Enjoying the chill in the air and dreaming up designs in velvet and wool.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beautiful Age

My great-grandmother Jean Olive passed away in 2002. She was one hundred and two years old, and had battled cancer (skin and colon) for decades. Even with a body so ravaged, she had a humorous glint in her eyes and was tall and beautiful. I remember asking her a couple of years before she died if she felt as though she were the whole world's big sister - older than almost everyone, still in possession of a very good mind and pretty good senses - and she just laughed at my question. "No," she answered, "But I really am enjoying seeing my great-grandchildren as adults. Not everyone gets to see that."

The dress, before I began dismantling it. A strong breath could reduce sections
of it to powder, but the lace border is still quite strong.

I've been cutting up and framing pieces of an ancient wedding gown that was given to me, and from what I can deduce, it was likely made before my great-grandmother was born. I keep wondering about the woman - or women - who wore it, and what their lives were before and after the day that they lived in this gown.

Lovely stuff. It's heavy and rich still.

Thinking about age and use and what it does to beauty - how it can deepen it even as it erases it - always reminds me of one little moment in the middle of Orwell's 1984.

Julia had come across to his side; together they gazed down with a sort of fascination at the sturdy figure below. As he looked at the woman in her characteristic attitude, her thick arms reaching up for the line, her powerful mare-like buttocks protruded, it struck him for the first time that she was beautiful. It had never before occurred to him that the body of a woman of fifty, blown up to monstrous dimensions by childbearing, then hardened, roughened by work till it was coarse in the grain like an over-ripe turnip, could be beautiful. But it was so, and after all, he thought, why not? The solid, contourless body, like a block of granite, and the rasping red skin, bore the same relation to the body of a girl as the rose-hip to the rose. Why should the fruit be held inferior to the flower?

'She's beautiful,' he murmured.

'She's a metre across the hips, easily,' said Julia.

'That is her style of beauty,' said Winston.

He held Julia's supple waist easily encircled by his arm. From the hip to the knee her flank was against his. Out of their bodies no child would ever come. That was the one thing they could never do. Only by word of mouth, from mind to mind, could they pass on the secret. The woman down there had no mind, she had only strong arms, a warm heart, and a fertile belly. He wondered how many children she had given birth to. It might easily be fifteen. She had had her momentary flowering, a year, perhaps, of wild-rose beauty and then she had suddenly swollen like a fertilized fruit and grown hard and red and coarse, and then her life had been laundering, scrubbing, darning, cooking, sweeping, polishing, mending, scrubbing, laundering, first for children, then for grandchildren, over thirty unbroken years. At the end of it she was still singing. 

I have nothing more to add to that, only, that at the end of whatever I am used for in this life, I want to be still singing.


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