“T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote, ‘April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.’”
“ Imprisoned in the city on a rainy Sunday, in a fifth-floor walk-up. Hard for two to live in peace. You prefer the sanctuary of the empty streets. I didn’t blame you, but you came back too soon, bringing me a bunch of purple lilacs, backyard lilacs, back home lilacs. Thrust them in my arms with love abundant, giving us a chance to start all over.” “Sixty years gone by, but I still see you standing there and smiling. With the lilacs in your arms. Yes, yes, April is the cruelest month.”
Bessie Doenges, 93 at the time, spoke the above of her late husband in an interview with radio announcer Studs Terkel for his “Coming of Age,” a literary gem featuring entries from seventy individuals, 70 to 99 years of age, who speak candidly and humorously of life and work throughout the past century.
Living in a senior citizens center in New York City, the witty, amusing, yet sublime writer, reflected on her younger years as a columnist, telling how she resumed writing again at age 80, submitting 52 pieces a year to N.Y. City’s “The Westsider.” It’s so genuinely refreshing! Elderly persons are so uninhibited and full of the dickens! At the same time, their stories and observations can impart depths of knowledge and sentiment.
Bessie mused, “At the Strawberry Fields, I sit there. It’s marvelous.” “If I sit down at a certain place and the woman who always sits there comes along, I immediately get up, bow, and take another seat.”
“Then I come home, take a little nap. Then I read and write this stuff in The Westsider. At six o’clock, the real evening starts. I have a scotch and soda and watch TV. I watch the news and then Jeopardy comes on and Wheel of Fortune. Maybe you’re too refined to watch it, but by this time I’ve had the drink and anything looks good to me.” (Only in America!)
“ I don’t want to go to bed, life’s too short.” “By nine o’clock, I’ve given in and fall into a delightful sleep.” “ I wake up in the light of the morning. Yeah! Yah-hoo!”
Maybe we’ve had it all wrong – we should elect mellowed and well-weathered folks over 80 to lead our country. We could try conversation versus combat, common sense – never mind debates, more charity and less greed, unity over conflict, and daily naps and early bedtimes to avoid crankiness.
Bessie remarked, “I smoked until 1958. When the doctor told me to stop, I said, ‘You’re asking me to cut off my leg,’ He said, ‘which leg?’ So I stopped.”
Gracing the first page of “Coming of Age” is Jenny Joseph’s poem, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.” It inspired me to write my own version:
When I am an old woman I shall wear red slippers/ and shuffle up and down a midnight street, / my gown a second skin against eyes peeking./ I will speak my mind and whistle loudly,/ scratch an itch and sing a song off-key./ I’ll have Brett Favre tattooed beneath my shirt sleeve./
When I am an old woman I shall drive a race car,/ as wrinkles grow and thrive upon my face./ I will reach for hugs, tell racy stories/ and ride a boat to New Orleans and back./ I’ll pack sweet memories in one huge bundle/ and spread the happiness all over town./ I’ll learn how to roller blade and not fall down…/ some distant colder day when I am old.
There is always an abundance of back home, backyard lilacs to go around…some distant day when it is spring again. It’s the little things that put the spice in living.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.