Mrs. Murray, who lives in the trailer next to us, was the first older woman I met.
Even the air in her home is yellow. I can still imagine her in the old darkness, arching like a plant bending towards the roots. A blanket covers her knees; an oxygen tank whizzes past her; a cigarette glows between her fingers.
To my five-year-old self, Mrs. Murray seemed as old as the earth. It’s hard to believe that we are the same person.
My brother and I spent a lot of time in her dim kitchen waiting for our mother to come home from temporary work or other work. I don’t remember any special warmth between us, but I remember that whenever we knock on her door, she always opens the door.
We tried to repay her kindness. Mom secretly took us in and redecorated with fresh wallpaper and hand-sewn curtains. We scrub and scrub the nicotine that has layered on every surface for decades. I remember I was surprised to find below that some of Mrs. Murray’s things were not yellow after all.
Nell, on the other hand, is a soft and kind face. The smell of sugar biscuits and rose-scented hand sanitizer permeated her room. Every corner is packed with treasures: a bunch of yarn, a box of vintage beads, a crocheted doll with a soft plastic head.
The back of the wood-burning stove in her study was also full of romance novels—the cheap grocery store type with bare-chested men and plump women on the covers to please each other.
I was lying on the shag carpet in the summer when I was 10 years old, devouring each of these romantic novels with more and more horror and joy.
Who knows that such difficult words can be linked together? A revelation. Even today, the smell of rose soap can convey such a sentence “His hot, pulsating member jumped out“Hysterically circulating in my mind.
There is an older woman at every stage of my life. They made best friends. They are always where you are and can guess where you are going next.
I have seen and done things I could never do:
One received a doctorate. A PhD in physics and married a physicist, so she has a smart person to talk to.
She went to London alone, got drunk, and finally got stuck in the toilet with her feet in the public bathroom. “I want to explain myself to the good people who expelled me, but I didn’t explain it. I don’t want to.”
My new friend often stops and complains that the widower in her bike club pesters her on dates. “They are all too slow,” she said, “and I’m too old to hitchhiker for a man anymore.”
But the one I have been missing lately is Lydia.
Lydia is my first friend in Holland. She appeared at our door with a bag of toys to introduce herself; she first tried Dutch, then Italian, then French. When confusion bloomed on my face, she smiled: “English? Of course.”
Many Dutch people have a language of love: arranging appointments. Lydia is no exception. I often find our mailboxes filled with notes that read: Friday, 13:30. I soon learned that they translated as, “Come to your house and eat cookies.”
During her visit, Lydia taught me traditional Dutch etiquette: never be late; stay no longer than 90 minutes; eat everything you provide, but don’t ask for more; and don’t show love physically.
Then she would stay for a few hours, eat every cookie in my house, and absolutely choke my children with wet kisses.
Lydia survived the Dutch famine in World War II. Her father died young; her husband died young; her beloved son fell from a ladder at the age of 40. When I met her, most of her friends were also dead. She likes to make new friends. “I don’t think I am getting old,” she said, “until I pass a mirror.”
One afternoon, the two of us were drinking instant coffee in her kitchen. She started a story. She went on a day trip to Amsterdam when she was a teenager. “I have a new dress,” she sighed. “You should have seen my beautiful legs.”
She paused, and vaguely recalled: “On that weekend, the Nazi occupiers robbed my father from the street and put him in jail.”
Wait, what? I press. what happened? Are you with him? Did they hurt him? How long did he stay in prison?
She waved my question like a fly. “Don’t worry. This is not the story I want to tell. I want to talk about my beautiful legs.”
That was Lydia’s pinnacle. She has a way to incorporate the painful elements of her life into pleasant little anecdotes. She didn’t want me to wander above the pain, examine it too carefully, and use it to define her. She insisted on putting the cute part in front and center, and respected her experience in her own way.
The last time I saw Lydia was on the day we left the Netherlands. We just locked our apartment and were waiting for a taxi to take us to the train station, at a loss.
Lydia hobbled in the cold winter rain.
“Farewell is important,” she told me, this is my last lesson. “Never let the one you love leave without anyone waving.”
She is right. When we drove away, looking back at her there, waving with all our strength, it means everything.
One day, if I am lucky, I will become an old woman too. I’m almost ready. These are my five most important points:
When the children knock on the door, be sure to open your door.
Make sure to have some cookies and some sexy books.
Don’t slow down so that men can keep up with you.
Leave plenty of room for your beautiful legs.
There is a wave of goodbye; this is important.
Do you have any older female friends? What have you learned from them?
Meg Embry is a writer who started working as a reporter and editor in the Netherlands.These days, she lives in Colorado, where she mainly covers higher education and career topics and uses Her personal blog She was confused when she was in her thirties.
PS Visiting Joanna’s grandmother in the UK and her views on aging.
(Photo: Brkati Krokodil / Stocksy.)