Mollie Burrows was a dear friend and role model for me. She died at the age of 97 a couple of years ago. Though she’s never far from my mind, her spirit paid me a visit about a week ago when a Facebook friend posted a photo of her mother, Ann T. Watson, at her 100th birthday party. She was in the arms of a handsome man on the dance floor, her face beaming with joy. I am told by her daughter, Michele McCormick, health and inner joy fuel her mom’s love for life – along with daily walks, playing bridge, and enjoying one gin cocktail a day.
She is a kindred spirit with Mollie, whose byline was a throaty, “Oh, I just love life!” My friend lived alone in a second-story apartment accessed by a set of concrete stairs until she was about 94. I remember celebrating her 92nd birthday with her, in which she indulged in a cocktail and two glasses of wine. It was the only time she agreed to let someone escort her up those stairs that terrified everyone but her.
On her 90th, Mollie rented a ballroom and threw herself a birthday bash, complete with a deejay spinning all her favorites. She was resplendent in a striking blue evening dress with a pearl necklace, her makeup just-so. Mollie’s always-perfect blonde hair was swept into a bouffant of waves reminiscent of movie queens of the 1950s. To assure she’d fully enjoy the evening, she hired a lithe, debonair dance instructor wearing a tux to be her partner for the evening. “I don’t like to stumble around with men who can’t dance,” she told me. “It’s a waste of my time.”
When I first had the fortune to meet her, she was already in her 80s and knew absolutely what her life was about. She’d reminisce about the war years when she lived in Berkeley and danced with GIs on weekends. I’m pretty sure that’s where she developed an encyclopedic collection of songs she could sing word-for-word and often did. This love of tunes from the 40s and 50s was something we shared, along with a passion for the dignities and rights of aging.
Mollie was a pioneer in the movement to demand respect for the elders among us. Nothing made her angrier than to have someone call her “dear” or “sweetie” or talk down to her as if she didn’t hear or understand, strictly based on her age. She even wrote a story about an experience she’d had riding on a bus and feeling deeply diminished by the experience. (I’ll add a link to her story at the end of this blog). Thus, Mollie was great company when I had a few speaking engagements with Eskaton to talk about ageism in America. Mollie said over and over again – that this is the new frontier of discrimination. Together we made business cards to hand out to young transgressors that offered this advice: “I am not your sweetie, not your dear, not your honey. I am not your young lady. Been there, done that! I am your elder. Thank you for your respect.”
Mollie lived a fierce life and didn’t slow down her pace even after she agreed to move into an independent living community at the age of 94. For the first few weeks, she was a specter of anger about the move, and her sailor-like expressions laced every conversation with those of us who had urged her to move to a safer environment. But in her irrepressible fashion, she soon found ways to enjoy the company of her agemates. While she still would curse about the meals served in the dining room, she lauded the residents. “You would not believe what some of these people have done,” she told me. “They're amazing. Accomplished. No one should ever sell them short!” She even joined the daily exercise program but dropped out after a week, “I like my own routine," she said. “Theirs is too easy. Not challenging. Wimpy.” She raised her own profile by starting a weekly competition of the musical game “Encore.” No one beat her.
Mollie was also one of the first people to read my mystery book. I asked what she thought. “Well, I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s just as good as any of those books you pick up at the grocery store!” I was thrilled with that review and included it in the foreword of my novel.
Our world is populated with Mollies and Anns – people who’ve lived long, robust lives and carry with them stories, memories, experiences, and wisdom that only time and distance can build. People who can teach us all a great deal. There was a time in our history when family life was structured to let that happen naturally. Before the Industrial Revolution, elders were the source of inherited wealth and trades. They served as the head of families, making decisions and building value throughout their lives and then passing on the baton.
The dynamic is vastly different now but not the reality. Elders still retain the value that only accrues with time and experience. If only we are smart enough to listen.
Thank you for reading! I respect and appreciate your time. LIke you, I try to support indie writers whose deepest desire is to share their creativity with others. It keeps us doing what we do! Here's a question with likely NO right answer: If an artist makes a painting, writes a book or poem, or composes a symphony and the work goes from the creator to a locked room forever - is it still art?
Here's an indie writer with whom I've traded a mention. If you like the genre, please give it a look:
Two Indian Girls, (The Kanke Killings Trilogy Book 1) by Kumar Kinshuk. Click HERE and dive into it to unravel the drama!
And HERE are some FREE Free Summer Reads.