Birthday Reflections on Turning 73

By: Marilyn L. Davis

 

What’s Graceful about Aging? 

 

“I’m pretty sure that eating chocolate keeps wrinkles away because I have never seen a 10-year-old with a Hershey bar and crow’s feet.” ― Amy Neftzger

 

I passed by a mirror this morning and realized how much I have aged.

The wrinkles, the frown lines, the thinning eyebrows, and lips all add up to aging. Besides, not even one of these remotely fits the description of graceful.

“I’m now an old woman,

And nature is cruel,

‘Tis jest to make old age,

Look like a fool. – Phyllis McCormack

I want the Wicked Step Mother’s mirror, that lies to me. I’m also pretty sure that chocolate is not going to help. 

 

The Little Girl – Wanting to Grow Up 

 

I remember being fascinated with my older cousin’s clothes. Since they were ten to fifteen years older than I was, they were teenagers in the fifties wearing Poodle skirts, ponytails, and those black and white saddle shoes and socks.

I would search my grandmother’s closet and try to find a similar color, as she did not own a pair of saddle shoes or poodle skirt. I would enhance the too-long dresses with my grandmother’s hats and jewelry and long for the days when I would be older and a grown-up to wear fashionable clothes.

 

Flowers in her Hair

 

Then at their age, I entered the era of the hippie; no more poodles and ponytails, I just moved the fake flowers from my grandmother’s hats to real ones for my hair. The band was off the ponytail, and free-flowing locks prevailed.

I see my granddaughters in their bohemian attire with hair down to their waists and reflect.

 

We Should Have Been More Careful 

 

We adopted looks from exotic places, mixing patterns and colors and flowing long dresses. Were these outerwear looks simply a reflection perhaps of the colors swirling in our minds with the aid of artificial stimulus?

We brought back looks from bygone eras, all Renaissance, and Raphael, and Rapunzel. Not all those big sleeve looks needed resurrecting; nevertheless, we extended the concept to our wedding dress sleeves for God’s sake.

What were we thinking, or were the designers just a bunch of misogynists?

 

Children of My Own

 

I still cannot fathom why a swollen abdomen is sexy if pregnant, but repugnant if not.

My generation readopted the empire look. Perhaps it worked for queens of a specific era; satins, brocades, and velvets with binding under the breasts to enhance them. That was a fashion statement. But as a pregnant look? We all looked like a plaid tablecloth, sized to fit that queen’s banquet table.

It did nothing for us.

 

Power Dressing our Way to the Glass Ceiling

 

Friedan, at the beginning of the book, described the “Problem That Has No Name”:

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States.

Each suburban [house] wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries… she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?”

We would not be, or in some cases, could we be, the stay-at-home mother. We entered the workforce and dressed in our suits, only slightly modified from our male counterparts.

 

We’ll Take the Leftovers

 

It did not matter that we had to make the coffee; we were part of a team. I remember getting a promotion from receiving teller to note teller. I was the first woman to have this title. About three months into this job, the head of human resources came to me and asked if we could have coffee.

She reviewed files and noticed that each of the women promoted to department heads within the last six months made approximately $2500 per year less than the man who had previously held the position.

Public attention to the inequality came when The Willmar 8, eight female employees of the Citizens National Bank in Willmar, Minnesota, USA, went on strike on December 16, 1977, over sex discrimination charges. The tellers and bookkeepers were protesting unequal pay and unequal opportunities for advancement.

When I went to my boss to tell him what I knew, he responded that the man made more because “He is the head of his family.”

I had to remind him that the two children, who lived with me, minus the dad due to divorce, were humans, not dolls, and I legally constituted a head of a household for IRS purposes.

I got the raise.

 

We’ll Suit Up; However, it is a Color of Our Choosing

 

We did not drop the suit look, but we modified the colors. An interesting thing happened; men started wearing something other than black, navy blue, or conservative pinstripes.

John Travolta wanna be’s even sprung up in the conservative world of banking.

I had my first post-divorce date with a man in a pink suit.

The 1980s kept the color but added the T-shirt. Miami Vice brought a new trend – facial stubble, no longer the look of a three-day bender, but purposefully cultivated.

We women could choose from the Joan Collins padded football player look, Madonna in her “Street Urchin” look – leggings, lingerie as outerwear, iconic religious jewelry, and big hair. There was generally an excessive amount of mousse used in styling an individual’s hair, so we got volume, shine, and in some cases, glitter.

I opted to pay attention to my mother, for once, and agreed that it resembled “the rat’s nest.”

 

Valley Girls, Preppy, and Track Suits

 

I never succumbed to these trends, either, knowing that I looked ridiculous in a headband as a child and did not think that a woman in her thirties would look any better.

I do not like pink and green together except in plants, so the trend of mixing those colors, or opting for a yacht look, was not my style, either.

Moreover, tracksuits? I ran track; we had no suits.

 

 1988

 

I got into recovery that year and was working at a college. Fashion was not a consideration; staying in recovery was. I could go to a recovery support meeting in my business suit or my jeans.

Some days when I reflect, I remember thinking:

  • Why do my grandmother and mother always make clothes that just simply fit?
  • Why don’t they make something that is fashionable?
  • They can sew anything, and they pick the same style every time.

I know why today. Fashion is not a priority or primary concern. Covering is.

 

Back to Today, or is it Yesterday Again? 

 

I find that I wear loose-fitting, long dresses – a lot. I wear shoes that cover my feet and are comfortable. Oh, sure, I add attractive jewelry as a nod to fashion.

The shoes, well, they are colorful, but that is just another nod, not a necessity.

