Those of you who regularly check in on my blog know that I have a beloved relative who is 98 years old. Aunty Mu is a living embodiment of the Bette Davis comment that old age isn’t for sissies. She keeps going via a very singular will, for her sight is fading fast and her hearing held together by the digital revolution. Still she has a way about her that reminds me of Diana Cooper, as she has a natural elegance that has not deserted her in old age. Like all women of her age she is stick thin and though bending a little now, she is far from broken. When asked, she modestly puts her survival down to intelligence, but with a wry grin. She still does her daily maths quiz with magnifying glass and determination and she has opinions on everything.
Aunty Mu is an anomaly. She does things she’s not supposed to do and doesn’t do those things she should do.For example she still smokes in spite of the fact that she finds it hard to get cigarette tip and lighter flame to meet. She dismisses all salads as ‘ rabbit food’ and has never been keen on moving her body vigorously. She swears that people wear out their body parts with ‘all that exercise’. She has no arthritis and is as flexible as a woman half her age. When she goes to church, which has become her only outing of the week, she wears high heels.
What I have noticed about Aunty Mu is that she is very different from me. ‘You’re pitched too high, Allie’, she is fond of telling me.’You’ll wear yourself out’. She describes herself as phlegmatic and she has calmly sailed through life on an even keel, providing a steady hand and voice amid surrounding dramas. I sometimes think that people can be divided into two groups; flesh and bone. I am definitely one of the former; prone to mild hysteria, passion and general wetness, I feel things deeply and shake easily if stirred. Aunty on the other hand has spent her life cool and dry, though she says that extreme age is bringing on uncharacteristic dribbles and a runny nose.
Maybe Aunty has lived so long because she has a built in thermostat set lower than the rest of us. I love staying with her but the fact that she refuses to touch the heating system, even in summer makes it a challenge. It blasts away day and night and makes me pink and sweaty. I have a wardrobe of voile and cotton for trips to the tropics and visits to Aunty Mu.
I’ve been staying with her this weekend and we had a great time chatting about the old days and looking through photographs. She speaks sadly of those who have gone on before and tells me how hard it is to be the last of her generation standing. I make notes of everything she tells me and one day I will collate the stories. It would be great if I could do that and read them back to her before she passes but I fear time is not on my side.
Sometime I talk to her about passing. I asked her if she’d agree to devising a code word/phrase that she would try to get through to me after she’d gone. I thought this would appeal to her, like doing her maths puzzles but no chance. ‘I don’t believe in that rubbish. Oliver Lodge tried it and it didn’t work,’ she said firmly. I’m not sure she’s right there but when she’s made up her mind she’s like her hero, Mrs Thatcher. Not for turning.
That’s another big difference between us; politics. I’ve always tried to keep her off the subject, for the sake of my blood pressure. This is getting much easier with time. She doesn’t seem to be engaging with politics like she used to. But she still gets stirred up about sex, which she declares ‘disgusting’. Yet she is infinitely curious. Or was. When Clinton was enmeshed in the Lewinsky scandal she got me to explain the workings of a blow job to her. Well, who else would do it? I will never forget the look on her face when the awful realisation hit home. She was speechless for at least fifteen minutes.