A CERTAIN AGE

It’s happened! Another defining moment. Think of them as Life Lessons, they start early. The first – I am three years old, sitting up in a hospital bed awaiting a tonsillectomy. My parents are reading to me. I remember their goodbye hug. Next day, I wonder why the ice-cream, served with red jelly, has the texture of sand. Somehow the sensation doesn’t register as a painful sore throat!  I don’t remember being afraid. Clearly, they have prepared me well. Still, it is telling that I have such clarity of memory of an event seventy-three years ago, hence classify it as a defining moment- learning to deal with separation.

A lesson (or three) in loss. I am perhaps seven years old when our first cat Tuppence dies, and two years later our cocker spaniel dog, Rusty. I am in the USA with my mother, spending a few months with her brother and his wife. It is the first time she has seen him since they were separated as refugees fleeing Vienna in 1938. It is also the first time I have been away from my father for a protracted time. He must remain at home running his photographic studio. Beloved old Rusty is at home in Melbourne with him and dies of old age while we are away. Not only am I missing my dad very much indeed, but now he must break the news of Rusty’s death.                                                        

I am so grateful for the sensitive way he and they handled these events to ease the grief. My Daddy wrote me a beautiful letter, assuring me that Rusty had not suffered and suggesting that I could choose the type of dog we would next have- perhaps the same as the Dalmatian I have befriended next door to my aunt and uncle’s home in LA.? When we return to Melbourne, we indeed procure a Dalmatian puppy, having the thrill of selecting one from a large litter.  I duly name him Chuck, or Chucky, after the LA version.

I am now thirteen and spot blood in my nickers at home one morning. I have started menstruating. Oh, the sight of that blood excites me so. Our family ethos was one of openness and I remember proudly announcing it to my mother as I am already well informed about such matters-reproduction, human sexuality, and birth control. However, I have no recollection of what exactly menstruation signified to me-whether it was reaching child-bearing age or more generally about now being ‘a woman’. It was, nonetheless, a defining moment.                                                    

There have been others along the way, life-changing events such as committing to a full sexual relationship at a relatively young age with my first serious boyfriend. I am not quite sixteen, yep, not actually of legal age but quite a mature and responsible sixteen-year-old. Denise, my closest friend at high school and I, feel rather superior, believing we are the only two girls in our class to have ‘lovers’ and it feels like being part of a ‘grown-up girls’ club. We share our stories, both of us being in enduring relationships. Hers leads to marriage, mine does not which takes me to the next journey, the travails of love, the painful acceptance when deeply meaningful relationships do not take me where I wish to go between my early ‘20’s to early 30’s.  These learnings lead to greater self -knowledge and clarity in finally choosing the right partner in the clever, funny, eccentric, wise Jon, defining experiences.

I was the kid who couldn’t paint or draw, though always an ardent art-lover. As a young woman I live my creative life vicariously, having several friends both in Australia and in Europe where I live for several years, who are artists, writers, and musicians. In Italy I become obsessed with Byzantine and Renaissance art; while living in London, with contemporary art and the great sculptors of the 1960’s.

As a result of encouragement from various people over these years, in my mid ‘20’s and with great trepidation, I enrol in an adult education class in sculpture at the Camden Institute in London. A sequence of life-changing events unfolds. I am driven in a new and thrilling direction, discovering aspects of myself hidden until then. Back in Melbourne, now in my early ‘30’s I find my way into art school as a mature-age student, privileged with some prominent and influential teachers. I soon leave behind a decade of practice in Melbourne and London as a social worker and student counsellor to recreate my life as a practising visual artist, and in more recent years, in writing.

I have lost a few friends to death over the years but when my father dies, aged one hundred, I move back to Melbourne to care for my mother for three years. This is a great lesson in caregiving, especially since I have not had children, which decision was another protracted and complex defining moment. The loss of my mother feels momentous. The depth of grief is unlike anything I have experienced before and am now the only remaining member of our immediate family, and the only one in Australia.

