Old & Smart by Betty Nickerson: Women and The Adventure of Aging. I bought it twenty years ago in a library book sale. I read it immediately and appreciated it… but I was only in my 40s then.
It’s still applicable
I pulled the book out of my bookshelf again recently and I’m blown away by how applicable it still is. Part of me finds that depressing as it was written in the 90s when Betty was in her early 70s. It’s dedicated to her “age mates” – I love that reference now that I’m older and seek out and really enjoy the company of my “age mates”.
“Assuming you are a woman who has seen fifty to eighty summers and looked upon the full moon eight hundred times or more, the broad events of your life will be similar to mine.” (Oh, how I wish I could be that poetic!) “We have lived in dramatic times. During our lives, the world has undergone the most extensive changes of any period in history. We have witnessed extraordinary transformation at every level.”
See what I mean about today’s application? And that’s just the Preface.
A combination of history, wit, wisdom…
Betty combines history, wit, wisdom, frustration, fact, in a captivating and entertaining narrative. As I started into Chapter 1, I thought I should go get my highlighter there were so many quotable passages. As I proceeded, I realized I would be highlighting 80% of the book.
From politics to media to men – she doesn’t hold back. The good news is she doesn’t bitch about women’s ‘lot’, she outlines fact and emphasizes the lack of recognition, or the belittling, of the work women do and the value it has and the strength it takes. She does also discuss how women have often bought into the stories they have heard about the lack of value their lives offer and the trivializing of the amount of work it takes to create the environments that allow everyone else to excel.
One of my favourite passages is this: “Without women’s labors, settlements do not come into being. The presence of women allows roots to grow, gives permanence to communities. The whole of North America might still be filled with rowdy trappers living it up in trading posts had we not come to share the work of nation-building.”
And its followed by this: “If the real work of women is generally ignored in history, the role of older women is nowhere to be found. And we probably won’t exist as long as we permit our grandchildren to be taught from the chronicles of conquest currently accepted as history.”
Feisty? who me?
I realize I seem to be quoting the feistier parts of the book… but I got feisty as I read chapter after chapter and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article I found myself depressed, despairing that here we are, almost 30 years later, and I’m not sure we women have come that far.
As I pondered the writing of this article, I decided that we have come somewhere! I decided that the “Me too” movement and the movements by other women in other parts of the world doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed, these women are continuing to blow the lid off injustices and suppression in the same way The Suffragettes did, the way Huda Shaarawi did, the way Eleanor Roosevelt did, the way The Butterflies did, the way Rosa Parks did.
I’m not finished Betty Nickerson’s Old & Smart yet, but it is my nightly read and, while I may definitely be Older by the time I finish it (I end up reading something interesting and doing some research on it), I will also, definitely, be Smarter!
Your turn: who is an amazing woman in your life? Or have you read a great book about women? Share either or both in the Comments!
Wow! I have to appreciate my husband all the more. He respects me and the partnership we’ve forged over the decades. He sees the value in differences between traditional spousal roles.
Many men “get it” these days, Darla, and they should be acknowledged and, historically, there certainly have been men who treated women as equals whether they were homemakers or rule-breakers. I’ll be happy when homemakers are lauded as much as the warriors (perhaps even more) and the brilliant minds among us.
Agnes, You remind me how fun it is to reread a book later on in life from a different perspective. This post also says a great deal about you and your wisdom and maturity in your 40s. I am getting goosebumps reading how it is still very applicable today. My sort of opinion of the moment on a complicated topic: I think women have always made a huge difference moving society forward and influencing the world with possibly less pomp and circumstance. There are many issues we still need to address and change. Definitely a fascinating book and a thought-provoking… Read more »
I agree 100%, Erica. I really feel though that we need to acknowledge the contribution of women over the centuries so our children and grandchildren accept it as the norm, and young women never need to feel they are stepping into uncharted territory by being strong and smart.
Thanks for stopping by!!
I think women of our age have been overlooked and under-valued since forever, but hopefully we’re slowly claiming some of that back. I love this Midlife blogging community which is full of interesting and engaging women who are 50+ and just coming into their best years. That’s why I chose Symphony as my WOTY – because it’s all starting to come together now and that’s something to be proud of. Staying relevant, speaking into our children and grandchildren’s lives and not being silent and fading into the background is definitely the key to becoming respected wise women. Thanks for linking… Read more »
Leanne, I was struck in reading the book how I hadn’t realized that so much of History is about conquests and warring. I have a quiz app on my tablet about famous women and brilliant, impactful women go back centuries… and that’s just what’s on the record. I don’t understand why women are so neglected in the mainstream history books. We will change that!