“I want to be the princess” It could have been the protest of an 8-year-old girl but it was the heartfelt lament from an octogenarian.
We were both attending a workshop on “Dreams and the map of the soul”. Our tutor was explaining Jung’s collective unconscious and the role of archetypes and how at different times in our lives we align ourselves to different ones. Maureen spoke about the unwelcome changes that go with old age. She said her spirit is still that of the foxy young woman, the seductress though this is not what her physical body projects as her mobility, skin and hair are effected. Our tutor suggested she leave the princess behind and connect to the duchess within.
It got me thinking of the extremities of age and how it becomes a cycle for some. My own grandmother got to be the princess again but not on her terms. Ravaged by Alzheimer’s and a stroke she was bed-bound for many years. Roles reversed as her daughter had to feed, wash and dress her. Her bedroom was white and pink with powder puffs and cotton wool balls sat on the window sill. She wore crocheted booties and had soft blankets in pastel shades tucked around her lap. My mother dressed her in pretty bed jackets as she propped her up with pillows or lifted her on to her throne – an armchair from a suite downstairs.
And then I thought of Odette. A Portuguese lady who sat at our table at a wedding this summer. She was known well by the other guests in our grouping – compatriots like Odette who had come to London from Madeira in the fifties. An attractive lady impeccably groomed, I could picture her as a stunning beauty back in that day. Listening to the other diners talk about those times you could tell she was a little crazy too. She still is. She was definitely the “something blue” at the wedding. The jokes she told had the table howling. Innuendos and double entendres that left the men blushing.
Though she spoke good English she recited many of her stories in Portuguese. She’d gesture to a younger friend to translate for us. Sometimes all we’d get was a head shake and tut-tuting as the translator refused to collaborate.
When desert was served she fashioned the sweets on her plate in to a phallic sculpture and then relished tucking in.
She justified her obsession by telling us that it had been 7 years since she had seen a penis. They laughed and told her she was depraved. I saw someone who felt deprived. I heard her regret and resignation. Her surrender. She said on that night she didn’t know it would be her last time. Later she called me aside and opening the clasp on her handbag she took out two crisp £10 notes “for your children”. When I protested she told me she was dying and she’d prefer the money to go on the living. Indignantly she said she had no intention of paying for her own funeral.
Last night I spoke on the phone with my aunt. She sends me magazine clippings on the latest diets or how to combat age spots (rub with the paste of dried orange peel). She attends the gym 3 times a week and takes a Pilate class on two of those visits. She’s 80.
When I asked after her health she said how could she complain with the graveyard in her village filling up with friends.
We are in to November now and it’s coming up to another birthday for me.