The inevitable has happened
I knew that, sooner or later, I’d have to consider myself a member of that group known as “little old ladies.” Somehow, I had convinced myself that that time lay well in the future. No matter what my age or condition, I always felt there was still plenty of time before I had to consider myself part of that category. It just wasn’t going to happen– not while I still felt pretty much the same as I did last year, and the year before that, and...
Last month, I wrote about the word “elderly” and the different 20-year divisions of life that we have named and described in a sort of age-profiling system. That’s all right for generalities, I suppose, and to indicate a stage in life when we don’t know the exact number of years in question, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot when we’re speaking of individuals. At any rate, I stated then that the term elderly shouldn’t apply to people between the ages of 60 and 80, that it was too soon to call oneself elderly. That was then; this is now, a few days after I crossed over the line into my 80s. Now, according to my (then) opinion that it was okay to call oneself elderly after reaching 80, I withdraw that declaration. I don’t want to call myself elderly. I don’t feel elderly, and I don’t want other people to think of me as elderly. Just as I don’t want anybody calling me a little old lady.
Even just technically, the term doesn’t apply very well to me. For starters, I’m not, and seldom have been, what you might call little. Short, yes, only five foot two on my tallest day. But, having been born plump and raised in an era when sturdy, rosy children were the ideal, I was never little, even during the years when I was called a “little girl.” In that case, little meant young, not small.
Then there’s that troublesome word “old.” For starters, old should never be used by itself when speaking of the age of something, be it a bouquet of roses, a child or pet, an oak tree, a tradition, or a genuine antique. The roses are over the hill after about a week, while the child is still awfully new. A six-year-old dog is a lot more mature than a six-year-old boy, and oak trees and traditions can be hundreds of years old. And antiques aren’t even an antique until they’ve been around for a hundred years, unlike the people who own them and seldom make it to the century mark. So when you’re talking about old, you should always qualify it. And some things, like leftovers and corny jokes, are old from the start.
Which brings us to the last word of that phrase– “lady.” Now, my dictionary tells me several things about that word. First of all, the word lady, believe it or not, comes from the Old English term for loaf, and originally meant a person who kneads bread. (Since the word designated only a woman, and not a man who bakes bread, you can see how sexist things were way back then).
Lady is also defined as a refined woman who is polite and dignified. I think that’s stretching things pretty far if you try to tell anyone I’m a lady. Polite, meaning elegant, socially superior, and well-mannered, doesn’t seem to describe me at all, except that you might note that I do try to behave myself most of the time. As for elegance and social superiority, forget it.
Dignified, meaning respectable, might apply at least loosely if you include self-respect. Having had a rather stubborn conscience imbedded in my psyche from my early years, I’ve always been able to say I’m never ashamed of myself or my behavior. The other implications of the word dignified, however, don’t apply to me. That word seems to imply a certain knowledge of what to do and say in all situations, and I’m the first to admit that, in really sensitive situations, I’m mostly clueless. That doesn’t necessarily contradict the notion of being polite as mentioned earlier. Since I don’t know any better, you can hardly call my faux pas deliberate misbehavior.
Refined, as a definition of the word lady, includes this description; cultured and polite in habits, tastes or appearances. The only thing that saves me there is that little word “or”. It gives me an out, so maybe I could manage one of the three. On a good day, perhaps.
As for that other definition of lady, spelled with a capital L, in the world of nobility, the word is reserved for the wife of a viscount, earl, marquess, baron, baronet or knight. It also is applied as a title of courtesy to the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl. I can relate to this in one sense. My father’s name was Joseph Earl Hanson, and he went by the name of Earl, there already being too many Joseph’s in his family. So if my dad was an Earl, then I deserve the courtesy title of Lady. You may henceforth call me Lady Milli, but not “a little old lady.”