Tuesday, November 18, 2008


My cousin Shirley and I were shopping for earrings, and frankly, what we liked and what we thought appropriate were far, far apart. On this particular day we were going for “appropriate.” -- understated, simple, classic earrings – something that older women could wear to work and not look silly. That’s what this shopping excursion was for. And those are the kinds of earrings we walked out with.

But they really weren’t what our hearts wanted. Have you heard the wonderful free verse poem by Jenny Joseph entitled “When I am old I shall wear purple”? Her writing illustrates that getting old will finally give us the freedom to do what we want to do instead of doing what is appropriate, whether that means wearing wild colors or odd clothing, buying something frivolous like satin shoes instead of Enna Jennicks, and so on. Jenny Joseph shows us that becoming old can be a time of purposeful eccentricity, a time of shedding the shoulds and going for the shouldn’ts. And though people might cluck at us, we will get away with it because of our age.

So my cousin and I bought earrings that would please our human resource department’s dress code, knowing we had made the appropriate choice, but in our heart of hearts, both of us hovering on one side or the other of that magic age of 65, we really wanted something flashy. We wanted something like the dangles and bangles of the teenagers, the hoops of the silver-screen seductresses, or the bright-colored wooden parrot earrings that the tourists buy in the Caribbean.

The young clerk who waited on us at the costume jewelry counter, a female barely over 18, probably had not ever had two women earring-buyers quite like us. After keeping her in stitches while we shared our ideas of what our bosses would say about certain earrings we held up to our ears, we told her we were going to let her in on a secret about ears and old age. We said that our news was something mothers never thought to tell their daughters, but out of kindness we would pass it on to her. We could tell she was not sure we were serious.

The news we told her was that no matter how hard a woman tries, as she gets older her ears will grow and her earlobes will droop! Cuz and I both knew that as we aged, all the muscles in the body would lose some of their tone, but we were shocked when we saw our earlobes lengthening in front of our eyes. Earrings with any weight at all made our earlobes hang down nearly to shoulder level. We expected flabby jowls and flapping underarms. Other things, yes. But earlobes? Never gave them a thought. So at a certain point we retired our favorite dangling earrings to the “I shall wear Purple” box and from then on we focused on lightweight, benign stud earrings. We told the clerk someday she would be old, and we wanted her to remember the two nice old ladies who first told her the secret of the drooping earlobes.

We think the little clerk never quite knew what to make of us, although we did show her just how saggy our earlobes were so she would believe us.

From time to time my cousin and I pat each other on the back and talk about what a favor we did for that that young jewelry salesperson. She now knows two things she didn’t know before she met us. The first is that one of these days – and sooner than she would like – she too will find her earlobes hanging down around her shoulders, just as ours do. And the second is, if she is smart enough she can make aging be a funny process, instead of one that is grim. Cuz and I don’t much like aging. Yes, we have to give up things, and sometimes things are taken from us. But sharing the process with good friends and looking hard to find humor in the strangest things is a guarantee that when it is time to wear purple, we can revel in our eccentricities with the best of them.

1 comment:

Stacey said...

So I guess there is something said for not wearing ear rings. :o)