The Old Woman

This post doesn’t completely fit in with the health-at-every-size, fat-acceptance topics I usually write about here, but I felt it was important to share anyway. My uncle forwarded this short story, which he found among my 86-year-old grandmother’s things, out to my family this week. The story is simple and poetic, lovely for all of the love and pride that flow from every word. And it’s poignant for its picture of a little girl who didn’t know her own power, and a woman who never let herself discover her own potential, but poured all of her wishes into her children. Like The Giving Tree,it’s a story that’s open to interpretation; for me, it’s a reminder not to hold myself back from pursuing the things I love* – that nurturing my children’s dreams doesn’t have to mean losing my own. I know that one of the best gifts I can give my children is a mom who is fulfilled, and whose fulfillment doesn’t depend on them.

(*Here’s the part where I tie this into body-acceptance: For me, one of the biggest things I let hold me back is my own lack of self-confidence, and my own self-imposed limitations, because of my size. I tell myself I’m not going to take my family camping, not going to learn tai chi, not even going to hike or swim or dance like a maniac in the living room – not going to enjoy any of the activities I do in this body “until I’m thin”; and so I deny myself experiences that could make my life fuller just because my body isn’t meeting my expectations. [Sidenote to a sidenote: I wrote a post over here about my nascent Life List.] As I make peace with my body, I’m working on changing this.)


“The Old Woman”

by Helen Slaughter Jordan


Once upon a time there was an old woman. One day she began to think of all the things she treasured. She thought about how much she loved her bluebird plates, and about how much time she had spent trying to find them. She thought about when she was a little girl, and how she dreamed of being an actress, or a dancer, or of playing the piano all alone in a big auditorium. She thought how it was that she could have done all this – but when she was a little girl she didn’t know that all these possibilities were inside her, and she didn’t know that confidence could unlock the door and let them out to be nurtured and developed.

But, she remembered, one day the little girl discovered books, and she was happy. For a while she could be the beautiful people she dreamed of being.

Then she grew up and loved someone and was loved, and after a while she found something better than being an actress or a dancer or someone great – she had beautiful children who loved her. And she watched all the gifts she had wished for herself unfolding in her children.

She listened as her son played beautiful music, and thought how much more happiness it gave her to hear the applause for him than if it had been her own.

She saw her daughter, beautiful in her wedding gown, and riding off with her knight in shining armor, and thought how much better it was that her daughter would miss some of the cares that she had had.

Another son brought his friends home, and they became her friends. And she thought how much better it was to have young friends when you are old than young friends when you are young. And this son would sometimes tell her his dreams and they were always good and she thought how happy she would be if his dreams came true.

One son never told her he loved her, but he brought her a little pitcher with roses on it. And once he gave her a Mothers Day card that said he loved her, and she believed it. She knew it was not easy for some people to say I love you.

But then one day all her children grew up, and they were busy with their own things, and she was proud of them. And she gloried in their successes, and would have borne their failures if she could, but she couldn’t.

Now she doesn’t want anything – the children have everything they need. And the old woman wonders what she can leave to mark her place here. She wonders if the bluebird plates and the crystal glasses were too important to her. She wonders if she could have met more needs if she had been looking. And she hopes that her beautiful children will use all their wonderful gifts wisely, and that they will leave a better mark than she ever dreamed.


[Scans of the original story in my grandmother’s handwriting are after the jump.]