wow. I’m sad you think that I was criticizing my grandmother Burpee, Natalie. As an older woman who does her makeup and her hair that would be hypocritical of me in the extreme. I thought I’d made it clear that despite being seen as “luckier” in life, my paternal grandmother had her own sorrows to deal with. My point was merely that my other grandmother had aged just as well, in her own way, even if she wasn’t too concerned about her appearance. As I said in the post life is too complex to make the kinds of assumptions you seem to think I was making.

      1. I read her comment this morning and was distressed that she read your post so wrong. I thought to mention she should read it again but had to leave. I was so happy that others hopped on here to defend you. She horribly misjudged you. I’m sorry someone would respond to you in such a negative way.

  9. My parents in their mid-80s love being told they look 10 years younger than they really are. In my opinion, they don’t LOOK younger but instead ACT younger than people seem to expect. More than once, my mother has said to me, “What do they expect? That I’m going to sit in a rocking chair all day?” My parents exercise regularly, eat a healthful diet, and deal with health problems head on. My mother worked full-time until 80, and most people guessed she was retiring at 65. Because of her job, she was comfortable using computer technology and social media, which also made people think she was younger.

  10. I very much enjoyed this post. You made me think about my own grandmothers, one of whom I didn’t know at all (being the youngest cousin, I think she died when I was an infant). You made me think how people look in their 70’s (like my oldest cousins and my brother and his girlfriend) has changed so much over the decades. You made me look up who Lyn Slater is, as I had no idea. You made me think about my ongoing battle with “bad eating” vs healthy choices and the impact that may have on my own journey into aging. You also made me think about how I don’t have a “good coat” anymore and what do I do if I need one! -Jenn

  11. Wow!! What a delightful post. It struck home so deeply. I’m 84 and am told I look and act at least 10 years younger. People have been telling me that since my thirties. I have never done anything special to myself I just have amazing genes and I’m not sure from where. My father’s mother had 15 children and died early (in her fifties). She lost three sons in WWII including my father, and died shortly thereafter. I was 4. I met her twice as they lived in the north of England and we lived in the south. I always thought she looked old and my Mum said she was a miserable soul. Who wouldn’t be with 15 children and being poor. My Father was 11yrs older than Mum and was a handsome military man. I never knew him. He was captured and died a POW. We lived with My Mum’s parents and my Nan was small, buxom, busy and bright. But she always looked old…….as did my mum until they really aged and then they looked wonderful for their years and the trials and tribulations of wartime Britain. Nan was 87 when she died and Mum was a couple of months short of 99. They were never fashionable as my Nan truly had been raised in a Victorian home and it stayed with her all her life. So where do my genes come from……..who knows?? I do know that I don’t feel old except for the arthritis and some health conditions that are considered genetic and no one in the family tree had them as far as we can go back (4 generations on my Mum’s side). I know nothing about my Dad’s side except to trace them back 3 generations. My Mum remarried when I was 7 so we didn’t keep in touch with my northern family. All the women I have ever known in my families have had a lot of sorrow and hardship (wars, etc) but the all of them were strong and delightful…….age had nothing to do with it. The got on with life.

    1. When people praised my mum for being brave enough to raise four kids on her own, she just shrugged and said she didn’t have a choice. Stuff had to get done.

  12. Enjoyed every word.
    I turned 76 on April 13th.
    You put a smile on my face, and appreciated life to the fullest. Thank you,

  13. Another beautiful post. I so enjoy your stories about your family. And the comments are another lovely perspective.

  14. Thanks for a wonderful post. Most days I do not think about my age-76 but am just grateful to enjoy the privilege of aging. Mary Lou

  15. Both of my grandmothers led very different lives to mine, being born at the end of 19th century, lived through two world wars and the depression, minimally educated but both trained up, one in service, the other a seamstress. When I look at photos of them at the age I am now, or younger, I see women much older than the one I see in the mirror. Some of it is down to genetics, some down to the fashions of the time and the expectations of how they would dress, but my life is miles away from theirs in time and in habits. I have no idea how they felt about getting older because they never mentioned it; I assume they were simply pleased not to have died young like the other members of their families. The only thing I regret is that I never got to have this conversation with them.

