I think it's about time we raised our glasses and toasted the Little Old Ladies (the REAL meaning of the acronym LOL, at least in my Universe) in our lives. They’re a force of nature, a force to reckon with – and something we gals should all aspire to.
My Nana, who turns a relatively sprightly 99 tomorrow, is a prime example. She qualifies on all counts:
- at a tad under five foot, she’s definitely little, just about reaching my chest. She also takes great delight in telling us that precious things come in small packages – but so does poison;
- she’s undeniably old (I don’t think even she would get cross at me for saying so – she was born before the First World War, for goodness sake);
- and she is a “lady” in every sense of the word.
She’s remarkable - delightful, coy, charming, often infuriating, fiercely independent in her own way, too trusting of 'respectable-looking' strangers at times, and unmovable when she’s made her mind up (you can tell from the set of her jaw when she’s dug her heels in).
Though not as strong or mobile as she used to be physically (much to her frustration), mentally she’s still as sharp as a knife and a devil at the Scrabble board. Beating Nana at Scrabble is a major achievement in our family, it’s that rare.The words she comes out with to catch those triple word scores are just not the sort of thing you’d expect from a genteel lass raised in a strict Methodist household. But challenge her and her defence is ready: ‘It’s in the official Scrabble dictionary!’ And of course when you check, there it is, in all its outrageously obscene glory. I think she must have memorised the entire thing.
I tried calling her bluff once:
‘Nana, do you KNOW what that word means?’
‘Of course I do, Mandi. I could teach you a thing or two - I’m not as green as I’m cabbage-looking, you know!’
But that doesn’t mean she won’t put on her ‘helpless old dear’ act when it suits her. It comes in very handy when charming visitors and getting them to do something she’s frankly capable of but can’t be bothered with - especially after she’s plied them with tea and homemade shortbread.
I have a theory. I think that Little Old Ladies have evolved into a separate, super-resilient sub-species that feeds on our belief in their helplessness.
After all, my Nana and others of her generation have lived through two world wars, witnessed mind-boggling social changes – good and bad, seen the media explosion of radio, television and all things Internetty, seen telephones evolve from clunky contraptions in only the most well-off of households to mobiles the size of a credit card in everyone's pocket, and bid a sad farewell to their husbands and many of their life-long friends.
And yet, I’m willing to bet that if the bomb dropped tomorrow, the ones to emerge from the rubble - albeit at a limp and with the help of their walking sticks - would be the Little Old Ladies, with their bi-focals and blue rinses intact. Forget the cockroaches, the LOLs would soon zap them with bug spray before settling down to a nice cup of tea and wicked game of Scrabble (‘No Enid, you can’t put that - it’s slang! Oh, you can. Here it is in the dictionary. Hmm…, well well, I never knew it meant all that! If I’d only known 60 years ago….’).
My Nana is fiercely proud and hates to be patronised. She still takes a pride in her appearance, using the same trusty brand of rouge and lipstick she has for decades and preferring clothes in jewel colours (like her favourite, cherry red) she knows suit her. But that pride can be her worst enemy at times - like the time that she wouldn't give up a recent photo of her for her OAP travel pass before she 'looked dreadful' in the snap, or when she tells visitors that she manages just fine even though there is no shame in anyone in their 90s admitting they need more help than family can provide.
Like all of us, she is a mixture of qualities. She's far from perfect, but that takes nothing away from the simple facts that she's remarkable, she's always been part of my life, and I love her to pieces.
If you have a Little Old Lady in your life, don’t write her off. Spend time with her, enjoy her company, have a giggle with her, take her on at the Scrabble board (if you’re feeling brave and willing to accept defeat gracefully), look her in the eye and tell her you’re not falling for her tricks…. and then watch her chuckle quietly to herself as you swallow a classic LOL line.
And, if you’re lucky, one of these days you might become a Little Old Lady yourself.