“When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall … “

Dear Readers:  Please be patient with this duplicate post from February 28.  We had a mix up with the calendar.  I hope you don’t mind my reposting it even though over a dozen of you had already responded.  Thanks!  Jo 

When I turned fifty, I thought I was mature, wise, and experienced.  After all, a half century of living is no small thing.  I’d raised seven children, many of whom had left home to make their own journeys; I’d had a homemaking career and was well into a second career in my first love – teaching high school English.  My youngest child was sixteen and our family was dwindling.  We were very comfortable financially.

Old woman ... purpleMy dear friend turned fifty and I found a vintage floppy hat in a consignment store; it was purple. She and my similarly-aged friends bandied about the phrase, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple,” from Jenny Joseph’s familiar poem.  We embraced this turning old stuff!

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
                                     And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
                                             And learn to spit.

During the decade of our fifties we giggled those phrases with much humor because many of us felt that fifty was the new thirty and we felt great!  Bring old age on, we challenged, because we’re young and hip and savvy – much more than when we were in our twenties and thirties.

Grammy and Annie, 2006

Grammy and Annie, 2006

 The inevitable happened, of course.  I turn seventy today.  In case, you didn’t hear that number because, like me, you suffer a slight hearing impairment, it’s SEVENTY!!

So today I am seventy, or rather will be at midnight, the second before February 28 has gone and March 1 has arrived since I was born on a leap year.

Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and short stories often carried the theme that from the moment of our birth we’ve set our feet on the inevitable path that leads to death.  We disbelieve the notion in our youth, doubt it in our twenties, are too busy to think about it in our thirties, ponder the notion of it in our forties, laugh at it in our fifties, because after all, we’ve gotten our second wind in life and feel smarter, braver, wiser, and stronger than we ever have.  In our sixties we muse over the when and how of it, and in our seventies, tentatively stretch out arms to embrace its imminence.

Small occurrences signal old age’s arrival – the momentary loss of the proper word in our writing, the temporary forgetfulness of a Corinna and Grammyfamous celebrity, the cautiousness of backing out of the driveway in our cars.  We acknowledge its arrival like the coming of winter’s storm: we aren’t afraid, hopefully we have few regrets, we scurry to prepare ourselves, and we squeeze the last ounce of living out of our frail bones and weak muscles.

We wear purple clothing and red hats and care very little about the opinions of others. See Corinna and me above in 2008.

But, most devastatingly, we acknowledge that we truly are old women.  The how and why doesn’t matter.  The day has arrived.

Readers, how do you feel about aging?  Complete the phrase, “When I am an old woman I shall … ”  How do you feel about the stage of life you’re in?  Are you exhausted and wish for the next stage?  Are young children or teenagers (they are much the same thing, you know) wearing you out?  Are you eager for retirement or dreading it?


Posted in , ,



  • Jane says:

    Happy Birthday, Jo. Enjoy your special day. Most days I’m not worried about getting older, but there are moments where I dread it and wonder what will happen. I’m not sure how I would complete the phrase.

  • Helen says:

    Happy Birthday Jo I do hope it is filled with lots of fun and Love 🙂

    I am heading towards 60 and very much looking forward to retirement and my kids are all adults now and my beautiful grandchildren keep me busy and smiling as for the question

    “When I am an old woman I shall … ” keep doing all that my body will let me 🙂 and I am sure I will still be reading romance of course

    Have Fun

    • Jo Robertson says:

      That’s the trick, Helen. Here’s hoping the body keeps on going for many many years after your retirement so you can enjoy those lovely grandchildren.


    It is quite hard for me to fathom that you are 70…but my god…You’re 70 and you make it look easy and fashionable!

    I’m mid 50’s now. I’m lucky in that I still have my own mother around…and her wit and sense of humor is something I cherish. We talk several times a week and my hubby always knows it’s her, because I’m laughing and laughing.

