I was born in 1952, so I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, though you could argue that I'm still growing up. My grandparents all lived over an hour's car ride away, a long trip in those days, especially for a kid who got car sick. But Mr. and Mrs. Seiders and their dog Butch lived across the street from us. Mr. Seiders was a retired English teacher. No one liked Butch because he barked a lot. I loved Butch and Butch loved me. That's a story for another day.
Mr. and Mrs. Seiders were my surrogate grandparents. I would ask my mother to take me over so I could see Butch, and I ended up spending many days with the Seiders, helping them in their garden, drawing with the paper and crayons they provided, playing with the tin soldiers that were kept in the closet. Mrs. Seiders and I would sit on the back porch with glasses of tea and freshly made cookies. Butch and I would sit on the back porch eating dog biscuits (I preferred the cookies but I didn't want Butch to feel left out).
Then there was Mrs. Stoner. My mother had been friends with her daughter, Hilda, who had multiple sclerosis and died fairly young. But my mother and I continued to visit Mrs. Stoner, a widow. She had a wonderful grandfather clock with a moon face that revolved according to the time or day or month or something. She also had a long, narrow overgrown garden behind her house. There was a fountain that was activated by pushing a T-stick. And she had parakeets. After getting my mother's ok, she surprised me with my own parakeet one birthday. Pepi, a little green guy all my own.
Rhoda Tuck was the head librarian at the library in Elizabethtown, PA, where I did most of my growing up. Mary Karnes, a neighbor, introduced me to volunteering at the library when I was a young teen. Mary knew how much I loved books and thought this would be a good way for me to help out. She was right. Mrs. Tuck had great stories about driving a bookmobile through the wilds of Chester County. She and Mary encouraged me in my reading and with my curiosity about the world, showing me how I could satisfy it with books. (By the way, if Mary happens to read this, I didn't consider her an old woman back then.)
Jean Withers was tall and smoked a lot and wore trousers. My mother never wore trousers, so I saw Jean as worldly and exotic. She was also a widow and lived with a woman friend on a small farm, where they raised sheep and had dogs and cats. Animals were always a magnet for me. Mom would take me out in the spring to see the lambs frolicking. I was too young to know that shortly they'd be tiny lamb chops. How could I have waited so long to become a vegan?!
My point is that I think I was lucky to have had all these old women in my life. These women were all kind to a little girl who talked too much and could get into trouble at the drop of a hat. They all had time for me and took the time to share their stories and to listen to mine. I look around today and don't see old women like that anymore. Old women now seem to stay active if they're able, playing golf, travelling, doing things they put off while raising families. Or they're in poor health, tucked away in a nursing home, as my mother finally was. But even if they were around, would children today, with their electronic buddies, their sensory overload, be interested in spending time with them?
I'm glad I grew up when I did, where I did, and with all those wonderful old women.