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Women of an Age: Pulpwood Queens, Military Wives, and Chin Whiskers

By: Suzanne Hudson

My husband and I shared a very tender marital moment last week at the drive-through of the Citizen’s Bank in Fairhope, Alabama. He reached out to touch my face, as if to offer a sentimental stroke, mayhaps a romantical declaration, then murmured, “Can I pull that?”

“Pull what?”

“This,” he said, tugging at one of those nearly-invisible gray whiskers that sprout like the scattered teeth of Kadmos along my chin line. That man has my back at all times--and my face, feet and fanny. But, unfortunately, he doesn’t have the fingernails needed, along with the 20/20 vision it takes, to extricate one of those wily, witchy follicles. So it was left to me to squint and tweeze when I got home. Which is quite a trick, because, in order to actually see the hair to pluck it, you have to get your husband to pull on it, causing the skin to point outward, revealing the whisker’s whereabouts, and THEN commence plucking.

And I think it’s hilarious.

Ah, women of an age . . . I’m loving laughing these days at the same things my pre-adolescent buddies and I used to laugh at, back in the day, when we considered the elderly. Old people. When my friend Martha and I would visit the nursing home to earn scouting points, we’d be sweet as pecan pie to the faces of the shriveled, the bent-over, the hard-of-hearing--and laugh our butts off later, about anything from goozles and waddles to dentures and diapers to yellowing toenails. In the hallway at school, if one of us uttered, as we passed, “Aspercreme!” we would both double over at our witty take on the ailing ancients. We didn’t think of it as cruelty, and we certainly never treated them with disrespect--in person. Hell, we were stupid kids, body-obsessed, self consciously ripening young ladies who would NEVER be old.

And now I’ve become something of a grand dame, which I declare only because it sounds elegant. When my mother passes I’ll be a dadgum matriarch. Hmm. Matriarch. Now that’s beyond elegant, something like familial royalty . . .

Speaking of royalty, over the last few days we’ve had some other women of an age together on The Branch. Kathy L. Murphy, she of Beauty and the Book (a bookstore/beauty salon) fame, of Pulpwood Queen renown, resplendent in flowing garments of her design and bearing her art work, with pink hair wrapped in a multicolored, elaborately-knotted scarf (knot-worthy of an Eagle Scout), barnstorming Fairhope with her memoir, The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life. And, at the other end of the spectrum, she was joined by Bev Marshall, Lt. Col. (retired) Butch Marshall’s wife, such the proper lady, with the demeanor and bearing acquired over decades of her role as an officer and a gentleman’s spouse, white hair in a perfect pageboy coif, who reluctantly, uncomfortably, brilliantly laid bare her life in Back Home: A Vietnam Veteran’s Wife’s Short Memoir About a Long War. The tomboy and the school marm, the skinned-kneed and the perfectly-postured, but both with memoirs about overcoming. And don’t we all love to read about those who have beaten back adversity along with pesky chin hairs? Haven’t we all been there in some way?

And you gotta laugh.

Adversity will kill you if you don’t laugh at it, once you’ve beaten it back. And getting older is funny. At least, that’s the way I choose to experience it. Some others might prefer to whine and moan and list all the pharmaceutical products they consume in a day; inventory each and every ache, procedure, and bowel movement; and bore their poor friends and family to tears with their medical repertoires. And yes, of course, we care! Just please, pretty please, give us the bullet points and then let’s laugh for a while. It’s the best medicine, after all.

I got that lighthearted philosophy from my little old lady (I call her that because she is slightly older than I; and she is no lady) friend, Ruby Pearl Saffire, whose book, Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto, is a Pulpwood Queen bonus pick for this September. RP is an outrageous nose-thumber at all things authoritarian, prim, and politically correct. She delights in shock value and in-your-face realities; she claims that, in that regard, she will always be a teenager. And more power to her, I say. We could all learn a lesson in “lighten up” from Miss Ruby.

Besides overcoming adversity and laughing your ass off, getting older, if you do it well, also involves not giving a damn. As in, who’s passing judgement? whatever will people think? am I good enough? and why don’t they like me? It’s beyond time to be your authentic self, stress-free, and full of spiritual emancipation. Come along in joyful noise, if you like, and if not, buh-bye. Kathy and Bev both “get it.” They are joyful. They love to laugh. They are the Real Deal. They know exactly how to do this “woman of an age” thing, uniquely, individually. And they shared it with Fairhope and The Branch over the last several days. They made new friends and sold lots of books. And guess what? Kathy is making Bev’s memoir a Pulpwood Queen pick for next year. And well she should, that royal grand dame of the literary world, because military wives--military spouses--are heroes, too; and they have powerful stories to boot, will appreciate an experienced, prize-winning hand like Bev’s bearing witness for them.

And finally, speaking of power, I think Miss Ruby says it best, about the power of laughter, in her own, unique and wildly rollicking memoir, in which she writes:

Laughter “. . . is really the essence of life, is it not? We all see those flat-affected faces of the down, the depressed, the humorless, the hopeless, the nay-sayers . . . the laugh-less. They are the undead, the zombies who do not care to or do not understand how to really live a life. Having stumbled into my fifties, revived, only to flag in my sixties, BUT now skipping toward my seventies, my little trek through this particular life is growing ever shorter. Spiritually bathed in the beauty of a peacock’s plumage, though, is how I make ready for the next realm, the leaping into the lilt of love and humor. Thus, the truest tenet for me: The essence of my soul . . . is growing ever brighter. Its light is laughter—multi-colored, full throated, delight-filled, from deep in the belly, laughter. It is that which is merely the voice of god.”

Merely the voice of god?!?

Thank you, Miss Ruby, for your wise words. Thank you, Kathy L. Murphy, for picking Miss Ruby’s book. And Bev Marshall’s. And for all the work you do to promote literacy AND laughter. You are not only a woman of an age, you are a Woman for the Ages.

Now, would your inner cosmetologist please wax my chin?

Image: Partial book cover image, above (artist, Linda Perry-Ledet/Fidelis), of Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto by R.P. Saffire

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