    So, when I’m old, I hope I can laugh and chat with anyone and everyone who takes the time to call me.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      She doesn make it look SO good, doesn’t she? WTG, Jo! :>

      And Suz, I know you, you WILL be laughing and chatting and writing and reading and supporting romance when you’re 100

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks for the lovely compliment, Suzanne.

      Your happy personality will keep you young forever, Suz, and don’t they say that people who are optimistic live longer?

      We don’t have longevity on my side of the family, and turning 70 did make me look hard at my own mortality. My daughter’s 44 and has made me promise to stay with her for many many years.

      And her daughter Annie was so clever. She wrote in her letter to me, “Grammy, I can’t believe you’re 70!!!! You look like you’re 43!!!” Exclamation points courtesy of her, age 8.

      Hmm, I wonder how she picked that number, and loved that I’m apparently younger looking than her mother!

      Out of the mouths of babes . . .

  • Amy Conley says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! You don’t look 70, more like 50.

    As I’ve reached my 54th year the thing which wears me out now isn’t children or a job but my in-laws, my mother, and stepdad, 3 have reached their 8th decade and one just her 7th. But with age come other trials. My mother-in-law has breast cancer which has matisised to her bones and basically her entire body. So we take one day at a time. My hubby spends as much time as he can with her. His bday was last Sat and I picked out the card for her to give him, probably the last bday card he will ever get from her. This weekend tbey will celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary, more than likely the last they will celebrate together. So this is a year of celebrating all these “lasts” and making the most of them.

    • Hugs Amy –

      Just when we’ve raised our children and set them on their journey, our parents and in-laws need the same assistance – and it’s difficult. Both my husband and I have lost both of our parents so I know it’s a hard journey – especially as we know there’s a different sort of “graduation” at the end. So hugs and prayers winging your way.

      • Jo Robertson says:

        It’s harder to lose parents than we ever think it will be when we have them. My dearest friend just lost her parents within 3 months of one another. It was a terrifying journey for her; she’s only 50 with one sister and a niece, a very small family left.

    • Amy, I’m so sorry about your mother-in-law’s cancer. I admire you all for trying to make these probable last times as memorable as you can.

  • flchen1 says:

    Happy almost birthday, Jo!! And you’re looking so lovely–I never would have guessed 70! I hope to look so graciously 70 when I get there. As for me, when I’m old, I pray I’ll still have health and be able to dance and enjoy the company of family and friends 🙂 I’m enjoying the stage I’m in, although I admit that I’m already seeing some of the “hmm… stuff isn’t working like it used to!” kind of thing. We’re happily in the brief stage between young kids and teenagers (our oldest is technically a teen, but he’s been relatively easy thus far… we were similarly suckered when he was a baby 😉 )

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks for the compliment.

      LOL at the stuff not working like it’s supposed to, Fedora. And my stuff is like, well, drooping in all sorts of uncomfortable places.

      I have a friend who’s well into her 80’s and is part of a tap dancing troupe of elderly ladies. They give new meaning to the word “old,” though; they’re awesome.

      I hope you have many many years of dancing ahead of you.

  • Mary Preston says:

    Happy Birthday!!

    I am in my mid 50’s and I have to say life is good in every way. I don’t feel my age which is always a good thing.

    My Mother is 89 & still knitting & baking for the “old folks” up at the Nursing Home. That’s going to be me.

  • Laine says:

    Happy birthday, and may you have many more.
    I have 4 more years till 70. Since I retired I am busy reading all the books I didn’t have time for earlier. Of course, I’m also buying many more, way too many more, so it’s a never ending, hopeless battle to read them all. (Curse all blogs like this, that keep tempting me.)
    As I’ve got older I’ve given up caring what anyone thinks of my reading choices. I’m a proud ARRA member.

  • Anna Sugden says:

    Happy birthday, Jo! I can’t believe you’re 70! You look and act like you’re still 50!

    I had a brief moment of sober thought when I turned 50 last year, that I’d lived half of my life (assuming the next 50 were going to happen!). But then I celebrated a life that had been well-lived so far and that I planned to continue to enjoy :).

