Too soon old, too late smart

“My Wife and My Mother-in-Law,” 1915 optical illusion by British cartoonist William Ely Hill. Research indicates that younger people see the wife first, and older people see the mother-in-law first.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

For many years I thought the first line of this poem was “When I grow old, I shall wear purple,” and I think I prefer that wording. But “When I am an old woman …” is what appears in the author’s original manuscript. She was 29 years old when she wrote this poem.

As for my color preferences, purples and teals have been my favorites for years. Which I choose depends on the color’s use. I had a teal-ish car. I’ve had lots of teal clothes. (My “teal” can be any one of a number of rich, dark blue-greens. But of late I’ve come to prefer purple for lots of things. I did turn 80 in April, if that has any relevance, but I discovered some time ago that purple anything is usually much harder to find than teal. In a way that just makes purple all the more special.

I am not and never have been as free-spirited as Ms Joseph obviously was. I certainly won’t sit on the pavement when I’m tired; I’d never be able to get up. And I’m long past running anywhere. I do indeed wear terrible shirts (with jeans) or whatever seems most comfortable that day, and, sad to say, I have grown “more fat.” But I’m the one who was shocked and surprised when suddenly I was old. And it was too late to practice.

C’est la vie.

(And no, the title doesn’t refer to the 2008 book by that name. It’s something my mother used to say when I was just a kid.)

14 thoughts on “Too soon old, too late smart

  1. Must agree re not sitting on the pavement, Colorado ! If I occasionally find myself down there, I simply order the two largest people around to get me up and instruct them precisely how to do it. But it’s a luverly poem, nonetheless.
    I shall join you in octogenarian respectableness next month, still wearing jeans but having managed to shuck off 30 kilos a year back, and kept it off for the first time in my life. Wish I’d done it while Chic was still here.
    You don’t need to practise (note differentiation between us) getting old: you need only to put it out of your head. You’re still 32 inside !! 😀

    1. Wow, congratulations on that weight loss! I’m beyond envious. I need to do the same, by my heart just isn’t in it. I’m trying to put the birthday out of my head but for some reason this one in particular really got to me. However, as they say, it certainly beats the alternative.

  2. When I was a kid, my mom had a heavy, yellow, metal clad desktop tape dispenser that had that saying printed on one side and repeated on the other side in German. My mom’s parents were of German ancestry. When I was little she had to explain what it meant, as the wording doesn’t follow normal childhood speech patterns. I understood it well enough then, and of course now, at 71, so much better! It definitely caught my eye because I have almost never seen it written anywhere else.

    1. You’re in luck. Red hats are a lot easier to find than purple shirts. I rarely wear hats, but red baseball caps would certainly be easy to find.

    1. That sounds fabulous! I’d thought that when the time comes, I might get one like my mom had — clear plastic(?) filled with pink rosebuds. But purple sounds so much better and more like me. I’m not the pink rosebud type.

  3. I’m older than you by 6 years. I will admit to feeling my age physically, lately at least, but I’m still learning and wondering about life, science and the human experience. I suspect that’s how you feel as well, Brenda. Love the poem!

    1. I’ve always thought you were younger, maybe because I’ve never seen you in purple. (Psst, I’m Susan. You’ve been over talking to that nice Brenda Looper again, haven’t you? 😉)

      And BTW, Happy Father’s Day!

... and that's my two cents