As much as I strive to grow old disgracefully, there's always a pie in the face joke that threatens to take over my life. This morning while I was having coffee I read a sentence that referred to Miz Lillian, the Carter family matriarch who emerged into public view when Jimmy became our president. Miz Lillian was a fine example of the energetic aging process, having just returned from a stint in the Peace Corps in time to attend her son's inauguration, after which she wrote her first book and showed the world that a woman could be wrinkled and proud of it.
I revered Miz Lillian in my late twenties. She was a clearcut illustration that a woman's life didn't end with her first wrinkle, and that being ancient did not preclude being fully alive. She also frightened me in the way that Girl Scout leaders used to when I was small. She looked like the kind of person who would be fond of barking, "Keep a stiff upper lip. Stop sniveling," when I would try to be funny about what I thought were adverse circumstances. Miz Lillian, I knew, was not the kind of woman who worried about her clothes or frequented cosmetic counters in hopes of free samples. She was indisputably old and well above all that.
At that point in her life Miz Lillian was in her sixties.
I will be sixty in a few months. I work with women who are in their early twenties. Last night as I regaled them with indiscreet stories about the past history of the bookstore that employs us all, I realized that I could well be their grandmother. This morning I understood with chilling horror that they could quite possibly see me in the same light that I saw Miz Lillian, an energetic, withering crone who provides a sterling example of facing age without whining about it.
And suddenly I wanted nothing more than an arid martini and a cigarette in a very long holder--maybe a white fur stole as well. By God, if I have to get old, at least I can turn my back on Miz Lillian and become Auntie Mame.