Seasonal Salon

On Being Eighty, Or, This is What 80 Looks Like

Thirty years ago at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I purchased from a vendor, and proudly wore, a bright yellow tee-shirt with bold red letters: THIS IS WHAT 50 LOOKS LIKE.

“You can’t be fifty!” “You don’t look fifty!” And I would blush and smile and nod. Most of the women were younger than I, of course…in their 20’s or 30’s. (I used to be the youngest in any social group. Now, inevitably, I am the oldest.) Fifty? They couldn’t conceive of being 50! Their mothers were in their 50’s and they were old!

So now I am old! Eighty years old. How can that be? To be 80 is to be a little old lady hobbling along, leaning on her cane for support. Her hunched shoulders belie the life of burdens she carries. Her blue-tinted grey hair frames her wrinkled face.

However, she’s probably a wise woman, has stories to tell, wisdom to share, although few care to listen. And she’s tired…she only waits for whatever will come next: inevitably it will be death…or a stroke…or a heart attack. Some days when her aching joints feel so painful, she thinks, What’s the use? I’m no good to anyone. I might as well die.

Or…perhaps a goldfinch flies to the feeder outside her kitchen window. She may have an unexpected visitor…a friend from long ago and over tea they share stories and they laugh like the young girls they were not so long ago….

Do you remember that time when your father let you drive to Club at Sue’s house?

Yes! Yes! And I only had my beginner’s permit!

We laugh because we both remember…

I was terrified to call my dad  and tell him what had happened. But you, you said you’d call him for me. He always liked you best of all the girls.

We smile…seeing my handsome father, his mustache trimmed, his strawberry blond hair rakishly falling across his forehead.

The car door looked like it had been ripped with a can opener, she giggles.

I wipe tears from my eyes. I didn’t see that fire plug, but I’ll never forget the sound of it tearing into the passenger door.

She laughs. You never were very good at making right turns.

I’ve gotten better, I protest. And remember…I quickly shift to another story. My friend and I have known each other since kindergarten. We share many stories and never tire of the retelling.

But soon we do tire, lean our old bodies into the worn matching wingback chairs, sip the peppermint tea that has cooled and allow the silence to soothe our memories. So much we do not say… We have no need to name the limits we feel, to know how time grows short, to speak of the might-have-beens.

Patricia Monaghan writes, “The autumn woman knows what memories she needs to store to provide her winter years…. She knows that she will not escape this life alive, and so she embraces it, moment by moment by moment.”*

*Seasons of a Witch, p. 100.


Nancy VanArsdall is an ordained Priestess of the Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess. She has completed an historical fiction novel, A Thousandth Telling, based on her suffragist grandmother. She published Coming Full Circle, Honoring the Rhythms of Relationships, in 1996, available through RCGI. She has returned home to Indianapolis with her beloved.





Category: Fall Equinox 2017