So, to the present and the source of this story, expanding unexpectedly backwards into the past. Some days ago, I set out on a beach walk which, with one recent exception, I haven’t done for some time. Beach walking used to be a daily occurrence, but arthritic hips demand certain conditions these days, the sometimes-firm sand at low tide and a flat surface. It is a long weekend within school holidays so there are several people walking along the usually unpopulated beach.                                      

Late afternoon, mid- winter, a gentle 24C. The sky is cloudless, the sea a shimmering silver in the low tide. I am wearing well-cut beige shorts, a blouse purchased in Hawaii (all dreamy pastel tones, palm fronds and frangipani blooms), the usual many pearl studs in my ears, and the rings-on-my-fingers, bells-on-my-toes gig, hair up in its quasi ‘40’s style and feeling great. As I round the stony point at Blackcurrant island, a group of people, perhaps numbering ten, are approaching- two or three adults, the rest children of various young ages. I step aside, though the lead person, a young woman, has invited me to proceed first. A small, blue-eyed girl with long blond plaits, perhaps five years old, now approaches, looks up at me, turns to her mother and in her little voice says: be careful of the old lady.

Well there you have it! Old lady!!!! I start to giggle, smile at the child and, unable to resist, jokingly say to her: You’re famous now. This is the first time anyone has called me old. Her mother, by way of an unnecessary but kind apology, says: she thinks I am old too. I think the child is a little embarrassed, but she’ll survive.

I find this SO funny, and through her eyes, I must indeed seem quite old.  I am immediately taken back to nursery school, aged three, with my beloved teacher ‘Harper’. I thought she was as old as Methuselah, with her grey hair puffing out around her ears like my favourite toy koala. She was probably less than sixty, possibly even in her fifties, far younger than I am now.

Still, I cannot define myself as old, not even elderly – no pink perm and twinsets for me, though perhaps that is a long-outdated image. There are many other adjectives I might use to describe myself but old is not amongst them. It raises the question of what terminology would be appropriate. Perhaps I am simply a well-preserved woman of a certain age.

9 thoughts on “A CERTAIN AGE

  1. That’s great PJ. Thanks for responding.It is good to hear that you, and maybe others too, can relate to it. I am enjoying being on a writing gig having worked on poetry for a while. I actually have no idea who reads my blog as only a few people send responses each time, same with anything else I add to the website such as Poetry, photographs or travel writing.
    x bb

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  2. How gorgeous Bon. I love reading your recollections as you well know.

    When coming out my anaesthetic after my last surgery the nurse told me I had great biceps. Made me feel all those hours training were worthwhile and the body was a little younger than reality. The mind tells me “of course that’s possible” but sadly the body says “cut it in half-you’re dreaming girlfriend.”

    Currently working from home but finding it very ostracising being the social body that I am. But……..lucky to have a job not like many others. It has become quite scary here in Melbourne but whatever needs to be done to somehow eradicate or at least reduce the impact of this pandemic I’m up for it.

    So glad you have your Hydeaway paradise. Hope you are both well and warm!! Heating turned up high here!

    Much love always, Rosie xxoo

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  3. Hi Bonney Wow your 3 & 15 year old experiences were exactly mine also!!! Sex and tonsils. I love this post. Woman of a certain age – yes! As for me I have been calling myself an old woman for a long time now but don’t let anyone else do so. BtW you look exactly like your mom in the family photo 🤗great pics!

    I finally got my computer updated. Took 2 days of calls. On the 2nd day ‘tech-guy Alex’ kept telling that I couldn’t do what I was trying to do. Of course turned out he was wrong. He kept calling me ‘dear’ and when I said ‘stop calling me dear’ he hung up on me. The brash asshole boy-toy couldn’t take this old woman correcting him. HA!

    I had 2 friends in my AAUW Branch die this week. Going to an outdoor graveside service today. These are things boy-toys and cutie-pie children can’t yet process. Will have to wait for their first pet to die. Mine was Whiskers a beloved orange cat who waited til I was 14.

