A Word for the Modern Old Lady

Although the Contributor who laments the passing of the Old Lady says many things which cannot be denied, — and says them in a most charming and convincing manner, — yet there is another side to this as to other questions. The gentle and sweet-faced old lady, with her knitting, was a picturesque and pleasing figure and satisfied the sense of fitness which demands that the lines be sharply drawn between the different ages of women. We all know the types — sunny childhood, sweet maidenhood, fair matronhood, and serene old age. But was old age always serene ? Was contentment put on with the cap and amiability acquired with the knitting-needles ? Was “the large leisure of quiet homestaying” always conducive to the happiness of the home circle ?

The old lady of the past was not expected to have any personal interests stronger than interest in the younger generations. She was expected to live much in the past — and it is true enough that as we grow older our thoughts do revert to earlier days, and perhaps with as much pain as pleasure; she was expected to be always ready to lend a sympathetic ear to other people’s plans for the future; she was expected to be cheerfully philosophical, and always “serene.” Well, thank Heaven, there were and are such old ladies — enough of them to fix the type; and they will continue to exist as long as there are cheerful, unselfish, and sympathetic women who live to grow old. But there were also restless old ladies, critical and carping old ladies, interfering old ladies, — old ladies who cultivated in their daughters and daughters-in-law those graces of forbearance and unselfishness in which they were themselves so conspicuously lacking. Such old women also continue to exist, of course, but it seems to me to be one of the great blessings of modern life that in retaining their physical vigor longer than of old, women also retain their independence and cultivate their own pursuits. I am not fonder than other people of seeing an old woman with her cheeks and her hat covered with artificial roses, and I readily admit that an active old woman with a fad and a figure (the Contributor seems to object to her erectness and especially to resent her occasional slenderness) is less picturesque than the capped and kerchiefed ornament of the domestic fireside, but it is my impression that she is far happier. She has her own affairs to occupy her mind and is not on that account less sympathetic or wise or philosophical — or any less prepared for her final departure from this earthly stage.

I think, dear Contributor, that if you want the old lady of the past back again you must see to it that the old lady of the present has less vitality. Make a houseplant of the young girl, dispense with modern ideas of hygiene, and you may get back your old lady of the fireside. I don’t myself believe that the unlovely “presentday young woman of seventy-five” is any more frequent than was the unlovely old woman of a past generation, only she is more in evidence. Families very properly covered up their skeletons and presented a. united front to the world, with the decorously becapped and bespectacled grandmother duly occupying the middle foreground, whereas the frisky old woman of the present day will not pose in any such fashion.

As for the accusation that our boys and girls are increasingly disrespectful to their elders, I think, on the contrary, that our young people’s manners are very much on the mend. In my own younger days we were brought up to be respectful and obedient, yet compared with the punctilious deference with which I am treated by my children’s friends, our manners seem to have been lacking in fine finish, even though they were not to be called free and easy. True, this pretty courtesy may be more or less a fashion, yet even where it is only on the surface it is likely to work in, just as in the case of a young woman who, in a time of trouble and disappointment, said to me, “After all, by dint of appearing cheerful I have got so that I really am cheerful.” For my own part, it seems to me that our boys and girls are in a very hopeful way, even though their grandmothers do not look as old as by good rights they should, and dress in a fashion too youthful even for their looks. It is not given to us all to have taste in dress, and a uniform is not without its advantages. The question is, will the grandmothers ever consent to resume the uniform ?