    1. It would have been interesting to talk to your grandmother about her life in service, I think. My grandmother was raised on a not very successful potato farm. Her life in the city even with all the hard work was a step up to her.

  16. A sweet and thoughtful post. I just read the interview with Lyn Slater talking about her book on the Ageist. Her reasons for leaving the blog behind are intriguing. Much was personal ( aging mother and moving to upstate New York) but also because she had become disenchanted with influencer based social media. Honestly I never followed her blog, she always looked so stern and rarely smiled! I found the stylish but grumpy troll persona off putting. It’s bad when I see myself grumpy trolling in a photo not going to follow someone doing it on purpose.
    Therein lies my point…happy people look ‘younger’ and seem to draw folks of all ages to their flame. My Dad was 98 when he passed, a month before I had taken some photos of him kibbitzing with three great grand children, tossing around a stuffed toy and laughing. My father’s voice even sounded young! He’d faced many health issues over the years, buried two sons and my Mom but was still future oriented and curious about the world. Even discussing plans for what he would do after reincarnation!! It seems that generation could handle a lot of loss, sadness and emotional pain but still chalk it up to ‘that’s life’ accept it and move on.
    Today I see so many who cannot accept aging …a dear and beautiful late seventies friend has recently posted a well filtered photo of herself on FB. Many comments about how ‘gorgeous you look’ and ‘your skin is flawless’ never once did she reply ‘ ‘ Hey just having fun, it’s me only filtered’ That makes me sad…but whatever… better than my ‘grumpy troll’ photos as my bratty 27 calls them…
    My brother (59 at the time) was dating a woman who broke up with him because someone had commented that he looked like he could be her son! She had an enviable figure honed by hours of yoga and running but a sour old puss face…she was 57! My brother who was widowed a few years before that always has a smile on his face and is generous in many ways but too bad for her, he’s since found a keeper<3
    A friendly smile and a happy & grateful heart are the best anti-aging methods out there. An older lady at Dad’s retirement home would always smile so sweetly at us..my father would comment ‘She forgot her teeth again but at least she’s smiling!’

    Keep smiling:)

  17. I loved reading about your grandmothers. My mother’s mother lived with us for years and dressed in the same vein as your Grandmother Sullivan. My Mom somehow became quite the stylish young woman, red hair, green eyes, petite. I grew up with makeup and skin creams from her and my aunt who sold cosmetics for Helena Rubenstein. (Long ago!). Those were the days.
    Now, being 72 and living in remission from blood cancer, my only aim is to live. Hopefully with some grace and observant of beauty around me. Everything that I was so obsessed with, it seems I lost. My hair, eyebrows and lashes, skin cancer left me with a scarred face. My health is tenuous. Inner beauty hah! Treasure what you have. And if you have health, treasure it most. Nothing else is as important…

    1. It’s funny that despite my grandmother not being stylish, my mum and both her sisters were. When we were kids, and money was tight, my mum always said she wished she could afford to be stylish. In her last years when she didn’t go out much and had less need for so many clothes, she loved to talk to me about my “outfits.”
      P.S. I’m happy to hear that you are in remission, Susan.

  18. Fascinating and lovely post, Sue. Those photos of your grandmothers are delightful and, oh my word, do you look like your Bubbie!!!

    Ageing hmm, actually I was once very arrogant about ageing. When I was 60 I felt no different to 40, when I was 70 I still felt no different, and with not wearing glasses I looked way younger than my 70s and rather relished that. I was going to age well. And then… things start to go slightly wrong. Nothing major, just things to do with physical ageing. And then there are the winter colds and coughs – for two consecutive years now I’ve spent 3 months unwell from December to March, and the not getting out and about has had consequences for my mobility. This is my ageing, this is my reality, so we can think ourselves young, but physically….

    I loved your post, it was so nice to meet your grandmothers, but do let me know how you feel when you are 78!

