Bloom Late…learning how to be ninety

I’ve always wanted to be a chrysanthemum, rather a daffodil. Chrysanthemums bloom late.

Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us (], via Wikimedia Commons

Beautiful, late-blooming chrysanthemums

When I was twenty-three, one of my colleagues announced she was getting re-married. She was thirty-three.

“How nice,” I thought, “that a woman so old can find somebody to marry her.”

Don’t shoot me: I know how awful that sounds. Happily, my definition of old has stretched by years and years and years, especially since I became a senior citizen myself. (And I cringe at the phrase “can find somebody to marry her.” But that’s another post.) These days I get senior discounts without even asking for them, and no one ever asks to see my ID. As one of my granddaughters sweetly confided: “Grammie, you’re the oldest girl I know.” 

Some of you may smile benignly and say, “What is she talking about? Seventy-one is not old. She’s a kid…I have bunions older than her.” Bless you.

I want to age well, and I don’t have much time to figure out how. I’ve begun to go to the gym more, walk in the park more, use my brain occasionally. I hope it helps though I realize it takes a certain amount of dumb luck to stay healthy to a ripe old age. Accidents and disease happen. I think about the ladies in the Alzheimer ward to whom a storytelling friend and I tell stories twice a month. Those ladies never planned to spend their last days in a nursing home, eating orange Jell-o, listening to our stories—and forgetting them. 

As it happens, thanks to storytelling and a lifelong learning group I belong to, I also have friends and acquaintances more or less ninety years old who are able to be active and engaged in life.

Recently I went to the ninetieth birthday party of a friend of mine from a writing workshop. She writes beautiful prose about her childhood home. She paints and writes poetry too. She is charming, gracious, and warm. She smiled broadly when she told her guests that she never thought she’d be lucky enough to reach ninety. Nice attitude, don’t you think?

Another friend also celebrated her ninetieth birthday in the past year, a fellow storyteller. The summer after her birthday, she and her family visited Yosemite–a long trip from NY state. She tells wonderful stories that are usually funny and always ring true—of her girlish crush on a baseball player living next door, of a walk across a frozen Niagara Falls, of boys who got trapped in a water tower on a hot day, of a loathsome lady who knew the answer to the riddle asked of King Arthur, “what is it that women want?” She is open-hearted, encouraging, frank, and humorous. 

One woman is leading weekly walks this spring in the state park near my home. I remember a hike she led a few years ago. Her passion for the environment and her knowledge of the plants we saw are stunning.

A former art teacher is leading a drawing class for seniors. She’s taught these popular classes every semester since she retired, twenty years ago. 

Another friend in my writing workshop is in several other groups as well. She self-published a book of her poetry a year or so ago and is editing a collection of poetry that her poetry group is producing. She’s a photographer, just signed up for a storytelling workshop a friend and I are leading, and writes a blog. When I ask her why she’s so active she said simply “because I don’t have much time left.”

Remarkable women, all of them. They have surely endured their share of hardships and loss and will endure more. But they choose to embrace life and look forward to the possibilities still open to them. They read, take classes, pursue their hobbies, laugh, meet with friends old and new, and care about the other people in their lives.

I don’t mean to gloss over the challenges of old age—or maybe I do. Friends of mine are dying or dealing with serious health problems and I become afraid. 

But I remember my friends who are ninety—or almost ninety—or over ninety.  I need them and other people like them in my life to inspire me, give me hope, and get me off the couch. 

When I grow up, I want to be just like them.

19 thoughts on “Bloom Late…learning how to be ninety

  1. Absolutely fantastic, it is a work of truth and may we all strive to fill the years granted to us with positive attitudes. As we age how wonderful to fill our days with activities we enjoy with others. Truly a wonderful story, Margaret which causes much reflection in how we are or do want to fill our lives,

      • I’m with Paul – good one! I had a resurrection of a weekend. On one drive TO my sister’s I cried finally for a dead friend – all 3 hours. Freeing. On the other drive HOME FROM, I listened to a friend who is younger than me and deeply depressed and felt freed too. I had the key. Been there, done that. NOT to say using the key is easy, but it’s something like what you wrote – continuing to aspire to live well. It helps one climb out of that horrible quicksand-filled hole which is really, more or less, that “darkness” that is “my old friend.” Grateful to Paul Simon for that connection. Grateful for you, for so many ways tales and tributes.

  2. Yes, I remember the days when 30 was old, Margaret, including me! It’s great to get younger all the time and bloom late! Never mind some aches and pains and wrinkles!
    Thanks for expressing what’s important in aging so beautifully and humorously. You are and will be my inspiration. Hugs for being!

  3. Needless to say, I approve of the idea that one should Bloom late. 🙂

    But I have so many reactions to this. I plant bulbs every fall, because it has always seemed to me that life begins in the fall, because that’s when you start making preparations for next spring. I plant bulbs because I like the idea of life and beauty carrying over into the future.

    And, in addition to daffodils and chrysanthemums, I like the idea of everbearing strawberries.

    But I also think of Judith Viorst, who lamented in a poem something to the effect of, “And while I still might write the Great American Novel, they will never say of me, `And she did it so young.'”

    Never mind that. When I turned fifty, I felt compelled to learn to juggle. When I turned sixty, I bought myself a mandolin. These days, I’m trying to create more opportunities to teach children how to dance. And in twenty years, I hope to compare notes with you about what we each plan to learn next!

  4. Margaret…Another Hit! I can read and listen to your stories any time and I hope to be doing it dozens of years from now.

  5. Dear Margaret, From bud to bloom you have captured the essence of long life. it is a wonder knowing the Virginia,s and Pat’s and so many other long livers – they have given me great hope and determination as well as courage. I never imagined that soon enough I will be saying 70 that’s me 70! My husband does not believe he will live well into his 80’s although he is so full of life. I shut out that voice and embrace another good 15 or more years together. “Bloom Late” affirms that many of us I hope I among them go on to share wisdom, talents, gifts and open hearts well into years beyond what ever we could of imagined. What a splendid piece you wrote and shared. Warms the heart. Looking forward to story time Monday at the Crandall with writers of all ages! Joyce

    Sent from my iPad


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