    I’m lucky enough to have a lovely father-in-law, who at almost 92 is a poster boy for how to embrace life. He still cooks and cleans for himself and he uses an iPad! He’s always looking forward and is positive about each day. His son is just the same. 🙂 Add a gorgeous new grandson into the mix and I try to enjoy life to the full! Sure, stuff isn’t working like it used to, but equally, I find myself less stressed by the stupidities of life too.

    So, when I am an old woman, I will defy the term ‘old’ and rock whatever age I am! 🙂

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Yay, you, Anna!!! I am in awe of your father-in-law, and not just for reaching the age of 92 and being so independent, but for embracing the 21st century like so many older folks fail to do. I wish I had his verve!

      And how lucky that your husband is like him! You have many decades of pleasure ahead of you, my friend.

  • Shannon says:

    Since I’ve turned 50, I have had a number of medical issues, making me very aware that age is advancing. It’s not near the end, but there’s days when I think how long, how will this progress? My older friends are beginning to fail, and I know they will be gone when I am still here. Other friends, closer to my age, have just been diagnosed with cancer. I’m buying get well cards for them, wondering if the greeting is a hollow one.

    Complete the phrase, “When I am an old woman I shall … ” look for the joy in any given day and seek to live in harmony with the melody of life.

    As for retirement, I’m looking at 10 more years. I worry about money, I think about where (Oregon, North Carolina, Florida, Texas?), and am not certain I could remain sane without the challenges of work, both people and tasks. I want more time to do “me” stuff, but I genuinely like what I do. So say I before the senior review staff get a hold of my article; it could publish on Monday if it gets through the process. Such highlights making working feel good.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      It’s amazing how the gesture of sending a simple card cheers up a person, even if the prognosis is bleak.

      I remember my then 12 yo Tyler cutting off the tips of two fingers on his left hand (and he’s left-handed) and his getting a bunch of letters and cards the kids in 6th grade wrote him. We were lying on my bed, watching tv and he started reading them and tearing up. “You know, mom,” he said, “we always write these in class, but a guy never knows how important they are.”

      I was smiling at his insight and his referring to himself as a “guy.”

  • Susan Sey says:

    Happy birthday, Jo! You make 70 look good–energetic & vibrant & exciting! I hope I’m half as energetic when I get there. Right now I’m just into my 40s, which is exactly the point at which aging starts to assert itself as a fact. My skin, my energy, my ability to bounce back from [fill in the blank–injury, illness, even just a sleepless night] is definitely not what it used to be.

    That said, however, I have little kids & a full life & I’m grateful for all of it. I just wish I still had a 35 year old body. 🙂

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I loved my 40’s, Susan, probably because I returned to a career I adored and got energized by it. And I had a husband who picked up the slack at home — and he still does!!

  • Patty L. says:

    Happy Birthday! Let me start by saying you look amazing.

  • Happy Birthday Jo !!!!!

    I think age is determined less by a number of years and more by one’s mental and physical health.

    LOL – I took one of those “what age are you mentally” tests that were floating around facebook and it said mentally – I was 16. 🙂 I’m certain that meant attitutude and not actual mental abilities because it probably took me a lot longer just to read the fine print than a 16 year old. 🙂

    As long as my health is good (knock on wood) I’m looking forward to future years. I hesitate to say retirement because I’m not sure writers ever retire, do they? Do the stories and characters stop talking to you when no one else is around? I hope not 🙂 But when the dh retires, I’m hoping we can travel while we can tolerate the long flights. That’s my plan at least.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Snork! Love it Donna! You 16 year old you!

      My DH thinks I have the mental boundaries and appetite (for both mayhem and food) of a 13 year old boy, so….yeah. SNORK!!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      That kills me, Donna!! You’ve the mental attitude of a 16 yo! Go, you!!

