There is a Mary Engelbreit card that says, “We are always the same age inside.” It’s a sweet idea, and I’ve given the card to friends approaching their decade birthdays–30, 40, 50.
Then my dad told me, when he was in his sixties, “I am still the exact same inside, like I was when I was 23. I look in the mirror and wonder, ‘Who is that old man?’ But inside, I feel exactly the same.” I admired my dad and usually paid attention to what he said, but he said this with such sincerity that the moment remained with me. I knew he meant it, and I wondered what it would be like for me at that age.
As I had more birthdays, I realized, “Ohmigosh, it’s TRUE.” It’s not just that I can remember with clarity what it felt like to be different ages. It’s that some part of me, the part of me that looks out and processes, experiences, appreciates, decides, and reflects, is the same. Experience has given me new tools–additional skills, knowledge, memories, and perspectives–but I’m still in here, still the me I’ve always known.
When I first read Emilie Loring’s novels, I didn’t think about their author, but on some level, I know I assumed that she must be around the same age as the girls in her books, which is about twenty-four. In those days, I thought of ages as something you passed through and then left behind–“You’re not seven anymore, honey. Now, you’re eight.” I wrote in my journal on important birthdays and transitions, wanting to record what it was like to be a teenager before I turned twenty, a single girl before I was married, a woman before I was a mom.
I remember thinking it was kind of sweet and reassuring when old people could remember what it was like to be younger. When I was in high school, I looked up Emilie Loring in Something About the Author and saw her birthdate–off by two years, as it turns out–but it clearly showed that she was in her fifties through eighties when she wrote her books. I thought, “Gosh, she must be a special, old lady to be able to write such youthful stories.”
Now, I realize that it was true for her, too. She didn’t only remember her younger days; she, too, was always the same inside, and the older women in her stories told us so.
“Care! Of course I care. Do you think that I don’t care for lovely frocks? That I don’t care when a man’s eyes flash into interest when he looks at me? When I cease to care the real me will be gone though this body of mine lives on.” The Solitary Horseman
“When I get too old to live alone I’ll apply for admittance to a home for nice old gentlemen–and not too old at that.” With Banners
The best advice Emilie gave was in “The Fountain of Youth,” an article she published shortly before her first novel. She observed that a million dollars had been appropriated to study the diseases of old age and added:
“I’d like to suggest to these researchers that the initial step be to vacuum-clean the minds of their subjects of every vestige of the age-limit germ.” (1921)
It was advice she took herself, as she started a brand-new career in her fifties. Even now, that’s considered bold, but we’ve largely gotten over some of the mores that Emilie challenged in 1921. She was a woman starting a career; she was married and starting a career; and she was in her fifties starting a career. None of this would have raised an eyebrow in the Baker family, but in the general public, it wasn’t just bold; it was defiant.
“For Pete’s sake, forget that age obsession. Some psychiatrist should start a movement to isolate the age bug. It does more harm than the boll weevil by the loss to the world of experienced workers.” Beckoning Trails
But what to do when the prevailing bias views older women as less capable? Hide it. I do a lot of genealogical research, and I can’t tell you how many women knocked five years off their age at each census–or on their marriage licenses. When Emilie was seventy-two, a newspaper columnist kindly described her as “prematurely gray.” When her publisher wanted to put her name forward for the Pulitzer Prize, he suggested that, if she didn’t want to tell him her age, she could put it into an envelope and mail it to the prize committee.
I get this. Prejudices about aging run deep, even among the aged. But when it counted, Emilie wasn’t having it.
“Age is a state of mind—and health. Our contract group has just given Sophy Brandt a party to celebrate her sixty-fifth birthday. I fought it tooth and nail. If they start to celebrate mine I’ll wring their collective necks good and plenty.” Beckoning Trails
That she wrote this when she was eighty-one makes it all the sweeter. Why let a number get in the way of enjoying life?
“Nothing irritates me so much as to hear a woman prattle that she can’t do this or that because of her age. Age isn’t a matter of years, it’s a point of view…” As Long As I Live
“I detest fashions for the so-called older woman—they are so apt to be old-ladyish—size sixteen styles appeal to me.” Rainbow At Dusk
If Emilie Loring had a caution about aging, it was to waste no time getting to one’s achievements. Her father died at fifty-nine, her sister at fifty-eight, and her brother at sixty.
“…when folks get into the sixties an’ have an important thing to do, they don’t stop to pick daisies by the roadside, they get it done. Whatta mean is, they don’t do no puttin’ off till tomorrow.” Hilltops Clear
Whenever it’s needed, Emilie’s philosophy works like an elixir:
“I know what you don’t believe, that I’m eighty-two. Between you and me I don’t believe it myself. I’m as full of zest and ambition as I was at forty. Must be a mistake in the birth record.” Rainbow At Dusk
“Old age isn’t necessary, it is nothing but a germ! Watch out that you don’t pick it up!” With Banners
“Old age is merely life into which you put no enthusiasm, for enthusiasm is the fountain of youth.”
In so many ways, Emilie Loring has been my mentor, and this is one of her best contributions. Enthusiasm and youth in endless supply–now, that’s worth the read!