I am back to the little girl wearing too-big clothes in many ways, with a vastly different motive. It is not so much that I want to get older now; I am there, just as she is inside, curious about each new day and the changes that it will bring.

 

  1. Maybe I will leave the regular mirrors to the younger generation.
  2. Perhaps I will forgo wanting the Wicked Step Mother’s mirror.
  3. Maybe I will look within rather than into a mirror and find grace, peace, and comfort.
  4. I’ll love myself for all the choices, decisions, and ways I’ve handled them; it’s how I’ve grown as a person.  

 

So, those were my reflections on turning 73.  What are you reflecting about as you approach another birthday? Are you reflecting on the state of the world because none of us were prepared for 2020?

Let me know your thoughts in comments; thanks.

Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 comments

  1. Super fun post, Marilyn. Seems I spent my youth trying to look older, an accomplishment I now regret. Daily I say to the old woman in the mirror, “Wowzo you look old! Oh, wait, you are old.”
    Somehow that silly realization helps me relax, like unbuttoning my pants after dinner.

  2. What a fun read, Marilyn! I couldn’t help but think of Fleur Adcock’s “Weathering”:

    Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
    catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
    with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
    that was a metropolitan vanity,
    wanting to look young for ever, to pass.

    I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
    nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy
    men who need to be seen with passable women.
    But now that I am in love with a place
    which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy,

    happy is how I look, and that’s all.
    My hair will grow grey in any case,
    my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken,
    and the years work all their usual changes.
    If my face is to be weather-beaten as well

    that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain
    for a year among the lakes and fells, when simply
    to look out of my window at the high pass
    makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
    my soul may wear over its new complexion.

    Here is a recording of Fleur reading it:
    https://soundcloud.com/brainpicker/fleur-adcock-reads-weathering

    She is a remarkable poet. She’s 86!

    Mark

  3. Loved reading this post. As a kid, my sisters, I and our cousins dressed up in grandma’s and mom’s old clothing… I had to smile occasionally as I was living in East Germany part of the “Hippy-time” and we couldn’t just go and buy a dress. When my kayak partner Christa married I tried to buy a dress for the wedding. I came home with a bike! No dresses available, but 5 bikes, light-blue men’s bikes, had just come in. I got one of them! Since I had a light-blue sweatsuit, I looked great on that light-blue bike! So I somehow missed the ‘sexual revolution’ of the west and was still a virgin at age 24. Hahaha! Look for one NOW!? After my escape from the east my first superior in the west ‘relieved’ me of that burden… against my will. Anyhow, it took a long time until I could buy a second dress… and designer clothing – but that’s another story, written in my book “We Don’t Talk about That…”
    Now, at age 86, I am back to basics: soft material pants and t-shirts or sweaters. Comfort, I like the comfort. Dressing up – for what? COVID keeps me looked in so to speak. But I had a life, and an interesting one to boot. Oh, and as for pregnancy, I had one and tried to hide it with oversized shirts … not showing it off like girls do now. I am a girl from “yesteryear…”
    http://www.giselleroeder.com

  4. I hear ya Marilyn. As my husband likes to say, “She’s just as beautiful as the day I met her. It just takes longer.” Thanks for sharing the memory lane trip. Sometimes high school seems like yesterday.

    • Hi, Jane. I love what your husband says. In my case I’ll start yesterday and maybe by tomorrow evening I’ll be ready to face the world. She smiles.

  5. Great trip down memory lane Marilyn. There was a little bit of a history lesson woven into your post which I enjoyed. I do remember so much of that period. The fashions, the uneasiness of change, so much going on back then. As always, your writing captures my attention. Thank you.

  6. Hi, Marilyn. A quick trip through time crafted so well that I felt as though I’d traveled many interesting miles. For me, the timeline accomplished exactly what you intended.

    Ahh, those young years and fashion – heckuva trip for females, minimal for blue-collar men. Yet, all of us guys admired the clothing changes and were proud to be with a girl that was “in style”. My daughters loved “dress up” – we have numerous photo’s of them in various “grown-up” clothing and, precious those pics are.

    The intimate peeks into your history was absorbing and beautiful. This is really a great piece, Marilyn – a total joy to read!

    • Hi, Slug. Thank you for coming along for the ride. I was studying some writing styles the other week, and a phrase, “economy of words” kept playing in my head. With this post, I wanted to stretch as a writer and try a minimalist approach, which is different from my usual.

      I’m pleased with the responses and must admit, it was interesting to write.

  7. Oh the styles…and mirrors! I never did look right in fashionable clothes…much preferred the sweat suits of a tom girl. But this is such a stroll down memory lane…while still weaving in some of your personal story, and the truth that clothes matter much less than we think. It is the inner beauty I think, that comes with age and the freedom that a nod to fashion is all that is needed.

    • Hi, Michelle. I find it interesting that my children rejected certain looks of mine, but their daughters find Nana’s stuff interesting. I’ve always worn scarves, and both my 21 year-old and 10 year-old granddaughters like to borrow them. Same with jewelry.

  8. I so enjoyed this post Marilyn! Such a clever weaving of aging and fashion trends as well as a peek into your life. Your last 3 points left me with some powerful take-a-ways as I too leave the mirrors for the younger generation 🙂 Thank you! Oh! May I ask? How did the date with the guy in the pink(!) suit go??

    • Hi, Terry. Thanks. One date. I couldn’t get past the pink. But it was an interesting time to see bankers go from conservative to cool in mere hours was interesting.

  9. Hi, John. Thank you for the kind words. I think all of us who write hope that our readers see in their mind’s eye a glimpse of our topic. Thanks for letting me know that I possibly showed you and didn’t tell you of the times.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.