I have a deep aspiration and secret to share today. I cannot wait to turn fifty. Now, I fully realize most women might find that odd. It is not an aspiration you generally consider when you are, say, twenty-nine and perky and nothing sags where it should not. We do not generally add birthdays up with the same thrill we use for counting money in the bank or friends on Facebook. It has always been my considered opinion though, that having another birthday is better than the alternative.
But the real reason I cannot wait for the half-century mark is that, when that momentous occasion occurs, I can officially join the Red Hat Society. (I know, I could wear a pink hat now, but who wants to be the wimpy little sister everyone knows can’t quite make the grade for full red and purple regalia?)
Years ago, I showed my husband the “old lady” poem on a T-shirt in some forgotten department store and told him it would be my life motto. Not knowing, at the time, that the actual name of the poem was “Warning,” and that the actual author was Jenny Joseph of England, I simply called it “the old lady poem.” Many of you know the opening lines well:
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter. . .
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.”
I cannot print the entire poem here for you because Ms. Joseph owns her copyright, and being a writer, I deeply respect copyrights. Plus, being an American, I deeply respect lawsuits.
My husband, not grasping the great declaration of independence the poem offers women, could only focus on one line.
“You’re not really going to spit, are you??”
“Ummmmm, Nooooo.” Yeah, right. I can safely promise him I will not drink brandy, but as for spitting . . .
One of the greatest realizations some of us over forty have attained is that, we don’t really care. We no longer really care what other people think about how we’ve raised our kids. We no longer care what the neighbors think about what we wear (or don’t wear) out gardening. We don’t really care if someone twenty years younger assumes we’re in our dotage and kindly uses small words so we can catch up. We just laugh, because we know how quickly the tables will turn for them.
After so many decades of listening to the whispers of our own fears, our assumed inadequacies, and other people with too much time on their hands, we realize: we like who we are. At least, we’ve come to terms with it. Not to say there’s not a lot of room for improvement, but that that, too, is OK. It’s all right to have redecorating or even total demolition projects of the soul still on the to-do list. Perfection is off the table, and it feels good.
I must have glimpsed something of this when I loved this poem as a young woman. Some part of me wanted to do the shocking things one couldn’t do while tied to “what other people think.” Let me be clear–not immoral things, just little things that tell onlookers, “Think what you like. I’m enjoying life.”
So, the Red Hat Society, founded in part because of this poem, seems the perfect place for me (http://www.redhatsociety.com/). And why am I telling you all this today? Because, yes, there is an applicable holiday. It is National Spunky Old Broads Day. And, being over forty, I am way past finding that an offensive term (because I don’t care) and cheerfully embracing some day becoming one.
But, as Ms. Joseph points out, perhaps,
“I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”