Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What’s a Vintage Greykitten?

Originally this was to be a cooking blog. The companion piece to The Hag´s Guide to Breakfast, a collection of tips on how to control your kitchen once age,  illness, or both, had turned cooking into a thorny affair. But as I started to collect recipes, and scribble drafts, it dawned on me. I had a deeper concept in my hands.

Facing the Midlife Crisis

Menopause, and the years that followed its onset, were traumatic for me .Therefore, old age it’s not something I’m looking forward to. Becoming my parents’ caretaker has brought me closer to the ugliest side of what, in Spanish, we know as “La Tercera Edad” (The Third Age.).And yet I know people who navigate through that process clad in serenity and joy... How do they do it?

I started writing this blog on the eve of my fifty-seventh birthday. I was surrounded by images of youthful “old women”:  51-year old Monica Bellucci skinny dipping; Salma Hayek’s glowing arrival to her fifth decade, Janet Jackson pregnant at fifty, and this gorgeous blonde to whom I cannot attach the” middle-aged woman” tag.

Was I mistaken? Was I the only fiftysomething going through a midlife crisis? I think not. Madonna and company are multimillionaire stars with unlimited access to Botox, plastic surgery and any miraculous fountain of youth they can pay for.

What about the zillions of middle aged women who despair over losing looks and strength? “Age doesn’t matter” is a nasty platitude. Climacteric takes an enormous toll on a woman´s body, no matter how fit “The Change” finds her. And let´s not start with the alterations in mind and spirit that are the dreaded cohorts in the latter part of our lives.

However, I know women for whom senectitude is really a golden age and not because they are prodigiously strong, beautiful or mentally alert. They can enjoy their present precisely because they accept their past.  Recognizing that there are certain things they can’t do anymore, enables them to replace such activities, find new ways to continue enjoying others, and learn, discover, explore what the evening of life offers.  (Boy! Am I learning euphemisms and metaphors for “old age!”)

Going Grey, Going Vintage
Who are these intrepid females? What drives them? How could we strive to be like them? In order to answer that question I had first to come up with a label to identify them. I didn’t want to use the word “old. “It always brings to mind images of decrepit Third World beggars. So I went over the euphemism list and stopped at “Going Grey.”  It led me to  a surprising fact. 

While searching for stock free photos, I ran into snapshots of Rhianna and Cara Delevingne sporting silvery locks. Apparently gray hair had become fashionable among the Pretty and Fabulous crowd. So if grey was the new blond, my image of a pretty old lady could  proudly wear  an ashen mane.

Grey hair is now a trend among young women.

Having the adjective, all I needed was a noun. “Grey Lady,” “Grey Woman,” “Grey Queens,” they all sounded like Hogwarts ‘ghosts, so ...Off my catalog!  Grey applies to many animal furs and feathers. But “Grey Fox” is a lecherous old man; “Grey Wolf” sounds like a Sioux Chief; “Grey Owl?” No, not really.

The cat is my totem animal, but “old cat” ((like “hag, ” a word I love) has been for years a derogatory term for disapproving battleaxes. My final decision was that my lady would be a younger cat, a kitten. The word encompasses two youthful qualities I believe we should bring into our old age: playfulness and cuteness.

I chose to fuse adjective and noun together, and so I came up with “Greykittens,” the perfect bridge between ages. But there was something missing there. A Greykitten’s grandeur lies in her background. It´s what makes her special, it’s what makes her precious. What we tend to forget when forsaking and deriding our senior citizens, is that each one of them is a depositor of memories, a silent witness to past history. Therefore, as any vintage article, they are high-priced, and we should treat them as such.

Vintage! There was the magical word I was seeking!  Buy a modern  armchair and leave it on a corner of your living room. Ten years go by. Unless you have been doing regular maintenance, the chair will deteriorate. The color will fade. It will need constant repair. It might even need transformation. If you do it well, in twenty years, that chair will become a costly vintage piece.

Don´t get me wrong, the steady care that leads to becoming Vintage Gretykittens is not about exercise, balanced diet, and monthly medical checkups. Although I encourage a healthy lifestyle for all of us past menopause, being a Vintage Greykitten does not exclude the wheelchair-bound, the bedridden, the disabled or the obese. The greatness of Vintage Greykittens comes from beating physical odds while relying on weapons that can only be found in the spirit. Such weapons are serenity, self-contentment, acknowledgment and wisdom.

