Women lose their value as they age. The day a gynecologist asks a woman, “Are you still laying eggs?” she has been diminished in value. On the food chain of womanliness she is just a notch above a slug. My first impulse when asked the “egg” question was to reply, “Why yes. And I’m selling them too!”
My grandmother used to say, “Dear, aging is not for the faint of heart.” But old age is when hearts are the faintest. Everything about being old is harder. Heart difficulties, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a myriad of other disorders are endemic to the elderly. Sometimes doctors are patronizing to senior citizens and treat them as if they can’t think for themselves. If a senior woman wants to be valued in our youth-oriented, male-dominated society, she must engage in expensive cut-and-paste procedures to eliminate her jowls, turkey neck, and sagging eyelids. A man can just age, but woman is required to nip and tuck. Granted, though, in our society, old age diminishes both men and women alike.
Our society worships the young, especially young women. We are not like the Japanese or the American Indians that revere and find great value in their elders. Now, in business and elsewhere, older people are let go and replaced with younger, cheaper models. The youth-venerating culture of Hollywood, in the words of Goldie Hawn, classifies women in three categories: “Babe, District Attorney and Driving Miss Daisy.” The latter says it all.
A snapshot of a grandma in the 1950s consisted of a squishy, overweight woman with silver hair, clothed in a house dress and lace apron. She would be posed, sweetly in her warm kitchen taking chocolate chip cookies from her Deluxe Magic Chef Oven. Grandpa would be sitting in his overstuffed easy chair smoking his pipe. All would be fuzziness, warmth and lovingness.
Gone are the days when men treated elderly women with gentile respect. A real gentlemen would even walk an old women across the street. By now all those gentlemen have moved on to the afterlife. Now, if an elder in a crosswalk has the misfortune of falling or being hit by car, an onlooker will film the event and post the video on You Tube. Society lives for dirty laundry. Respect for the elderly has all but evaporated.
Many senior citizens want to “age in place” amid familiar surroundings instead of being shipped off to retirement homes. Sometimes, though, placement is a matter of necessity.
When my mother-in-law was unable medically to stay in our home, we were forced to find a convalescent facility for her. We surged to the challenge of finding a pleasant old folks’ home, only to be disappointed at the choices available. We learned from my mother-in-law’s geriatric doctor that there hadn’t been a new convalescent hospital built in our city in over 30 years. And why is that? The one we ended up placing her in was able to handle her medical needs, but it was a far cry from what we had hoped for. My first impression of the place was, “This is the end of the line – the place of no return.”
The rooms were dark and dingy, and the further into the building you went, the less appealing it got with its stained floors, dark curtains and musty smell. Fresh air hadn’t seeped into that place in a long, long time. At the end of the hall adjacent to my mother-in-law’s room was a blob splattered on the ceiling that looked to be butterscotch pudding. Sadly, this was the best place we could find that she could afford. In fairness to my mother-in-law, though, she had severe dementia and didn’t give a rip about the retirement home’s aesthetics. I did tell my husband, though, to kill me before he ever put me in that place.
Seniors are our heritage, and they have so much to teach us. Sadly, though, in much of America’s landscape, the elderly are devalued by their appearance and age. Young people blithely exist as though old age is eons away.
When my children were young I would take them to the local convalescent hospital to visit the residents. I wanted them not to be afraid of the elderly and to experience their wisdom and value. One day as I was standing in the hallway, an ancient gentleman shuffled past me, and on his way by, he pinched me hard on the buttocks. It took a bit for me to wrap my head around what had just happened, and then I laughed to myself thinking “Well I’ll be darned. He may be an old man, but he definitely hasn’t lost his spark!” I hope that in my old age, I still have my spark too.