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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org