  19. Sue,great post,it is wonderful that you’ve shared photos and some stories about your family,especially grandmothers. They both look so lovely
    I was thinking a lot about grandmothers,mine as well,as some of my acquaintances have grandkids now, and how things have changed from the time of our grandmothers. Naturally,there are different perspectives,but, looking at the photos,  there are so many changes (and I am talking here only about women who didn’t do anything like botox,fillers,operations,some of them dye their hair,some don’t….no judging here). Grandmothers (speaking about those without interventions) are much older but look much younger nowdays
    Maybe,there were some expectations before,”how one has to dress/behave/ be after some age”,maybe it was easier to follow the rules…or not. We have a lot of opportunities to live/dress/ be as we like,but on the other hand,there is such a pressure not to be or look old.
    To be old is such a priviledge,if one is healthy enough and able to live a decent life in financial terms
    But,if there are big problems-it is very tough and there are so many things to discuss
    Dottoressa

  20. I cringe, reading women over a certain age who complain of being ‘invisible.’ Are they exhibitionists? Addicted to compliments? Did they never notice older people themselves? So thank you, thank you, for your calm wisdom : “Let the young ones be the young-looking ones. It’s their turn.”

  21. I love your writing, and wish you would write a book. Wonderful tribute to your grandmothers, and such a pleasure to read. I will be 80 this year, and caretaker to my husband who has Parkinson’s, dementia, and other health issues. Like your grandmother Sullivan, I never think of age as an impediment to anything. I sometimes forget, and think I am much younger- then think I’m a bit foolish, particularly when my hands start freezing- up. My Dad was a few months short of a hundred when he died, and was quite upset he wasn’t going to make it to his big birthday! As a side— love your style, and also enjoy your more “frivolous” style posts. You inspired me to shop my closet, and buy no more than 10 new pieces this year. Yes, even at 80, I do enjoy fashion, despite the fact that I no longer have the freedom to go out much… but, there is still the supermarket, pharmacy, and doctors—you never know who you will meet.

  22. I always enjoy your blog posts so much Sue – thank you for all your hard work putting these together. So wonderful to be introduced to your Grandmas. I was lucky as I had 2 wonderful Grandmothers who I adored. I have beautiful quilts that my Grandmothers and mother made – all have wonderful memories attached to them.
    I often look at photos of long past relatives and wonder what interesting personalities were behind the somber expression that was needed for those old photos to be taken.
    Also, so many wonderful commentors all with our reminders to enjoy and appreciate each day as they are gifts.
    Wishing you and everyone good health and a hug when needed on tough days.

  23. Wonderful stories about your grandmothers. I feel rather envious as I met neither of my grandmothers nor one of my grandfathers. The other grandfather I only met a couple of times as we lived about 8,000 miles away. He died at 72 and he always seemed very old and staid to me – black suits, white shirts and a watch chain across the front. He was only a couple of years older than I am now when he died but I don’t feel old per se. Perhaps maturing like wine?
    I did have a Great Aunt I met a few times and she lived until she was almost 103. She was always dressed in long black skirt, black cardigan and black button up boots which intrigued me. She gave up hand milking a few cows at about 90 as it was ” getting a wee bittie much” for her. She had been telling my father she wouldn’t be around for his next visit home from the time he joined the navy during WWII but she kept going until the early 1960s when she died after falling down a flight of stairs. I couldn’t believe she had managed to get up them! Although I would have been about 10 at the time I was struck by her indomitable character so I assumed that was what being old was about. Just getting on with life and what it dealt you.
    I suspect teaching teenagers for 40 years, plus having seven grandchildren from 20 down to 3, has helped keep me mentally up with the play – now if only I could convince my body to do the same! Perhaps we should just think of age as a number.

  24. This was such a great read. My mom turned 92 this weekend and we gathered to celebrate her. (I drove 9 hours to get there.) She’s still living alone with help and visits from one of my brothers and a niece who are doing yeoman’s work to help with groceries, rides, etc. Luckily she gave up driving willingly, although she made sure I knew she still has a driver’s license. 🤣

    I’m the oldest of my siblings, and have heard more stories of my mother’s youth and extended family than the others. I’m in the process of transcribing and editing a set of recordings we did together about her life, and of course that includes much about my grandparents. I had four living grandparents quite far into my adulthood, but was always closer to my mom’s family. My dad’s parents were much less open, and my paternal grandfather didn’t like “noisy little kids” around. 🤷‍♀️ And I always felt my paternal grandmother favored her daughter’s children. But my maternal grandmother made up for it. She lived upstairs of us in my youth, and I visited her daily listening to her sing as she did her cooking and housework. She always had pink Brach’s mints in her apron pockets and shared them cheerfully. And I knew her really well because of the proximity, so I felt like her favorite, although I’m sure my cousins did too.

