First up, Jane Fonda. Seriously, have you seen that woman on the red carpet? She’s absolutely stunning, to say nothing of her talent that just keeps getting better. Sign me up.
Next, Betty White. From Sue Anne Nivens to Rose Nyland to Elka Ostrovsky, her characters light up the TV screen because of her incredible sharpness and brilliant comic timing. Proving that 90-something really is just a number, she steals every scene she’s in. Sorry, Mary, Blanche and the rest of Cleveland.
Georgia O’Keeffe. Untraditional. Uncompromising. Unwilling to settle for anything less than she was meant to be. Her remarkable talent as an artist, and her passion for creating up until the end, are truly inspirational. (I’d have to choose a place a little more peopled than her Ghost Ranch in New Mexico — and I really think a little mascara and blush might have helped — but you get the idea.)
Nora Ephron. A powerhouse writer, humorist, director. Intelligent, witty, intelligent, funny, intelligent, perceptive. And did I say smart? Loved her.
And lastly, a very elderly woman who lived around the corner from us and who, until recently, could be seen outside whenever the weather was good, rolling in her wheelchair, just taking in a beautiful afternoon. She wore a sun hat and a fluorescent traffic vest so that drivers could see her, and whether she knew you or not, she’d smile and wave at anyone who passed by. Her joy at being outdoors was palpable. I like to believe that she was a woman of strength and character — and although I never had a conversation with her, I can’t help but imagine what her back story might have been …
Was her husband a fighter pilot in World War II, who died a hero with her snapshot next to his heart?
Was she a former Radio City Rockette, her kicks perfectly precise, who then retired to sunny California after years of being just one in a long line (literally) of fabulous legs?
Did she carry out espionage for the U.S. government, immersing herself in danger overseas as well as having a torrid love affair with a fellow operative? (Proof that trench coats can be very alluring.)
Could she be the daughter of Anastasia, the only one of Czar Nicolas II’s children rumored to have escaped the murder of the entire Romanov family but never positively identified? And has she been living here for decades, preserving her mother’s secret and her own royal lineage?
Was she the inspiration for “Rosebud”?
Or was her life more ordinary than all that — and extraordinary only to those who loved her?
My guess is the latter, although her embracing of life puts her right up there with Jane, Betty, Georgia and Nora. And maybe that’s the key to growing up gracefully and gratefully. Maybe it’s coming to understand that our days don’t define us — we define our days.
Words to grow by.
© 2014 Claudia Grossman