Crone…the word alone conjures the image of an elderly woman with a wrinkled, warty face and penetrating gaze. In fairy tales, she’s often referred to as a hag or a witch, and (to the dismay of many an unwitting character) her advice and her voice is dismissed until it’s “too late.”
In some ways, things haven’t changed much since such folk tales were first told and written. All too often we push women aside as they age, relegating them to the fringes of society, leaving their wisdom unnoticed (and to our great loss) unheard. What is it we fear in the crone? Are we afraid she might tell us what we don’t wish to hear? Are we afraid she might be right? Or are we simply afraid of the inevitable…that we too are destined to age and decay and one day turn to dust.
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. – Betty Friedan
I like who I am now. Other people may not. I’m comfortable. I feel freer now. I don’t want growing older to matter to me. – Meryl Streep
I’ve often marvelled at the audacious, brilliant verve that the wise-women I know possess. For some women, they seem to have been born with it, for others, it’s part and parcel of their “becoming.” To a one, they’ve embraced the aging process by throwing caution to the wind, speaking their minds, and claiming their right to rant and rave.
No matter what you do, someone always knew you would. - Miss B. in The Birth House
Marie Babineau, AKA “Miss B.” in The Birth House is a sage femme, a fictional midwife created from my fond memories of several beautiful crones I’ve known in my life. She’s a witchy mash-up of grandmothers-plucked from my family tree as well as a few branches outside my ancestry. I loved spending time with Marie. I adored writing her dialogue (especially since it allowed me to channel my inner crone to come. ) The line above is, hands-down, the most quoted passage from the novel. It came from a seniors’ recipe collection that my husband’s dear Baba McKay gave me. The book has sayings and bits of wisdom peppered throughout, and that one, along with “a lie is as difficult to unspread as butter,” are two of my favourites.
The person who served as the greatest inspiration for Marie Babineau was a woman I considered to be my own “Miss B.” She lived two doors down from me when I was a graduate student in Terre Haute, Indiana and she didn’t mind people referring to her as a witch. Her long, narrow back yard was enclosed by a tall wooden privacy fence, making her garden (lush with vegetables, medicinal herbs and ever-blooming flowers) a magical oasis in an otherwise plain university town. Her big Victorian house was filled with interesting objects (crystals, bones, antiques, odd bits of taxidermy, and countless witchy trinkets.) She invited me to tea one afternoon after she caught me leaning off my front porch, attempting to wash my hair in the middle of a sudden, intense cloudburst of rain.
She was unlike anyone I’d ever known. Our teas would vary wildly from one week to the next. One week we’d talk about guided meditation, the next I’d be greeted by a raucous hour of drumming and chant. Her “circle” included a former nun, a practising Ob/Gyn and several retired university professors. Outspoken and ever curious, she did a lot of things that both amazed and baffled me. (She once spent an entire autumn “observing” the head of a deer carcass that she’d affixed to the roof of her potting shed. Twice a day she’d visit the rotting thing and talk to it, believing that it helped her come to terms with death.) What a glorious example she was, always encouraging me to embrace all aspects of life, no matter how odd or off-putting they might seem.
At mid-life, one kid’s flown the coop and the other is in his teens. My years are increasingly littered with medical screenings and check-ups. In between these milestones, I’ve started to think about the kind of crone I’ll become. Will I be fearless? Will I be wise? Will I rage against the dying of the light? Heaven knows I’m trying to appreciate the wrinkles and silver hairs as they appear, but in this age of snip, suck, tuck and plump, it’s not always that easy a task. The women of Fabulous Fashionistas and Advanced Style inspire me. Have you seen them? If not, you should! They make 21st Century Cronehood look pretty damn good.
While scouring the Internet for women’s wisdom on aging, I came across this TED talk given by one of my favourite authors, Isabel Allende. I’ll give her the last word. “It’s great to let go, I should’ve started sooner.”
People, places and things mentioned in this post: