Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Cranky Old Woman's View ...

This week, my guest at Terry's Place is author Patricia Stoltey. Welcome, Pat.

A Cranky Old Woman’s View on Aging and the Politics of Speaking Out

Let me begin by saying that I’m not calling my mom a cranky old woman in this blog. The politics I discuss have nothing to do with political parties or government, but rather the complex relationship between individuals and society that governs behavior. And speaking out refers to an individual’s right to express his opinion and assert his rights in a reasonable and non-threatening manner without fear of verbally abusive or physically dangerous attacks in response.

That’s a high-falutin’ way of saying I plan to talk about cranky old folks who speak their mind.

My mom, who will turn ninety in May, believes she has earned the right to say anything she pleases, any time she feels like it. She told me this herself. Speaking out was the thing she looked forward to for years, the thing that kept her brain synapses firing as she stored up opinions on everything from politics to washing your hands. Once she reached that certain age, however, she discovered her opinions weren’t always well-received. She was confused. Why did people (her children, for instance) shush her, or exchange tolerant glances or, worst case, tell her she was wrong and angrily try to set her straight?

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I witnessed one of those bizarre confrontations when I went to visit my mom last summer and accompanied her to a doctor’s appointment. While we sat in the waiting room, Mom mentioned that I’d have to find something else to do while she and my brother watched the NASCAR race that weekend. A thirty-something lady sitting on the other side of the room threw herself into our conversation as though she doubted Mom’s true fan status, demanded to know which drivers Mom liked and, by the way, what she thought of Earnhardt.

I was getting nervous. This can’t go well, I thought.

Mother, knowing full well she was treading in dangerous territory, spoke her mind. Elder sports fans can be just as scary as thirty-something sports fans. Mom was indignant; the thirty-something was outraged. Both were too loud.

I didn’t know what to do.

But here’s the thing. Even when I was young and less tolerant of cranky elders speaking their minds, I never engaged those folks in a rude exchange, even when their opinions ridiculed my own. I may have thought I knew everything, but I still treated my elders with respect and always listened to opinions and advice.

Well, okay, I didn’t always accept the opinions or follow the advice, but I did listen politely.

During this Nascar incident, I was conflicted. On the one hand, I wanted to hush my mom and end the fuss. But there was also a desire to speak out, defend Mom’s right to say what she wanted to say (no matter how she said it), and chastise the thirty-something for putting my mom down in such a nasty display of disrespect. I didn’t care if the young lady defended her point of view, but this was Nascar, for Pete’s sake. Why not argue with a wink and a smile? I calmed the exchange as best I could with a pointed look at the thirty-something, saying, “It’s all in fun, right? This discussion is all in fun?” For a while, however, it had not been fun at all.

My mom is a wonderful example of an elder with incredible life experience. She grew up during the depression, the daughter of a Norwegian immigrant. Her father was not a successful man, and he suffered from discrimination, especially from his in-laws. Mom’s parents eventually divorced. Mom graduated from high school before she was eighteen and headed for Chicago to go to nursing school. She married my dad during World War II when he was in the Army, and after his discharge from the service, they became tenant farmers. Mom spent as much time driving a tractor and butchering chickens as she did nursing, cleaning house, or fixing big farm meals. My dad studied real estate and farm management and eventually ended up owning his own business. My mother often worked nights at the hospital to keep us afloat as they struggled to become financially secure. She knows so much and expresses it so well.

So I understand where my mom is coming from when she says she’s earned the right to speak up and say anything she wants. I’m more like her each day. Granted, as we get older, some of us find our tongues have developed sharp edges while our sensitivity filters have disintegrated. We have wonderful stories to tell and great wisdom to share, but we occasionally forget the things we crave from others: respect, courtesy, and compassion. It’s no wonder we’re seen as cranky old women or curmudgeons.

On the other hand, there is something tremendously satisfying about doing and saying Cranky Old Woman stuff. I’ll tell you about that some other time.

So, do you have any stories to share?

Patricia’s August 2009 mystery release, The Desert Hedge Murders, features cantankerous ladies of a certain age on a deadly vacation in the southwest. Visit Patricia’s website at http://www.patriciastoltey.com. She invites you to e-mail her at plynnes@patriciastoltey.com


Drue Allen said...

Old women, old men . . . and the young too, right? We all speak our mind these days. It's HARDER when you do so in a small town though. We recently moved to same-said small town.

When my husband took his 87 year old father in with him to our realtor's office (and I LOVE my fil more than I love a chocolate piece of cake), an awkward incident occurred with SPEAKING OUT. We later emailed and apologized for him. I think it's something that is graciously overlooked in the very old . . . and yes, we've all "earned the right."

But when you live in a VERY small town? Changes things a bit. That person you're speaking out too, might be the brother of the only guy who can clean out septic tanks. lol. Great post, gals!

Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law always spoke her mind and now past 90 still does. She's offended and alienated some people. As my husband says, she'll never be asked to teach a course in public relations. But we're delighted she's as sharp as ever. As for me, I listen to what other people have to say, younger and older. I respect their life experiences and opinions. Being a writer keeps me humble. I don't ever expect to be cranky. Pat, your mother sounds great. A pity some of the young people don't realize how terrific it is to have older folks around. My advice, get your mom to let you do a series of interviews for you on audio. And write about her for Chicken Soup.

All the best,

Jacqueline Seewald
just released! THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale, a romantic mystery thriller

Maryann Miller said...

What a hoot, Pat. And I guess I could really relate because my mother turns 90 at the end of April. God bless those wonderful old ladies.

But I don't know what this says about me because I've always been cantankerous and spoken my mind. My husband said that's why I became an editorial writer in my youth. :-)

Patricia said...

Thanks for checking in Drue and Jacqueline -- you two must be early birds or in a different time zone. I just now poured my first cup of coffee.

I have to admit, living in a small town would present interesting challenges. In the Midwestern community I remember from my younger days, gossip was the main leisure activity.

Good ideas for those valuable Mom stories, Jacqueline. She actually wrote a few of them down for me, but when she tells them, that's when they come alive.

Coffee...need more coffee....

Pat said...

Hi Maryann,

I like people who speak their minds (especially when I'm far enough away that I don't suffer from the fallout). One of the local morning talk shows has a couple of regular callers who are "of a certain age" to judge by their voices and tone. Cranky old men in this case, but so much fun to listen to. They often nail a topic and point out details no one else has mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I think that's why the movie was "Grumpy OLD Men"! :) I look forward to reaching that age myself...and until then will just have to speak my mind vicariously through my fictional characters, I guess!

I love the idea of writing your mom stories for a Chicken Soup book, too!

Jennifer Carter

Dan Logue said...

Thanks Pat, I don't know where the "line" is, but my dear, sweet Grandma apparently found it.

I made the mistake of bringing her with me one time when I was returning a defective item to a store. For some reason (which I no longer remember) the cashier was giving me trouble and "Super Grandma" appeared out of nowhere, righting wrongs and overthrowing evil capitalists!

I got my refund, but more importantly I made a mental note never to cross this little old woman who used to let me win at card games.

Pat said...

Hi Jennifer and Dan,

Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for not critiquing.... ;)

Grumpy Old Men was a fun movie. For those who are inclined to read a good "grumpy old man" mystery, try Mike Befeler's Retirement Homes are Murder. His new one, Living With Your Kids is Murder, should be out soon (if not already).

Dan, I love your story. One of my grandmothers was the sweet, never say-anything-mean type who coddled and showered with treats. The other was super-cranky, sharp-tongued, and determined to straighten out everyone in her world. She, of course, was incredibly fascinating to us kids. She, also, was my mom's mom. I guess this kind of thing runs in the family.

Carolyn said...

Hey Pat –
I had a nice laugh at your story.

I guess I do believe that the older generation does have some right to speak their mind and the younger generation has a responsibility to understand and respect where those *thoughts* might be coming from, especially if they started the conversation!

Some older generation opinions may be antiquated but like Atticus Finch said – “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

This I had to remember whenever my Nana said something that made me want to pretend I didn’t know her ;)

Brian Kaufman said...

I think one very positive change in our culture is the willingness to speak up. My grandmother never offered an opinion about anything outside of the house. My mother, in her late seventies, has begun to speak out politically. My wife has always been politically active. And my daughter...look out! (She'll make a very fine grumpy old woman some day.) As for this grumpy old man, the part of the blog that struck home was, "respect, courtesy and compassion," just in case someone wants not only to speak out, but to be heard.

Anita Birt said...

I am an older woman. I disagree with Terry and her mother. Because I have lived a fairly long life and have opinions about a lot of things, I absolutely do not SPEAK MY MIND unless I can engage in a reasonable discussion about the issue.

I dislike being around someone who speaks her mind and rides roughshod over another person in a bid to be top dog. Being old does not give me carte blanche to speak my mind in a bullying manner that raises the ire of the other person.

Whew. Sorry if I have offended you and your Mom, Terry. I am thinking quietly. Your Mom is quite a lady.

Pat said...

Carolyn and Brian,

Thanks for being here!

Walking in another's skin -- sounds like a great topic for a blog.

And I love youngsters with attitude. I have an 11-year-old grandniece who will probably change the world....

Terry Odell said...

Anita--I didn't write this blog. It's not my mother, so definitely no offense taken. My guest today is Patricia Stoltey, and she's writing of her own experiences. It's her mother she's talking about. My mother rarely speaks out (although she did do some amazing haggling in Tijuana once). My mother-in-law, who's 90, however, is one fiesty lady.