      I would be very sad if I weren’t able to write well into my 70’s and possibly 80’s. I do notice that at times words escape me and I have to pause until they come back, but I’m hoping that writing keeps my mind alert and lively.

      Just think all those trips could be deductible if you write a story around the place! Duh, look who I’m saying that to, Miz Tax Lady!

  • Mozette says:

    Happy Birthday!

    Age is relative… I mean, it’s all in how you feel, not how you look. My late-Grandma used to watch the Australian Open Tennis at 3am just to see her favourite player ‘wiggle his butt around the court’… 😛
    And she was nearing 80 years old. And when she told me this, she’d often have a wicked little twinkle in her eye. 😉

    And even though I’m old in the eyes of most teenagers, my niece – who’s 14 – thinks I’m cool. She goes to an arts academy and I’m forever sending her stuff through the mail. 😀

    And I’m always doing stuff I never thought I’d do… like ignoring the housework and getting in and learning a new skill in the garden. It’s always fun to learn new things.

    So, it’s just relative… age that is. No matter how old you are, you have to realise it’s how you feel that makes you act the way you do. 😀

  • flchen1 says:

    And happy belated birthday, Jo!!

  • Cassondra says:

    Jo, that is one of my favorite poems ever! And happy birthday (late though it is).
    When I am and old woman, I shall do whatever the heck I want. I have observed that when you get to a certain age, you can get away with stuff.

    It’s a shame we can’t get away with that same stuff at age 30. I think the world would be better off if we could.

    Perhaps we COULD get away with it if we were not so concerned with what other people think. Hmmm..

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Cassondra. We spend so much of our time worrying about what other people think. It’s a fruitless occupation. When we age, we just don’t have the time or energy to worry about those frivolities.

  • Sandy Blair says:

    Hi Jo.
    Great blog. I wish now that I’d taken the time to better appreciate my youth. Today I would tell my younger self, “Be confident and brave. Take a risk or two. You can do it! And for God’s–and your–sake stop looking in the mirror and finding fault.” 🙂

    • Jo Robertson says:

      So true, Sandy. Youth are very hard on themselves. When I was teaching I often found that the most beautiful, popular, and amazing young girls were critical of themselves.

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY JO!!! I’m so glad to know you. As several people have said you do whatever you do – wrting, mothering, birthdays – with style and panache, so you’re my way-shower and role model! You GO, girlfriend! Grins.

    I’m appreciating being the age I am and loving who I am at this age. LEtting go of the “Shoulds” is a great thing at any age. Grins.

    As to When I Am Old I Shall…scandalize my children. SNORK!! I’ve warned them already that I’m not going to stop being outrageously me just so they can be comfortable. They’re pretty used to it by now. Bwahahahah!!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I imagine your boys will take all your outlandish behavior in stride and probably even be very proud of you. You’re such a wonderful “boy” mom. I know boys are hard to raise (rear) and I’m in awe of your connections with them.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Thanks, Amy, of course those pictures are 6-7 years old and I”m 15 pounds heavier LOL.

    Talk about young-looking. My goodness, you look like you’re 25!!! Good genes, huh?

    I’m so sorry for the ill health of your parents and in-laws. It’s very hard to be the sandwich generation: taking care of elderly parents, but still worried about your own children, whether they’re married or still in school.

  • Happy Belated Birthday, Jo ! Good Lord, you don’t look a day over 50 ! You wear those 70 years well, my dear !!

    I am 55 and there are days I feel not a day over 30 and days I feel not a day less than 80. But I suppose we all have those days.

    When I reached 50 I decided there were some things I was going to stop doing.

    I stopped worrying about what people think of me.

    I stopped worrying about doing the “sensible” thing all the time. I live paycheck to paycheck, but once a year I splurge and spend money I have scraped together and sometimes money I don’t have on the RWA National Conference. I enjoy every minute of it. It revitalizes me and keeps me in this writing gig. And I will not apologize for it.

    I will not pull any punches or kiss anyone’s behind to get ahead in a job I am doing just to pay the bills.

