Autumn-Spring Friendships, or In Praise of Women Aged 60+

I have always enjoyed befriending and talking to older ladies (older gentlemen too, although the relationship was occasionally tinged by complicated dynamics and disappointments). I suppose this comes from the excellent (although in one case far too brief) relationship I had with my grandmothers and my father’s eldest sister (from a big family, with my father being the youngest child, so she was more like a second mother to him). It’s easy to say that I had a better relationship with them than with my own mother (perhaps because I only saw them once or twice a year) as I was growing up, but they always felt much less conventional, with a more modern outlook than my mother.

I could not get enough of hearing the stories of women of their generation – their lives spanned most of the 20th century, so they experienced so many political, social, economic and technological changes. I felt I wanted to preserve and honour their memories, but they were also funny, wise and reassuring, providing me with so much food for thought and guidance on my own life. Perhaps this is what drove me towards studying social anthropology!

I like to think that the ladies in question also got something out of their friendship with me, that they occasionally caught a glimpse of the genuine love, interest and desire to amuse them lurking beyond my gauche manners and ignorant remarks. Of course, the downside of such friendships is that they are sadly all too brief, and that they leave you with a sense of regret that you didn’t listen more, meet more frequently, appreciate them more at the time.

Here is a small tribute to the very special ladies that lit up my life:

  1. In November/December 1983 I was in hospital with a very nearly ruptured appendix. I was underweight for my height and was given too much anaesthetic when they operated on me, so that complicated matters a little and I ended up having to spend roughly a week in hospital. During that time there were two other ladies on my ward, and we became a fun-loving trio, getting so rowdy with laughter at times, that the nurses would come in and shush us, for fear we might tear our stitches.

Margareta Steriade – poet and painter, born in 1897, she studied in Paris, as was fashionable at the time, and had her first public exhibitions in 1929. She was ver much involved in the artistic circles of the 1930s and, being of Jewish origin like Mihail Sebastian, became a great friend of his and designed the cover of his hugely controversial novel For Two Thousand Years (made even more controversial because he chose to publish it with the virulent anti-semitic preface signed by his hitherto mentor Nae Ionescu – an early example of naming and shaming with their own words). She was the one who told me about Lilith being Adam’s first wife, thereby introducing me both to feminism and to questioning of myths and traditions. I was very unhappy with my looks at the time, felt my nose was too ‘fat’, that I was too tall and gangly, but she made me feel beautiful, said I had the perfect oval face and asked me to model for her.

Mrs Angheliade – I don’t think I ever knew her first name, I just felt it was disrespectful to call her anything less than ‘Doamna’ (Mrs). She was a couple of years older than Mrs Steriade. Her husband was descended from a Greek family and was a highly regarded lawyer or judge in the 1930-40s. After the Communists came to power following the 1947 elections in Romania, her husband was perceived as a hated remnant of the old regime and was sent to a labour camp. She had been a lawyer herself, but was not allowed to practice in her profession after her husband’s arrest. Their home was nationalised, and for a while she had to do manual work on the factory assembly line, and was severely criticised at every weekly workers’ meeting because of her background. She was quite open in telling us about all this, as if she was past caring about what any Securitate might do to her.

2. Betty – this was my landlady when I moved to London and lived in Golders Green for the first year of my Ph.D. I’ve written about her before, how full of life, film knowledge and romantic notions she was. A big child with a booming laugh. I still miss her so much!

3. I met several inspiring ladies at the Geneva Writers Group in 2012 (by which point, I could no longer be described as Spring, by any stretch of the imagination, but these ladies were still way ahead of me in terms of lived experience and wisdom). Many of them were outstanding writers, and I always enjoyed listening to them share their work. Ginny, Sally, Kathy, Susan and Karen in particular stand out. Ginny was funny, lively, always one of the ringleaders when it came to organising Christmas parties, and her little dog was almost as much loved as she was. Sally was what I imagined Barbara Pym to have been: quiet, with a very English reserve at first glance, but a wicked sense of humour and a very observant eye. Kathy was such a true international that for a long time I thought she was from an entirely different country – she was so warm and caring that I’d have liked her to have been my mother. Susan Tiberghien I have talked about before (and reviewed): she was the founder of the Geneva Writers’ Group, a woman with formidable energy and generosity of spirit. And Karen was my wonderful mentor, artist, poet, in whose house in Provence I found so much creativity even at a very low point in my life.

Incidentally, I am only using the past tense because, sadly, my stay in Geneva ended five years ago. The ladies themselves are still delightful and active, and wonderful friends (even if I haven’t been great at keeping in touch).

4. Nordic walking group – As I get older, so the age gap between me and my older friends gets smaller. Nevertheless, I am the youngest of my Nordic walking group, even if some of them are only 10 years older than me. They have grown-up children, have been through all the worries engulfing me now, and have an endless reserve of anecdotes and good humour. They are also much fitter than me on the whole, it has to be said – so excellent role models on how to keep active and social in the years ahead.

Not a picture of my walking group, photo courtesy of another local group Pipsticks Nordic Walking.

11 thoughts on “Autumn-Spring Friendships, or In Praise of Women Aged 60+”

  1. Lovely post Marina Sofia. I too always enjoyed the friendship of older women when I was younger. They’re no longer around and I do miss them, but have great memories of their wit and wisdom!

  2. Such a lovely post and how lucky you were to have such interesting women in your life when you were younger. I’m sure they would have been touched and delighted had they been able to read this.

  3. Like Bea, I’m one of your older readers, and I too love this post and its appreciation of older women. Mind you, it’s a lot to live up to!

  4. This is such a touching piece, Marina, full of warmth and admiration for these special woman in your life. The friendships you made while in hospital are particularly lovely, thanks so much for writing about this. X

  5. Oh, I love this. I’ve always really enjoyed being friends with women who have more life experience than I do, and hope to be as cool and supportive as they are when I reach that stage in my own life.

  6. I love this post – one of my good friends from church is in her late sixties (I am in my early thirties), and I value my relationship with her very much. We’ve been friends for about ten years now and it feels like the age gap is slowly shrinking, or becoming less significant at least, as I get older. When I was a teenager, I also used to work at a gym mostly frequented by women in their seventies and eighties, and I absolutely loved spending time with them and hearing about their experiences – I wish I’d valued it more at the time!

  7. Thank you, for sharing this Marina Sofia. I’ve had some wonderful relationships with older women, too. I was really privileged to get to know my husband’s grandmother and his great-aunt – both very special women who added much to my life. I’ve enjoyed the company of other older women, too, and always learned a lot from them. Your post made me smile.

  8. Such a lovely post, Marina. I have known a number of inspirational older women in my life from my teens onward, so this really resonated. And I have to say that I am glad you consider women 60+ to be in autumn only, and not winter….

  9. What a lovely post. It’s made me stop and think about some older women friends and mentors. I moved into autumn last year in lockdown and hope I have a way to go before reaching winter.

  10. Wonderful post, and a reader can feel the emotions and respect you feel for these women. I have known some brilliant and wise and fun older women. My mother’s family members lived long lives. My grandmother was a fierce woman and activist who got things done. My aunt was a professional dancer, then teacher, who knew writers, poets, artists, and was a generous, fun person. Another older woman whom I considered to be a role model, full of so much wisdom and intelligence, and who was so supportive, is remembered by me often.
    Now I’m an “older” woman and listen to younger people and am always learning from them.

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