Teenagers in the early 1970s...(Google Images)
I am going to celebrate a milestone birthday later this year and unfortunately it doesn't commence with the number "5"! The year is going to be filled with adventure. I am returning to France for a month to immerse myself again in a course at the Institut de Français in Villefranche-sur-Mer; I will be visiting my beautiful grandson on the other side of my continent; and hopefully visiting Far North Queensland with my partner as well. And in between, indulging myself with the contracts I will choose and enjoy with The Percy Institute of International Protocol.
Recently I have been trying to place myself in this "age" in which I find myself; perhaps the easiest way to do this is to revert to remembering the people my parents and their friends were in their 60's?
In the early 1970's I was still at high school, looking very similar to the girls in the photo above...somewhat awkward. I always considered my parents very elegant people. They entertained frequently and beautifully; they took particular care of their appearance; and they were reasonably able to converse on a multitude of subjects. And as such, in a way I found their easy elegance intimidating.
My grandmother, from Western Australia, was a hearty woman with a wicked sense of humour whom I rarely saw as I grew up in Eastern Australia. She would have been in her mid-60's when I had my first encounters with "Nan"; I remember her warm hugs, her enormous bust and her propensity to wear aprons when she cooked. She seemed so much older than my parents, being 20 years or so their senior.
In 1973 my father was posted to Washington D.C. as the Australian Naval Attaché. I went to boarding school for my last six months and I flourished. I experimented with fashion, had my teenage heart broken; and then found myself, through opportunity, in Washington D.C.
What a time! Balls at the Annapolis Naval Academy, diplomatic functions with exotic dignitaries, learning the diplomatic parlance of the day...and marvelling at the elegant way my mother had morphed into a sophisticated diplomatic wife. Even in Washington she was renowned for her easy, but always perfect, entertaining style. She was in her mid 40's. I learned from her at every opportunity...watching, sometimes questioning, but always marvelling at her ability to assimilate and to make others feel at ease.
On my return to Canberra to work in the political arena at the highest level I found myself at ease; despite my relatively young age I was accepted for my ability...and as it transpired my entertaining skills were not an impediment either!
Travelling with the Prime Minister and journalists to Goulburn Is.NT in 1978
(sitting 4th from the left)
I watched my parents as they entered what was referred to as "middle age" with incredulity. Despite my mother's unfortunate ill health and my father's early retirement to care for her, they never became "old" to me. They retained pride in their appearance with regard to both fashion and their diet and exercise regimes, and their thirst for travel. When they became grandparents they were buoyant and fun.
My appreciation of their life, as compared to that of their parents, was taking form. I realised that travel, when the opportunity presents itself, is vital; that the lessons learned from seeing outside one's own environment are essential in keeping "young" and adventurous. This realisation also came with the codicil that good health is so important when grabbing the opportunities when they arise, in keeping the "need for more" alive...this became more poignant when my mother died at age 63.
I have read quite a few articles about this concept of 60 being the new 40...as compared to our parents' generation. I think it's correct. Our fashion is not dictated by what society thinks...that a woman of a "certain age" should have her hair short and coiffed; that skirts should be below the knee, heels sensible and Bridget Jones big panties obligatory. We continue to work, to travel, to fall in love, to cherish our roles as grandparents...and to occasionally dance on tables! We try to be in tune with our bodies, whether they prefer the gym or to snorkel and run along the beach. And keeping our brains active is a given.
Relaxed at the beach with my little prince...
And we have the benefit of internationally instant communication. I often wonder how my parents would have managed the internet...I think my mother would have had her own group, maybe bloggers, speaking about life after the bridge table. I don't know about my father...he died at 77 and had spent a lot of time on a remote island by then.
I don't relate to being "nearly" 60 except in terms of it being a number. I do feel a different Louise to the woman who celebrated at my 40th birthday...and again at my 50th. Thank heavens. My last two decades have been marked by many personal milestones, some happy, some sad, some tragic...but all of them I see as part of my journey. The wisdom of age?
We have known each other over 40 years...and we can still dance on tables together!
Auntie Mame, the novel by Patrick Dennis, which tells the story of an eccentric aunt encouraging her orphaned nephew to think outside the square, has always been an influence on me. I hope that I can be a positive influence on my grandchildren encouraging them to enjoy the differences in people, and not to see them as difficulties...and to see their journey as an adventure, with all which that entails...