Grown-up Topics

Thinking about “Women Rowing North”

Okay, so I was not rowing north, but I am at a lake IN the north!

It seems all the women my age and older are reading “Women Rowing North.” Thanks Mary Pipher. We need this book. Everything I read makes me want to write. I find myself saying “me, too” lots to the glimpses of my past.

These thoughts are concerning the first three chapters.

Just a few weeks ago, I perused old photos of the 60’s and 70’s. I found one of my good friend Martha and her toddler daughter taken during the year we all lived together. Martha and I were both local teachers – me in grade 6, her in special ed. Our salaries were so dismal that neither of us could support a home and pay its bills and still eat. So she closed down her house, farther from our commonn workplace, and she moved in to mine with her toddler Laura, one dog, and one cat. Then I too had a cat. With our pooled expenses, we could pay for heat and electric, eat, and go out once a week to Bangor for something a little fun (assuming we each only had one drink).

But I scanned the old snapshot and sent it to Martha. We had the same reaction. That was another lifetime, it seemed. Almost different people when we look back on our lives then. We baked bread, shopped at the coop, wore Earth shoes, and made yogurt. We tried to grow vegetables in poor clay soil on a very small plot. A teacher’s schedule is grueling. For all the months of the autumn, we never saw our home in daylight except weekends, as we left before sunrise and arrived home after sunset.

We had so little compared to what we have now. What we mostly had was each other for emotional support. We both had crises during that time of one sort or another, and plenty of changes. We both had divorces. I got laid off in an economic downturn. Then our time together ended when she moved on to home of her own closer to work; I moved on to graduate school.

Now her little girl is grown with a husband, two children, and a Ph.D. in psychology, and her two adopted children are also parents. All our own parents are gone, with excruciating last years of serial crises that only ended with deaths. Another time. We were different people. We were slim, pretty, and my legs were grand (they have since turned into tree stumps).

Thinking about the older woman loss of power discussed in an early chapter. Yes, there are times since retirement 6 years ago that I have been treated with disrespect, as if I was not the intelligent capable person I still am. Don’t they know who they are talking to? That was what I kept thinking. Do I tell them I am a retired professor, that I have traveled in over 50 countries, co-authored 8 books? Why do I need to even think these thoughts?

On the other hand, I live in the “oldest” state in the U.S. (Maine). I am surrounded often by people in my age group. Yes, we talk about slopping up our shirts when we eat, feeling tired, needing more exercise, and aching knees. But older women run this area.

Maine just elected our first women governor ever. She’s strong, dedicated, smart, and over 70. She’s kicking ass. I met her the night before election at a call center. About 7 of us were staffing the phones, and she just sat down to chat. We didn’t talk politics. We talked about what books we were all reading. Imagine, a governor who reads! She was elected the next day (another thing older women do around here, they run the elections, run for office, run someone else’s campaign, and start needed nonprofits!)

In Maine, counties are governed by a panel of elected commissioners. Our first commissioner runs the county for all intensive purposes. She’s also the treasurer for 5 organizations. She has health issues, a handicapped plate for her car, and some adult children still living at home. She’s almost 80,

So, what I do here in my spare time is run an all-volunteer county organization related to the livable communities movement, championed by AARP. “Aging Well in Waldo County” was not in my retirement plans. But a group of us have worked now for a few years and our county has been designated “Age-Friendly.” We still have so much work to do. Being all older folks, our work is complicated and sometimes compormised by our own age related issues. The majority of us are women. One of the early attendees/leader in this organization has moved on to the State legislature. We are all busy, each in our own way, trying to make life better for mature people, inside and outside this organization.

For now, I embrace my graying hair and even the wrinkles. I do mourn the loss of my waistline (and green tea does NOT melt bellyfat; neither does 100 situps a day). Memories are my friends, but gravity is not.

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