Daddy and now Mom were gone.
I was entering my fiftieth year. Mom would have expected me not to be complicit in either adopting or using any language that she would deem inappropriate. I could just imagine her demanding to know just who had redefined the word “orphan” to encompass any age child who had lost both parents; and for what purpose. I chose not to use the term, but I nevertheless began to hear an imagined response…
Where do you get referring to yourself at age forty-nine as an orphan? You had Daddy and me longer than most children do. Because we were older and smarter and more mature than we were with the first two, you and your little sister benefited from our extra years of maturity.
Mom would have hated the recent, socially acceptable, 21st Century usage; after all, she had lost both parents by age twelve. Now SHE was an orphan. Closed subject. The imagined echoing persisted…
What do you mean you’re an orphan, Annette? How ridiculous!
Of course, when Mom turned fifty, she’d have welcomed any other greeting than the one that she received from Tante, her only living aunt. “You’re a half-century now.” Hearing this delivered in French didn’t make it any easier to swallow. I could remember Mom echoing her aunt’s phone call throughout her special day!
In my childlike thinking, I thought Mom was going to make it…always. It was Daddy’s role to die on a daily basis.
You’ll be sorry when I’m gone.
Daddy loved sympathy and attention; and he often repeated this lament and SURPRISE, gained a great deal of both; enough so, that we girls took turns carrying his slippers to him each evening. Nightly, Daddy fell asleep on the sofa while watching his favorite Western (he had several). Before kissing him goodnight, we girls would stand in the adjoining dining room and observe him for a minute just to make sure that he was still breathing! It was several years before Daddy honestly understood that what he had meant to be a playful game with his little daughters had, unfortunately, echoed through to my very core.
Mom, however, only lamented that she looked more like Tante with each year; but, it never stopped her from honestly revealing her actual age. If there is one gift that she bequeathed to me – without the guilt that accompanied most family traditions – it was her ability to age gracefully. Mom accepted growing older and complained less about any gradual infirmities than most women; in so doing, she impressed upon me that I too could choose to carry myself with similar poise when the inevitable golden reflection appeared in my mirror.
I might have lots of frustrations about many of life’s issues, but growing older isn’t one of them. Perhaps my having been A Little Old Lady at four years of age helped the aging process on a personal level. Thus far, my ten year stint as an Un-Orphan doesn’t seem to have adversely affected me either.