    I will stop punishing myself for past mistakes and I will stop dwelling on people for past hurts. I’ve paid for my mistakes and nothing is going to change what people have done to hurt or disappoint me. I refuse to devote any more time or brain power to either.

    Every now and again I am going to buy something completely frivolous just because I want it. Not often. But at least once a year.

    Except for my work clothes, I am going to wear what I want when I want and if people don’t like it – DON’T LOOK !! (Fortunately I am not an exhibitionist, nor do I dress in clothes best suited to someone with a younger and slimmer body!)

    The one thing I am looking forward to is being able to walk out of Walmart for the last time as an employee. And I sincerely hope it is BEFORE I reach retirement age!

    I know there are people who LOVE their jobs. Frankly, after all of these years working in non-creative jobs I have to say – Working for other people is OVERRATED !!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      What a lovely and wise list, Louisa. I especially like this:

      I will stop punishing myself for past mistakes and I will stop dwelling on people for past hurts. I’ve paid for my mistakes and nothing is going to change what people have done to hurt or disappoint me. I refuse to devote any more time or brain power to either.

      I think we tend to beat ourselves up over past actions, received or given. Like the song says, “Let it go!”

  • Jo, congratulations and happy belated!

    Growing older is fine with me, as it certainly beats the alternative. As my hair goes gray, however, more and more wait staff and store clerks seem to feel they should call me “honey.”

    And that would be a big, fat, emphatic NO.

    If you want my money, I am “ma’am.” It is a term of respect, not a term of decrepitude, and I don’t know how it came to have the latter connotation. People say “ma’am” to women they respect and “honey” to those to whom they condescend. Give me “ma’am” any day.

    Okay, stepping off the soapbox now. Maybe I should get a t-shirt.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      OMG, Nancy, you are the only person I have ever hear complain about this. It drives me crazy when someone who barely knows me (or not at all) calls me honey or dearie or some other disparaging term. My daughters say they mean well, but it just feels so, so wrong!

      I mean honey is what my husband calls me!

  • catslady says:

    I remember getting into a discussion with someone at work many years ago. I was in my 20’s and he must have been in his late 40’s. I had been married since 18 and made the comment that middle age was 30 and old age was 60. My goodness he had a fit. He said I would change my mind when I was older but I haven’t lol. I’m 63 and I am old because of all those things you said start happening. But there’s always that quote about it beats the alternative lol. It’s one of those things you can’t do anything about so why not embrace it. I had my children late and unfortunately my two girls seem to be following my path so my only regret is that I still don’t have grandchildren (but I never complain since they need to make their own decisions).

    Happy belated birthday!!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I love your attitude of embracing old age, Becke!

      And if a life expectancy is 80 for a woman and 76 for a man, middle age has got to be 40 and 38, if I’m doing the math right!

  • Becke says:

    Happy Day, Jo!

    Aging- My mother says, “It’s not for wussies.”

    I’m okay with the number as long as I can do what I want to do. I feel bad for those who can’t move as they wish.

    “When I am an old woman I shall have control over how I fill my day.

    How do you feel about the stage of life you’re in? It’s a little worrisome realizing that we have finite days/hours/minutes to live. Although it’s always been that way, as we age it’s in your face!

    Are you exhausted and wish for the next stage? No, I still have lots of energy. However, not as much as before.

    Are young children or teenagers (they are much the same thing, you know) wearing you out? Wear out my coping skills more at a higher rate than my physical ability.

    Are you eager for retirement or dreading it?
    I’m eager, but also worried. Retirement is the final stage. I don’t want to hasten to it, but would love the freedom.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Retirement is a wonderful phase of life, especially if you have causes you’re eager to engage in and you’ve planned financially for it.

      I’d ad that (at least for me) the smartest thing I did was have my husband retire two years before me, so that he’d established a routine and we weren’t under each others’ feet. It worked beautifully for us, but I think I got the better deal!