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Just Like Growing Older

‘In the two years since you have seen him, my dad has gotten old and portly,” reported the 17-year-old son to his father’s friend on the telephone.

That certainly ranks as candor.

My friend has not yet seen his reputedly aged and portly friend, and I’m guessing he’s not looking forward to what the son will think about him, either. But just to set the record straight, the dad in question is 43 and, trust me, was quite a looker in his 20s and 30s. (I haven’t seen him in years, so maybe his son is right.)

For the most part, though, who wants to hear what kids think about grown-ups and their looks? I mean, shucks, the world news is bad enough without having to hear teenage reportage on aging.

I’ve raised my daughters to be diplomats about this. They know I took it personally when the Department of Motor Vehicles issued me a license plate with the letters BTX. They know I keep a little box of Frownies in my bedside table drawer, because that’s what Rene Russo uses—and she looked pretty good in The Thomas Crown Affair.

In other words, my kids know just how shallow I really am.

A while back they began to modify descriptions of their teachers. We all know how hard it is to be a hip teacher if you are “old.” But we also know that smart children will never let it be known that they think their mother is old, like their teacher.

So what’s old? I asked Linnea, my 11-year-old, one time. She paused—she’s no fool—and said, “Um, like 46.”

“Oh,” I said, knowing she was hoping I was satisfied, “But I’m 44.”

“Yeah, but he’s like an old 46.” She paused again, figuring she hadn’t gilded that lily near enough. “And you’re a young 44.”

“Ahh,” I said, because what else was there to say?

Besides, aging is a fact of life. It’s natural. Just like bran.

Over the weekend I met some friends from my graduate school years who were in New York. With them was a man I’d known since I was an undergraduate at SUNY Binghamton.

He’d been kind of an exotic figure back then. I remembered his long blond hair and piercing blue eyes. And his name, Dave True, suggested one of two personas: superhero or the kind of very bad boy that misguided good girls like.

Over the years I’d caught snippets of what he was doing. Working for American Express. Of course, how very Cary Grant of him. Living in New York. Well, where else would he live, except maybe Paris or Florence?

Married to a woman named Jade. Naturally. A man like that could never marry a woman named Sandy or Louise. Jade, I was sure, was exotic and meek, dressed always in tiny suede skirts and little heels. I was sure she trained a constant loving gaze on her man.

We met for dinner at a brew pub on 30th Street and Second Avenue called the Waterfront. Now the Waterfront is not on the water or even really near the water. But it had all that we needed to meet the requirements of the people involved:

It was not expensive, since most of us have kids who, even if they are still young enough, put up a fuss about ordering off the children’s menu.

It was noisy, which meant we could be noisy, too.

It was casual. and none of us, including Jade, were wearing suede skirts.

It had gourmet beers, and there were some beer gourmands in our group.

Now the thing is, everybody looked just as I remembered them. My permanent image of Anne is from a picnic at the home of some mutual poet friends we knew at the University of Virginia. In it, she is wearing a one-piece navy-blue Speedo, and she’s diving, sleek as a seal, into the glassy stillness of a mountain lake.

In my mind’s eye, Marc is forever grinning and holding his banjo, looking like a Virginian on the verge of raising hell—the Virginian Anne fell in love with.

I see Dan and Vanessa more often because they live in New York state. Vanessa always looks classy to me, even though she rarely dresses to the nines. The other day she kept clutching her head, from which she’d recently removed her Brearley School cap, and asking if she had hat hair. All I saw was a shining sweep of golden blonde.

Dan had grown a beard. I told him it made him look like D.H. Lawrence. He made some crack about D.H. Lawrence’s prose, and Vanessa made some crack about him looking like D.H. Lawrence. She’s right, of course. Dan looks like what he does: which is love his wife, father his children, write, teach and raise a stellar crop of vegetables to feed them.

But what of the exotic Dave and Jade True?

Well, Dave and Jade wore T-shirts and drank beer and acted just like normal people. People who pay mortgages and hunt for jobs and meet with friends and face life’s transitions full in the face.

Though she looked at Dave often with affection, Jade was hardly in his thrall. She was more like a real woman who had her MBA from the University of Chicago and could quite hold her own.

Dave had short hair, his piercing blue eyes less lustrous, but softened with age. Maybe that’s what’s most true about aging: that if we let it, it softens us.

It takes away the radical edginess that informs our early aspirations, judgments and opinions. It blows to bits our notions about perfection in love. It teaches us that constancy matters. It opens us up to so much that is as essential as it is painful about making peace with our limited and particular lives.

I felt as at home around that table as I do at my own dining room table. There was no expectation for us to be anything other than what we are: weathered, older, beautiful.

None of our kids would see it that way. Which shouldn’t be surprising. Because they are too young to know much about what’s true and what isn’t, except in the love they are shown by grown-ups old enough to know to love with abandon.

Shakespeare was right all along: Ripeness is all.

—Jo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org.


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