The 19th Century Gets Old

So, I’m nearly 37. Which…isn’t quite true. I’ve seen 37. They were my teachers and my friend’s moms. Even some of the women I know right now are a proper 37, with large grown up homes, ordered finances and…I don’t know. Whatever 37 year olds like. Wine?

So, lean into the fear, or it can’t ever pass. I am going to die. But before that I’m going to get old. My reward for not dying young will be the slow unraveling of my body and mind, and the slow loss of all that I’ve built. Loving marriage, my children, career, it will all go away and I hate that so much.

I’m not…I haven’t figured this out yet. But as I often do, I turned to the 19th century to help me. Didn’t really help but it was fun looking.

Got any answers? Don’t say God. I already know that one.


Stupeni chelovecheskago veka.

I like this one, even though ( or especially because) it’s not in English. Russian, 1867, “The Steps of Life.” I’ve seen these before; they were popular into the early 20th century especially as a way to show what would happen if you made bad choices. There seems to be no judgement in this story. I love how the peak of his life ends when becomes aware of death. 

As the Shadows, Life Cartoons

Stumbling on this was the one that got me down this track today. I think I’m afraid of being old. One day I’ll be alone. My kids will get their own lives, Gus will die. This picture, I know it’s sappy, but so sweet. Comforting, too. That if you pack your life with sweet living the memories will warm you no matter how alone you are.


Fig. 26 : The median forehead wrinkles produced by the contraction of m. corrugator supercilii, in a 52-year-old woman, shown also in Fig. 11, whose skin is thin and burned by the wind and sun.

“Fig. 26 : The median forehead wrinkles produced by the contraction of m. corrugator supercilii, in a 52-year-oldwoman, shown also in Fig. 11, whose skin is thin and burned by the wind and sun.” – 1876.  Man. It’s that expression that breaks my heart. “I am old and I am done. I never thought I’d be old.”

The old woman and the empty cask.

Aesop. I take much the same message from this as from the old lady by the fire with her memories. One day you will only have the dregs of your life. May they be delicious.

"He began to bark, so she began to cry, / 'Lauk a mercy on me, this can't be I.'"

This is part of an obscure nursery rhyme when an old woman falls asleep by the road and “a pedlar named Stout” comes and cuts off her skirts at the knees. She wakes up freezing and disorientated. And she keeps saying, “This can’t be me!” She goes home hoping that if she is indeed herself her little dog will recognize her, but instead he barks at her. So she is lost. She lost herself. I feel echoes of senility, Alzheimer’s, even just waking up one day with none of the life left that you’d built for 70 years.

4 thoughts on “The 19th Century Gets Old

  1. When I was a teen, I read columns by Sydney J. Harris in Chicago newspapers. In one column he said something like, “Furnish your mind well, for that is where you will live increasingly as you get older.” To me that meant I should grab for the gusto and stuff my eyes with wonder, like Ray Bradbury says. So that’s what I did and do and intend to keep doing until I can’t any more, at which point I’ll have a nice, cozy mind to live in. Maybe I’ll move into it next year or maybe I’ll still be grabbing and stuffing thirty years down the road. Regardless, in the 40 years I’ve lived since I read Harris, I’ve learned that, for me, worrying about tomorrow doesn’t make it any better but it does make today worse. So I try to enjoy today, and I hope I’ll enjoy tomorrow. I hope the same for you. Hugs.


    • That’s so beautifully put. “A cozy mind to live in.” I wish…there was some way to ask a very aged person if this works. Without insinuating that they are near death and have nothing external in their lives.


      • My grandma pumped water from a well and fried doughnuts and sewed quilts at her little country house until she died at age 92. She had visitors all the time. My mom is 82, and she’s the life of every party, class, or gathering she attends. She still drives her husband all over the country on long car trips. The two of them conduct weekly song services for “old folks” at a retirement home. Physical health is/was important for both women, but it’s attitude that keeps/kept them from going gentle into that good night. People like this do as much as they physically can do but don’t let tomorrow’s night pre-empt any of today’s light. Their approach to living makes their age kind of irrelevant. Cultivate your laugh lines, T., they show who you want to be, who you are. 🙂


  2. Or maybe none of that bad stuff will happen. Your kids will still be around, your husband could outlive you, Your mind will stay sharp as a teasel until the day you die, and your thoughts and memories will amuse you endlessly. After all, if a red vintage chair can be stuffed into the front seat of a Toyota, anything is possible, right?

    Sure hope you, the chair and the bungee cord made it home okay!


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