Troisieme Age

Ellie Spence

© Copyright 2002 by Ellie Spence


Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.
When my mother turned sixty-five, she refused to purchase a discount ticket for the local city transportation system. When I asked her why, she responded, "I don't want anyone on the bus to know that I'm that old." When she turned ninety, she shocked some of her more conservative friends at her birthday celebration by announcing that the Golden Years suck! My mother did not slide gently into senior citizen status, and I guess, in this respect, I'm my mother's daughter

To me, the phrase "senior citizen" conjures up visions of blue haired, permanent waved ladies paying bridge with their gloves on, or a bus load of jolly grandmas and grandpas, their bourbon and sodas slung in spill-proof glasses across their necks, planning to waste away their children's inheritance in Reno.

When I traveled through Europe the year that I turned sixty, I began my tour in England. As I stood in line to enter the British Museum, I noticed that discount tickets were available for "Old Age Pensioners." Suddenly, I saw myself wrapped in a tattered gray sweater, gumming a poke of fish and chips with blackened, stumpy teeth while shouting," 'Ello, 'Arry. I've lost me 'ouse." I paid full price for my ticket.

However, while visiting a museum in France, I was delighted to find that in order to qualify for a discount ticket, I simply had to admit to being Troisieme Age, which translates as "The Third Age," a phrase which opened a world of possibilities where I envisioned myself as a woman of mature years whose clothing reflects a personality as colorful as a bouquet of zinnias. I had a picture of myself in a Chanel suit, glass of sherry in hand, presiding over an intellectual salon. My guests smile as they remark on the appropriateness of the Cole Porter tune, "You Go To My Head," played by a tuxedoed gentlemen on the white baby grand piano in the next room.

I want to be that Troisieme Ager, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, I find myself slipping back to a place where my elder self exercises authority over my Third Ager. As an Old Age Pensioner, I sit in my rocking chair taking my aim at any new values or ideas with my Red Ryder rifle. I am sure that the best music in the world was written in the l940's. I know that Tyrone Power was more handsome than Leonardo De Caprio, and that the Marx Brothers movies were much more clever than any skit on "Saturday Night Life." I am also aware that, as a teenager, I was better groomed, better behaved, and better educated. I performed all religious duties faithfully and diligently worked for twenty-five cents an hour at a local store to earn Christmas money.

Although my Troisieme Age has enough spirit of adventure to plan a trip, it is easy for me to slip into an Old Age Pensioner when I travel. My carry-on contains pills for every possibly ailment from amoebic dysentery to leprosy. I am no longer comfortable driving a car in a foreign country, lest my wake be held among strangers. Because I won't eat something unless I know its name, I panic at a foreign menu, fearing that I might end up eating something that I might consider to be a family pet. When I travel by train, I mistrust swarthy Mediterranean men because I'm convinced that they are seeking entry to either my purse or my body.

When I listen to the Old Age Pensioner in me, she tells me that I am infallible since I have two Master's degrees. Because my education was superior, there's nothing more I need to know. She also advises me that taking college classes is a waste of time, since I won't remember what I learned when my arteries begin to harden. Sometimes when I see my reflection in the glass as I put on makeup, Old Age Pensioner whispers, "Who pasted a picture of an ugly old woman on your mirror?" However, since my trip to France, Troisieme Age has scolded me, telling me to count each line in my face as the signature of some bit of wisdom I have learned along the way. As a young woman, I was afraid to try new things. Fearful of being alone, I became a corpse in a dead marriage. I've learned that if I let go of my fears and leap, the net might appear. If it doesn't, I can ice the bruises caused by falling on my face, and begin again.

My Old Age Pensioner , who is rigidly pious and judgmental, laments the past, yearning for the days when marriage was a sacrament, all brides were virgins, and unions lasted forever. Troisieme Age changes ducks to swans, helping me turn the journey toward senior citizenship into an adventure filled with color and excitement. When my Old Age Pensioner climbs into the pit called depression, Troisieme Age , smiling broadly, grows vines and climbs out herself.

My new personality is such a delight that I invited her on my trip to Greece last May. Because it is difficult for me to hoist luggage into an overhead compartment on a crowded European train, I chose to take a "senior tour," where people much more able than myself carried my luggage, arranged for my sightseeing trips, and found me a comfortable seat on the bus or train. Even though I indulged in a little Old Age Pensioner nostalgia with my companions at dinner, they were definitely part of the Troisieme Age. I was awed at the ability of some of the senior in the group who climbed up to the Acropolis with no rest stops. Inspired by their energy, I joined our nightly Green dance lessons with an enthusiastic "Oopa!" I grinned when I overheard Sylvia and Hartley, both in their 80's, ask for a room change because they felt that twin beds were inappropriate for a couple on their honeymoon.

The young, spirited Troisieme who inhabits my soul loves to learn. I have taught English and history classes throughout my teaching career, but my retirement has thrust me into a more challenging situation. Because part of my new job involves preparing students for the GED exam, I need to shine up my math skills, which have always been somewhat dusty. At this point, I can boast that I've learned to reduce a fraction to its lowest common denominator, which is probably something that most people my age have forgotten how to do.

My other role as a teacher involves working with Spanish speaking students whose English is limited. I've learned that ersatz phrases such as "Open-o el book-o" are not particularly useful. Although my students kindly snicker at my inability to roll my "r's," our bilingual group has become a place because I learn much more than I teach.

Long ago, I put a pillow over the face of my Old Age Pensioned when she complained about all of the unrewarding work she puts into entertaining. People tease me about my twelve cubic foot freezer which is stuffed to the brim with homemade minestrone, pasta sauce, cookies, enchiladas, and appetizers; however, it enables me to give dinner parties with food that is less than gourmet, but ready for the microwave, giving me more time to spend with my guests.

For my sixty-fifth birthday my greatest accomplishment was preparing appetizers, salads, and main dishes for seventy-five people. I began cooking three months before the party. When I ran out of freezer space for my casseroles and appetizers, I arranged for space in a frozen food locker near my home. Every so often, I would bundle up in a sweater, a coat, and thick mittens so I that I would not lose the skin on my fingers while icing my precious party food.

I rented the local senior citizen's center for the occasion and hired caterers to heat and serve the food, which I loaded with gloved hands into the back of my son's pick-up truck. Looking at the photo album I put together after the party still brings a smile as I see myself gliding across the dance floor in my slinky pink dress with a split on one side almost up to my thigh. I was having such a good time that I didn't realize that I had miscalculated, and we had run out of food.

Because I enjoy entertaining so much, I recently added a codicil to my will authorizing that $3,000 be set aside for a party, complete with the finest wines and food--from my freezer, of course. The paragraph begins "Let me entertain you at last." I was almost tempted to write it in French.

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