I’m not letting them off the hook.
I wasn’t looking the other way.
I saw and heard it ALL!
And every word of it is true (with a teensy bit of paraphrasing).
Little old ladies…
Proper BRITISH little old ladies.
They had me rolling on the inside while I maintained a poker-faced demeanour of decorum. They took me totally by surprise and made me smile and reflect. They let me know in no uncertain terms that they weren’t just all sweetness and service. And it wasn’t all just genteel acquiescence, hushed voices and lace doilies either.
Everything replays like a movie in my head when I think back.
But the order of the stories isn’t to sequence because I’ve waited years to write about them, and I simply cannot remember after the first one which came next.
Why the wait you ask?
Because I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to share them with anyone at all. Talking about them out of context could take them from picturesque settings captured in my pristine memories (still jumbled out of order) and make them mundane and inconsequential. There was mood. There was environment. The air was rife with subterfuge. Someone was possibly in danger of a beat down. The risk of you not understanding the moment in its entire hilarity might detract years of tightly held giggles and genuine surprise if I failed to convey precisely what happened and how on paper.
I kept hoping I’d hear more stories on the sly.
But you can’t simply wish surprising little old lady stories that happen with such serendipity into existence.
And someone might think it rather perverse.
‘Why you so fixated on lil ol’ ladies for???!!!’
These accounts were so innocent.
The first little old lady was a character straight out of a childhood nursery rhymes illustration; silver-haired and diminutive__felt I could’ve knocked her over if I blew hard enough. She had that trusting air about her, and the type of persona that could easily whip out a half-finished knitted sweater or fresh baked shortbread cookies from her handbag as nonchalantly as she adjusted her scarf (and this little dumpling was wearing a scarf). She had that smart, dapper way of dressing like those of the early 20th Century who dressed up even to do the grocery shopping, or to send a telegram. Perhaps those of that era would be horrified to know that we just throw on a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt to run to the dry cleaners or catch the train for an out of town appointment. I had gone into the post office in town to post a few letters, and on my way out I could see that she wanted to enter. Little old lady#1. She gave me an almost imperceptible but pleasant smile. I was holding a then 3-year-old son in my arms at the time, and as I was planning to wash his hair as soon as I went back home, I had undone the braids and he had the biggest of afros. I deferred to the lady to enter first as she had already pulled open the door, but she kindly waited for me to exit. As I walked by this docile dainty (and might I add with the speed of a ninja), reached up and grabbed my son’s hair and gave it two quick squeezes as I left the facility. She looked right pleased with herself after that; like she’d been wanting to grab an afro all her life. I think I was too floored by the speed of ninja nanny to say a word.
While working at a community hospital in the housekeeping department, I came across two saucy old gals (little old ladies #2 & #3) deep in conversation with conspirational tones while I cleaned:
‘You know things are so much better now.’
‘If you have a baby and you’re not married, nobody’s really bothered about it.’
(Lots of head nodding in agreement).
‘And if you don’t like your husband, you don’t have to stay with him. You can just leave. It’s really no big deal anymore!’
The ladies kept talking. I had to restrain myself from looking up and smiling all too broadly.
YEAH, WE’RE WOMEN AND WE’LL DO WHATEVER WE DAMN WELL PLEASE!!!
But I wasn’t in the conversation, so I just had to say that quietly in my head.
I kept mopping the floor as this scenario proceeded to embed itself into my long-term memory.
At some point I ventured out to one of the outlying towns and was inside a national chain clothing store. Spring selections had rolled out, and with them the inevitable swimwear line. There are few things that can intimidate ladies more than shopping for a bathing suit under the scrutiny of the public eye. I wish I could accurately encapsulate just where swimwear fashion designs have transitioned over the decades; particularly the decades specific to one seasoned lady (little old lady#4) with her husband tow, shopping for aforementioned beach attire.
She was giving up.
Nothing really suited her.
She was exasperated and wanted to leave.
Kind hubby, trying to be helpful, held up a yellow provocative number and said, ‘How about this one?’ just as I walked by within eye and earshot.
The expression of embarrassment on his wife’s face was genuine.
My husband has explicitly brandished my threadbare, defenceless dignity in front of a stranger.
She looked away unsure of what to do or where to be now that I had obviously been privy to this delicate moment.
I felt her pain.
‘Tell him to wear it!’ I said with gusto.
The look on her face was priceless, as the realisation hit that there was a sure-fire way to save face in this unanticipated public dilemma.
Her facial expression transitioned before my eyes from demure and bashful, to a triumphantly mischievous grin as she turned to her beloved and said, ‘Yeah! Why don’t YOU wear it!’ with even more chutzpah than I had used.
Husband had nothing more to say.
I still had no idea that little old lady dramas were putting together a file in a section of my brain.
Cue little old lady#5 on the bus who saw me taking out an apple to share with my son. She was just a few seats away when she forthrightly stated, ‘Every time I see somebody with an apple, I want to ask them for a bite!’ She smiled serenely. At times like these, you just wish you had another apple or just something else a self-assured senior sister could bite.
Important context is lost when you don’t have a clear understanding of how conservative and quiet a culture is in public for the most part; especially this age group who lived through the genesis of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ motto so rooted in Britishness. People generally don’t speak out of turn to a complete stranger, so I thoroughly enjoy it when that enthusiasm shines through. Just like it did for the veteran vixens of my Zumba class. Some called themselves ‘The Wrinklies.’ I loved their sense of humour and frolic; to be in an exercise class with such risqué moves. Seductive hip thrusts, and what in the Caribbean is referred to as ‘winding’ were necessary. Slow sensual body caresses; an integral part of dance routines. I was absolutely floored that I even found a class in what I considered conservative Britain, where elderly prim and proper ladies proceeded to shake ‘their bits to bits’ with everything from calypso to reggae to merengue playing in the background while we sweated our heart rates up to beneficial levels for our individual fitness gains.
After one particularly libidinous routine which required some specialised and synchronised hip and booty shaking, the music still played on while little old lady#6 gyrated as best she could as if to will her body to boogie-woogie better to her companion saying with slight agitation,’ I wanna make my body move like that! Why won’t my body move and shake like that?!’ (Hip thrusts were added for emphasis.)
It just goes to show, that given the right safe and private environment, females of all ages can potentially have bump-and-grinder aspirations.
But it was simply so sweet.
It’s not something that we often think about, but we’re all getting older. This does not however, have any impact whatsoever on the effervescent spirit inside of all of us. We are women of such power, and speed too! You’ve probably never had the unanticipated pleasure of watching my grandmother wield a cake spoon to a misbehaving youngster with the acceleration and accuracy of a seasoned sharpshooter.
We are full of fire and passion, that society with subtlety often seeks to hide away when we surpass 40yrs…50yrs...
‘Dear God, what’s that lady doing in a bikini at 60 yrs. old???!!!’
Cue the Helen Reddy lyrics, ‘I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore and I know too much to go back and pretend.’ Yeah, I’ll admit it’s old hat. But so is treating women after a certain age in a stereotypical framework that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of who they really are.
‘If you can’t handle the nanny fanny, keep your roving eyes to yourself while I WEAR WHATEVER THE HELL I DAMN WELL PLEASE!!!’
Women know things.
Older women know more.
It may be a stretch for another mind, but I see these little old lady stories as a reminder that there is always so much life in us. So much choice in us. So much MUCH in us. Even if we should have one bony, wrinkled foot halfway in the grave, we should not dare under any circumstances, surrender our emotivity and our spirit. It is what makes us who we are.
Keep an eye on those little old ladies though.