Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
Ninety Years Young
April 23, 2004
What's it like to by ninety? Been there, done that. Enjoyed most of it.
That is the simple answer, but it doesn't really cover the subject. As son Dave said one day,
"Inside every old perosn there is a young person saying, "What the hell hapened?" That is pretty much what I am saying today.
May Sarton wrote a book called At Seventy, a Journal. I have not kept a journal, although I wish I had. Instead I have files full of letters and essays written through the years, and over 700 newspaper columns, which probably tell more about me than I ever wanted anybody to know. Lookking back from 90, I remember many individual things, the triuphs and the failures, the achievements, the things that presumably made me the woman I became.
But those things are misleading. They deal generally in observable facts. They make it sound as though a life is a continuum, as though one knows what is going on in her life as she is living it.
The twentieth cnetury was one of contrasts. The year I was born we were at war. The year I turned 90 we were at war. What have we learned about living together on our planet? On the other hand, a man has walked on the moon, and the whole world is connected by cyberspace.
I remember as a little girl the first sound I ever heard coming out of nowhere and how awed I was. It actually came from a round oatmeal box wound with copper wire, a cristal and a "cat whisker," which my dad painstakingly constructed and fastened to a pair of earphones (hmmm--where did he get those?), all the while threatening me with dire punishment if my oily little fingers touched the crystal. And then through those earphones out of nowhere came the most bearutiful saxophone music I had ever heard. And so for me began the technical age.
But it is not the facts that make a life. It is the feelings, the beliefs and the values that guide the facts.
I guess I'm a late bloomer. It was in the second half of my life that I found my cause, my passion. Katherine Graham summarized it. "To love what you do and feel that it matters--how could anything be more fun?" That's the way I feel about my years with a cause, well, two causes: the rights of women and freedom of speech. And the years with passions have given me energy and drive I never knew I had. When I became a feminist it was all the way. It was not just a political issue. It brought women together as friends and fighters. The library gave me a base, and the column gives a voice to express it.
The late years have brought me such wonderful friends. And they are mostly boomers, which is a wise situation for a little old lady. They have lots of energy and they take very good care of me, as my own family is spread across the country. One of them, my friend the philosopher, has been a friend for 30 years and an idea editor for 15.
Oh yes, one last piece of advice. A little old lady would be wise to have a young doctor, a young dentist and a young lawyer.
I like this quote from Dorothy Sayers: "Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force." Right on!
It has been a good 90 years.