I'm sitting at the local gourmet pizza place waiting for my salad, hoping for a quiet lunch so I can work on my novel. Too bad. One after another, a dozen elderly women toddle into the tiny room where I sit, and I am soon to realize it is the weekly Tuesday meeting of the Hysterical Ladies Society.
Seven are wearing red hats, three have canes, all are smiling and laughing. All are glowing with an inner beauty so that I can hardly stop looking at them. Their eyes are bright and alert, and they have clearly dressed up for one another on this special day. They don’t let their red hats dictate the color of their outfits. Their colors are as vast and varied as a box of crayons.
One wears a lavender suit with a heavy jacket and complains of being cold. I sit by the window wearing a paper thin peasant blouse and shorts, and am sweating like a whore in church on this July day.
The lavender lady is reluctant to hand over her empty Target bag to the lady beside her, worried she’ll need it to take food home to her dog. In my pantry at home are at least a hundred plastic Target bags, and I wish I could hand them over to this funny lady who takes leftover pizza to her dog. I imagine a white fluff ball of a mutt waiting at home for her, probably on a pillow. He’s about to get pizza.
The youngest of the women – eighty-five if she’s a day – orders a glass of wine and three others immediately follow. One says, “You’ve been driving?” She is incredulous, her eyes big behind her glasses, her lipsticked mouth turned down in disapproval. This scares me. I want to know what the chastised one drives and where she lives so I can avoid her.
One struggles to put on a sweater and says, “By the time I get dressed I feel like I’ve done a day’s work.” They laugh and the one helping her into her sweater says, “We should go to Mexico!” I picture her chasing young men in banana hammocks while trying to balance a Mai Tai in one hand and her cane in the other. “I’m serious as a heart attack,” she says. She is on oxygen, but she is clearly an instigator.
When did we begin to discount the elderly? Why do we think they have nothing to offer? I am dying to sit at their table with them. I want to hear every one of their stories, learn their names, ask them where I can get a red hat. I am fifty-seven and suddenly excited about being eighty. Or ninety. Or more.
I’m guessing that many – maybe all – have lost husbands. Maybe some have even lost children. But they are here, and they are dressed, and they are laughing. They meet once a week to celebrate being alive, inspired, alert, and creative. They are hysterical, but in the best sense of the word.
As they were all arriving at the restaurant, two of them waved and called out to two others through the window. Then turned, put their gray heads together, and said something nasty about one of the other women. Something about whiskers. Then they laughed and I thought of junior high girls. Some things about us change. Some things, not so much.
They are sassy, and feisty, and fabulous. As the Zen saying goes, “The butterfly has not days but moments, and somehow it is enough.” We must remind ourselves to make this moment count. This fabulous, red-hatted, overly-lipsticked moment.
So save your Target bags, grab your red hat, and meet me at the pizza joint in thirty years. I only hope I am half as cool as they are by then. Seriously, where can I get a red hat?