Shirley Wetzel said...

Hi Pat,
Great post! My mother, who turns 88 in 2 days, was the typical wife and mother who did everything my dad told her to, and waited on him hand and foot. For the last few years her health has declined to the point that she gets to order my dad around - I want some coffee - bring me some ice water ... and he does it, because he loves her & besides nobody else is there to do it. I giggle to myself because I can see that, even though her health is so poor, she's enjoying being Queen! And yes, if he doesn't do something just right, she gets cranky with him, and he takes it!

Laura Pellerin said...

I remember being so terribly ashamed of my mother's opinions when in high school but I never questioned her right to have those opinions, just as I never questioned my right to disagree with her opinions.

As I got older, I became even more tolerant of my mother's opinions knowing more of her background and from what circumstances formed her concepts.

Today I feel utterly blessed that my own children let me speak up and respect what I say......

But I do agree with those who see the boundary lines and take care not to cross them.

Pat said...

Hi Anita,

I have to fix one small thing -- I'm guest-blogging on Terry's site today so it's really me (Pat) and my mom who must take responsibility for our crankiness. I wouldn't want to leave the impression that Terry is the grumpy old lady here.

But I agree that speaking out doesn't mean we should bully others, and that's what sometimes happens, especially if we find ourselves challenging folks who are unable or unwilling to defend themselves. I've seen this happen on television talk shows, and it makes me very uncomfortable.

At the same time, not speaking out is often taken as agreement with or endorsement of the status quo. Sometimes a good dose of personal opinion, even if delivered with attitude, makes folks think.

Pat said...

Hi Shirley -- it's been ages!

I think most of us visiting here today would say we're very blessed to have our mom's around, no matter how bold they are about voicing their thoughts. Here's a standing ovation for moms (including those of us who are moms). O

Lisa Logan said...

Maybe it's because I'm flirting with Over the Hilldom, or maybe because I've worked in a hospital with a LOT of older people for the past nineteen years, but I'm a firm believer that once you reach a certain age, you earn the right to say what you want (and on a side note, wear whatever you want while saying it). Seniors in western society are long past receiving proper due credit for having the wisdom (eclectic though it sometimes may be) that it takes a lifetime to achieve. So I say, Go Mom!


Pat said...

Hi Laura,

My kids seem to pay attention to me as well. I say "seem to" because I'm not sure whether they're listening or just being respectful and pretending to listen. But I'll live with that.

Pat said...

Lisa said the over-the-hill gals should also be able to wear what they want when they speak their minds. Amen. I vote for an orange sweatshirt, red sweatpants, and maybe a chartreuse floppy hat.

Okay, just kidding!

janie said...

HI! The best advice I had at college graduation was made a famous old coot. He said if these four years haven't made you think for yourselves, we've failed. But you will need to keep those skills honed. Be sure to listen for a half hour each week to someone with whom you seriously disagree. I find I have no difficulty keeping honed in the contemporary world. I think old codgers can do that for you sometimes, but perhaps not as often as young codgers do it to them. Cheers, Jane Bock

Lynda Hilburn said...

Hi, Pat. I love your story. Reading about your mom makes me smile. My mom never allowed herself to speak up -- even when she needed to. And now, in her 80s, she has a lot of bottled up anger. I, on the other hand, have never kept my opinions or feelings inside. I'm already a snarly crone and I'm still what I'd consider middle aged. For example, recently a twenty-something male was behind me in a long line at the post office, talking very loudly on his cell phone. The conversation was fascinating (uh huh). Every other word was DUDE! I turned, caught his eye, and said "Do you really suppose everyone in this building wants to hear your conversation?" The little dear just stared at me, then mumbled "I don't know," but he hung up. The other folks in the line applauded. Of course, I kept a smile on my face the whole time. Maybe because my line of work requires me to be either silent, clever or philosophical, I give myself permission to speak out other times. Different strokes. (It was great seeing you at lunch the other day!)
Hugs, Lynda

Pat said...

Hey, Jane, how right you are. How many people do you know whose eyes glaze over while you're talking and you know they're probably busy thinking of what they're going to say next instead of listening.

Lynda, I had a similar experience in an airplane boarding ramp when a lady was having her cell phone conversation right in my ear. I didn't even say anything. I turned around and looked at her while clearly listening to her conversation. She backed away and ended the call. My own little way of "speaking out."

Thanks to everyone who left comments today. I enjoyed the stories so much. And a special thanks to Terry for letting me be here. I had a great time.

Linda Swift said...

I like your mother, Pat. And all little old ladies who speak their minds and have every right to. We could all learn a lot by listening to them. I'm looking forward to the day when I've earned the right to be eccentric myself.
Give her a hug for me.