I first met the ladies twenty plus years ago in an Italian speaking meet up at a local book store. As life got busier with two small daughters, I reluctantly left the camaraderie in good standing, occasionally returning for a cultural language exchange. Last year in my newly minted sixth decade, while raising two teenage daughters, I returned to what remained of the original group. There they were six octogenarians that still meet regularly in each other’s homes to socialize and read from Italian periodicals. At first I thought I’d only attend infrequently spurred on by a trip to Italy and a need to brush up on the language. However, as the weeks turned into months and the months turned into a year, I felt a deep satisfaction upon returning home from each visit. Even my eldest daughter remarked on how my mood shifted after a session with the coiffed haired seniors.
Two weeks ago I received a phone call from Carla, the unofficial leader, inviting my teens and me to a Sunday brunch at her house. Leveraging my girl’s love of a good meal with the objective of having them socialize with older adults, I was able to convince my daughters to join me. Would they be able to appreciate these women who have lived a lifetime of face-to-face communication? Would they be able to get past the usual banter of sciatica, shingles and admittedly talking to oneself? Would they be able to understand that these dames were change agents well before the term was coined? Or would they agree with the poet, Yeats, who said “an old person is like a tattered coat upon a stick”?
What ensued that day was truly magical. The ladies made my girls feel special in a way that stirred something deep within. This was old school grandeur, resplendent with fragrant nosegays, Damask table linens and delicate China teacups. Casting their spell, these elders mesmerized their audience of two with personal stories, taking them on a journey through marriages, career reinventions and self care. References to opera, Ingrid Bergman and painted Christmas villages were explained so that those who preferred scrolling through Instagram feeds were able to appreciate the nuances of real time communiqué.
After the prosecco toast, Carla revealed that she would be the featured collage artist at a local art gallery. Anna, a realtor, showed the girls pictures of her recent solo vacation, while Diane, an attorney, crowed about working side by side with RBG. “That’s right,” I repeated to my eldest daughter, “That Ruth Bader Ginsberg.” A jaw drop replaced her eye roll and I realized that the octogenarians’ transparency, energy and overall approach to life were powerful poignant lessons for the three of us. As we continued to share intergenerational connections across the dining room table, I could sense that their ability to be vulnerable stirred something deep within my daughters.
Between the tagliatelle and the tiramisu, a heartwarming soul filled afternoon was coming to a conclusion. My girls and I left the gathering still floating on a wave of positive energy and renewal. These women were powerful role models for my daughters and me, proving that old age is an achievement. According to their time lines, which spanned two centuries, accumulated years were more satisfying than youth obsession. Activists, advocates and feminists, these seniors had shown us that it may take decades for one’s strengths to come into alignment, and that intellectual pursuits and properties don’t diminish as we age. “Those ladies don’t fit in, they stand out,” my younger daughter exclaimed as we recapped that evening. “Old age is like everything else,” I responded. “To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”