It seems like only yesterday that cousin Ninit and I were playing a game composing the next day’s headlines in case misfortune befell us crossing the street: “Two matrons run over.” Obviously we’ve survived the imagined headline; indeed, we’ve overtaken it!
Elderliness must have happened when I began to feel smart remembering to carry in my handbag a shawl in which to wrap myself not just inside the cinema, but outside it. I even make sure that I now have one in the car, where it can get chilly for me, if not for my companions. Climate change may be a global phenomenon, but it’s become personal to me.
Nighties used to be cool; now they have become hazardous to my health. I feel safer in warmer but still hopefully attractive lingerie in the style the Lady Mary of Downton Abbey might wear, although soon enough I could be opting for those designed for her grandmother, the dowager Countess Violet Crawley, a role played so resonantly by Maggie Smith. Well, so far I’m not into bed socks yet.
I should have suspected the change when I stopped worrying about the future and have become more relaxed about everything, not unlike the New York Times columnist David Brooks, who, with no future to fret about, has begun to “discover the pleasures in ordinary present-day activities.”
But that I have arrived sans struggle is a fact, unlike in the case of some contemporaries of mine who had remained in denial until their mid-’70s. Somehow, when the time came, I didn’t mind being called ate by vendors and beggars and tita at the beauty parlor. I’m even touched when young mothers instruct their children to call me lola, which I take as an address of respect and endearment. But I don’t take it as well coming from adult strangers, like waiters and salespersons.
In dad’s case, being called lolo is a strict no-no, however appropriately. Nobody called dad lolo, not even his own grandchildren; he was always “papa.” But then, it could have been mom’s fault—she was never lola herself, only “mama.”
That put me in a bind: How could I outrank my own parents and become lola ahead of them? As a consequence, I became mamita to my grandchildren. (Mamita is a Spanish derivative of “mama,” a diminutive that gives it a sense of special relationship and affection, for which it came to be adopted for grandmothers.
I remember that dad, to show his disdain, would even refuse to buy from any market vendor who made the fatal mistake of calling him lolo. In time all the vendors, their sense of reality and respect winning over their sense of salesmanship, started calling him lolo. He stopped going to the market and decided to punish them all.
Early in his 50s, dad still had illusions he could beat aging. After going through a few ridiculous wigs, he decided to remedy his baldness once and for all with a transplant, but while his transplanted hair remained, it didn’t solve the problem permanently: all his hair turned white, dramatically, including the transplants.
And after his first attempt at dyeing turned disastrous—for some chemical reason, his hair turned pink—he never touched the stuff again. And I got blamed for it: It was my own dye, and apparently, when it comes to hair dyes, it’s strictly his or hers.
In my own case, giving up on my beauty regimen seems a bit premature, although I’m already thinking of the proper time to do it. Eighty might be the right age—it certainly is a good excuse for anything. However, one thing I can never stop is my lifelong commitment to my hair-growing lotion and shampoo. I want to go with a full head of hair, with the option to dye or not. But, I imagine, freedom from coloring could come as a relief, and not just for me but for my brother-in-law in the US, the supplier of my peroxide-free, ammonia-free, not-so-easy-to-find stuff.
Still, from now on, I won’t allow life’s transitions to sneak up on me again, as did the one from matron to elderly.
But where do I go from elderly?
The American poet Maya Angelou, who passed on last year at 86, had this to say to fellow elders constantly turning to her for guidance on what they themselves might do in old age, “…please do what I’m going to do—that is, if you get the chance to get older… do so.”
Well it can’t get simpler than that. On my journey to “older,” I’d better make sure I keep my sense of humor, so I can continue to laugh even at myself. Already, the way things are, I have enough material to bring the house down. It’s hard to imagine, but I’m told that things indeed get funnier.