    Enjoy life today! Susan

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Hey Susan! if only we lived closer,we would have so much fun together!Thanks for your comments, it is great to know that people relate to some of what one shares. And you are a hoot! Yes, genetics,fascinating. Most people think i look a lot like my dear late mum and i find myself extremely interested in tracing features &/or characteristics amongst family members of people i know. I LOVE the story of the techie at the end of the phone who hung up on you! we are strange creatures all. So sorry about the death of yor friends but I gather from our recent zoom that it had nothing to do with Corona virus?
      xx Bonney

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  4. Well here goes! Let’s see if this comment works.
    My body was so sore last night but I woke this morning refreshed again. I think I don’t feel old most of the time, I feel young when my grandson slips his hand into mine or I walk in the company of trees but I’m glad I don’t have to go through the agonies of youth again! I say embrace your age and all the wisdoms it brings.

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  5. My dear and darling friend Bonbon.
    I loved reading through the years…of your evolution 😀
    Beautifully recalled….although I feel you skipped a few! LOL
    BTW you still are a sexy beast. Still plenty of life in your engine. “Old” ? NO! Wise and well travelled? YES!
    Looking forward to seeing you soon. Xx

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  6. Bonney!

    You put me to shame, that’s what you do, even without trying!

    I just love this latest article, and I am now saying that I really think you should be writing for publication. Even if it is in Australian Seniors – bad joke, but at least the readership would ‘get’ what is the hidden gem in this article. I think it is marvellous that you are advancing backwards through your life and finding this rich trove of memories – truly personal yet universal.

    I had lunch with a Bestie last week and she shocked me. After a long preamble about the things troubling her since her return from a year in Berlin, she admitted, or rather was it, confessed, that she considered she was an “old lad” now. Then we talked about the pitfalls of denial, and the hazards of exclaiming that “we feel so blessed” that we are at least as good as we are. And then we relinquished and reeled of all the symptoms that have invisibly taken hold of each of us. Thankfully the chirpy gay waiter came to show us how to use the scanned menu on our phones (another symptom??) and we had a chance to divert to happier chat for another 2 hours. So don’t feel alone Luvvie. Can I send her your article?

    I loved the 50s multi-coloured plastic school uniform buckles, and they are all now sewn onto playing cards for ease of display and storage. If only I had a market or two to look forward to with all the delicious items I have processed this year. All markets have been cancelled – even the Christmas one that usually is a good earner.

    A few weeks back, and without even thinking too much about it, I organised a tabletop-social distancing- booked time- garage sale over 3 days in our living room and deck. It was our “better stuff” put aside from our own cupboards and collection, and we netted nearly $700. That taught me quite a bit about effort and targeting the right people with the hooch. And we caught up with lots of pals who have been absent from our lives for a while. So where I had 4 boxes full I now have only 2 boxes full, but the problem still remains…

    speak to my dear little Mummie every night and have started something akin to your own backward glancing. Each night I thank her for something she taught me, and that has stayed important in my life ever since. So far I have covered cooking, gardening, love of nature, love of colour, reading, knitting and singing. Tonight it will be about being cheerful and optimistic. She loves it and sometimes I feel I might actually have brought a memory back for her.

    As for Colin and I, we are fine within the limits of too much too frequently-repeated and dramatic Covid news, and now the creeping closer of the virus into southern Queensland. Colin laments that we won’t be considering a return to Old Blighty for at least a year, and on a bad day we even wonder if we’ll make it to Melbourne for Christmas. But we hold out great respect for Daniel Andrews and our own Premier – imagine standing up to the barrage of critique from the Feds who, I think, are now showing that they just can’t bear having no control over the states. I would love to hear Jon’s thoughts on all of this …

    And are your Balinese family still OK?

    Much love to You x 2 from Us x 2

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  7. Hi Bonney,

    I’m terrible about keeping up with my emails so I just read this post. It was absolutely terrific. Hope you all are staying safe, sane, and COVID free.

    Xxoo Sarah

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