Secrets of the Greykitten Sisterhood
While in Library School, I took an internship at the Simon Hevesi Library, in Forest Hills. Senior citizens comprised more than half of my clientele. You couldn’t meet a more fascinating bunch! I learned to love and appreciate many of clients. They taught me a lot, but their most striking lesson was that you can find beauty in the elderly. It was my first close contact with the Vintage Greykitten breed and a beauty that surpassed wrinkles, a beauty that transpired from within.

Since those ladies came from all countries in the world, and all walks of life, it was difficult to pinpoint what made them exceptional. Over the years, I managed to create a profile to spot  a Vintage Greykitten. First came their chronological career.  Having witnessed and gone through major historical moments, they were monuments to the past. They had experienced tragedies and seen miracles. They were survivors but none felt a victim. They cherished their memories and were willing to evoke them.

Although emotional and given to tantrums (if the occasion called for it,) they were relaxed most of the time. Their poise had a calming effect upon us the young and already stressed-out crowd. Their sense of humor taught me to laugh at my misfortunes.  I noticed their wit, which went beyond the usual self-deprecating Jewish humor, was shaped by their insight.

The Talmud tells us that true wisdom is a synonym for kindness, and my Vintage Greykittens were terribly kind and wise, particularly to those of us who needed an adviser. In later years, after I have lost almost everything material, when I have seen my dignity trampled, and I have been appalled at my failure, I always remember their maxims. “True wealth has nothing to do with bills and coins;”“you are only poor if you can’t aid somebody else;” “I f you have no money to lend, always lend an ear”; “Teaching does not need a classroom and a blackboard, just the will to share your knowledge.”

It  may sound  like  “The Prudent Grandmother “cliché. The difference rests in the fact that The Vintage Greykitten can be a mother figure, a mentor, and  a friend, but she is  foremost a woman,  especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Because regardless of pacemakers and threats of strokes, their hearts are forever young.

The Hevesi Gretykittens came in all sizes and shapes. Some went around in simple garb; others were sharp dressers who prided themselves in their grooming. Some were sassy and flirtatious. Many found romantic partners at the library. A couple actually got married during my stint there. And yet their approach to love, romance ,and even that secret word (sex) ,was quiet different from the romantic strategies of childbearing age women.

It took me time to realize their secret. It was so simple. They had stopped competing, they did not try to look younger or conform to trendy fashions or impossible ideals of beauty. They felt they had different things to offer to potential lovers, and they peddled their goods in ways that would probably baffle a woman raised in days of feminism, sexual freedom and other myths.

Even the manner in which they handled rivals, was way smoother than girls deal with those that arouse their jealousy. They knew the difference because once a Greykitten, commenting on the ill -fortuned romance of a chum, said to me: “Poor So-and-So. She still uses the same tactics of a twenty year old. She´ll never get anywhere like that.”

In a nutshell, that is the secret of a Vintage Greykitten’s success:  finding new ways of doing things (lovemaking included) , learning the true meaning of giving, sharing her past experiences and looking forward while looking back with no regrets.

This blog’s agenda
I would like this blog to be a platform for the making of new Vintage Greykittens. To those who are already meowing under your silver wigs, please enlighten us. To those who (like Yours Truly) are striving to be vintage and grey, let´s share everything we are doing right and wrong in this aging process. And to those of you who are still young ,but fear the tsunami wave of decay, here is the answer of how to ride over it. So I bid you welcome to what I hope would become our blog.

Together we can examine  the careers of famous Greykittens, some of whom already grace my banner. What makes Liz Taylor  an epitome of “greykitteness”  while the same tag cannot be attached to Marlene Dietrich? Why was the late Queen Mum a true vintage product , something that couldn’t be said about her lovely and tragic daughter, Princess Margaret?
Queen Mum and Liz Taylor (1968)

We’ll go over established and absurd rules that limit the growth of  Vintage Greykittens (VGKs for short) such as acceptable and desired length of hair and skirts. We can share tips on how a VGK survives the kitchen, the workplace and the bedroom. And we´ll talk about  magic tricks to add glamour to our infirmities, quirks, and other inadequacies that arrive with age.

 Finally we shall talk about recollection. As a child and caretaker of a man afflicted with dementia, I can tell you the most horrible aspect of aging has to do with losing your past and having a present devoid of the skills to recognize, retain and recall. Let´s work together to preserve, while we can, the treasured memories our previous lives have left us, and this is the place to do it.

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