    Thanks for bringing up some great memories. I turned 70 this year, and while I can feel things changing gradually, I am grateful to be here and hope to have another 20+ years ahead.

  25. Your post comes during a time when our family is dealing, for the very first time, with health issues for our ninety-six year old Mom. She will be ninety-seven next month and is a grandma and great-grandma. Up until last November 2023, she was driving and going to her water aerobics classes. We are giving it all we’ve got…but the care and decision-making is still challenging. We are also learning and making notes for our own end of life and how/what we leave behind for our kids to deal with.
    This post is a sweet tribute not only to your grandmothers but to the aging process in all of us. I recently turned seventy-five and as many of your readers commented, am grateful for each additional day and for the ability and wherewithal to engage with EACH day. I don’t want/need to be young…just youthful and current in my attitude, curiosity, and engagement in life.
    I’m thinking my comment might not be relevant to your writing but I appreciate your bringing up this whole aging topic with such finesse, interesting insights, and transparency.
    Thanks for sharing, Sue.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your Mum’s health problems, Charlene. It’s hard when people are so active and then suddenly fall ill. Please don’t worry about you comment not being “relevant”… if the ideas spring from the post then they are always relevant. 🙂

  26. Sue, another really poignant piece of writing. Thank you.
    I kept thinking I’d comment and then it seemed like I had nothing relevant to add. In the end, I thought I’d at least let you know that I appreciate all your posts!
    I’ve been struggling a bit with menopausal symptoms but have taken some action so hope to feel more myself. In the meantime, walks and creative practices (drawing, weaving, felting, stitching) have really helped. Xx

  27. Whenever I worry about looking older, which at almost 70 I sometimes do, I try to think about how much I not just loved my grandmothers but loved their appearance, their softness, yes, their oldness. I don’t have grandchildren but the thought reminds me that beauty is in the eyes of those who love us.

  28. How lovely to read about your two grandmothers. Like you, I knew one grandmother very well and the other not as much (only because we didn’t visit as often). I so wish that I had gotten to know her better and hear more stories. Regarding aging … when my dad was in his late 80s and beginning to lose mobility due to Parkinson’s disease, we encouraged him to use the motorized shopping carts when he was out at the store. He refused, stating that they were for OLD people! That always made me laugh.

    1. It took some persuading to get my mum to use a walker. Finally my brother bought her one that had four sturdy wheels on it and when she did begin to use it she called it her four-wheeler. 🙂

  29. Good post, Sue. I have too many thoughts I could add but will leave you with this one. After my first colonoscopy at age 50, the doc looked at me with a straight face and said. “ You have a typical 50 year old colon!” With this one comment I realized that my relatively youthful exterior would not fool that honest interior!

  30. I’m laughing about the last comment regarding the colonoscopy and how you cannot fool the insides. So true. But, in having the colonoscopy, we are taking care of ourselves as best we can.

    Sue, I really enjoyed this post and your stories about your grandmothers. It’s so nice to have those memories.

    My sister arrived for a visit recently and when I opened the door upon her arrival (having not seen her for a year), I was shocked by how much older she looked. I wondered if she and her son, who was with her, looked at me and was shocked by how old I looked. I look old in spite of lotions applied most evenings and a relatively healthy diet.

    My grandmothers always looked old to me. They were also beautiful. I think that the grandmother who lived in a big city was a bit more of a dresser than the one who lived in a small town.

    Aging with as much happiness and satisfaction with one’s life seems like the most important goal. Looking young is nice, but being comfortable with one’s self would be wonderful. Not coloring my hair any more (during Covid) was a great choice. I’ve been so satisfied and happy with my white hair. I haven’t managed to realize that kind of acceptance with my round figure or wiggly chin.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post and warm memories.

    1. With respect to how others see us… I’ve often wondered when I’m reading a detective novel… and the detectives visit the neighbours of the victim, get invited in for tea, and then describe the person they are interviewing… how I’d be described by the narrator if I were interviewed as a witness. Fun to think about. But still think I’d rather not know. Ha.

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