Becoming A Little Old Lady

I love little old ladies. They make me smile.

(I wonder if I’ll love being one as much as I love interacting with them.)

Eyes of wisdom. Hands of work. Voices altered by time. Wisdom galore.

When I drive up to the local Wal-Mart and see vans from local “homes” parked out front, I’m thrilled. Yep, I’ll see plenty of white hair and red lipstick inside. All that wisdom and experience flying around the place, maybe some of it will wear off on me while I’m there.

I never ever miss a chance to chat with “my elders.”

I’ve always liked them, “my elders.” In fact, if you asked me in high school what career I was headed for, I would have said “speech therapist.” I wanted to work with older people who were learning to speak again after they’d had a stroke. Mainly because my grandmother had a stroke and had to learn to speak again.

Soapbox warning. Skip the next paragraph if soapboxes get on your last nerves.

I wish we (America) took better care of our aging family members. I believe strongly that if our parents took care of us (the best they could) when we were young; then we should take care of them (the best we can) when they are old. If we don’t do it, who will? Is it easy? Is it a party? Nope, no more so than it was for them when they parented us.
Earlier this year, Besse Brown Cooper (then “114 years and 158 days” old,) was declared the “World’s Oldest Person” by Guinness World Records. There was a party; she got an award; our governor came to see her. Besse was born on August 26th, 1896, and she lives in Georgia, my home state.
Then in May, Guinness learned that there was actually someone in Brazil who was 48 days older than Besse. Besse’s special title was taken away.
But soon thereafter in June, Besse was re-declared. The lady in Brazil died. Isn’t that an interesting twist to the story? It must have felt weird, not knowing how to respond. Am I happy? Of course not. Am I happy? Of course.
As it turns out, Besse didn’t really know about the twist. Her son said in an interview that they never mentioned to her that she had lost the official title. Doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, does it? 
So last week Besse turned 115 years old.

What a great image of Besse’s hands captured by David Goldman.


Now, thanks to the Internet, I’ve been able to look at various articles since Besse became news several years back.
In reading about her life, I’ve come up with “The Besse Ten.” These are ten things that Besse or her family have mentioned about how Besse is living/has lived her life.
“The Besse Ten”
1.      Mind your own business.
2.      Don’t eat junk food.
3.      Read often.
4.      Don’t worry.
5.      Spend a lot of time outdoors.
6.      Go on picnics.
7.      Garden.
8.      Eat food from the garden.
9.      Make dishes from simple ingredients.(Her daughter said, “What she couldn’t do with an apple, it couldn’t be done.”)
10. Be a good mother.
Aren’t those terrific? I’m going to do every single thing on that list this week. Truthfully, the hardest ones for me will either be number 1 or number 2. Well, and maybe number 4. I rock number 10. And number 7 too. Not bragging, just saying. Pretty good at number 3 too.
So back to my question: what is it like to be 115?
Besse’s son, Sidney Cooper (76 years old himself) said, “She still remembers things and thinks clearly and talks. But she has her good days and her bad days. I’d say she sleeps about 80% of the time.” For the last few years, Besse’s hearing and vision has been going, and speaking requires some effort. But, her doctors say that she is surprisingly healthy and her vitals are normal. I read that she lived on her own until she was 105. Pretty cool.
Here’s a video of Bessee when she was first declared the “World’s Oldest Person” earlier this year:
Now, in honor of Besse, I’ve posted a very HEALTHY AND DELICIOUS recipe at And I’ve renamed it “Besse Bulgur.”
Why? Well, it’s healthy and contains food from the garden. It’s perfect for taking with you and your children on a picnic outside. And hey, on your way out the door with your picnic basket full of Besse Bulgur (and no Doritos, by the way) grab a book. While you’re outside on your picnic, reading your book and enjoying your kids, try your best not to worry about whether a storm is brewing on the horizon, the cat has an abscess tooth, or if you accidentally left the iron on. And, if you can, try to mind your own business. I know that’s a hard one, especially since Judy’s daugher is sitting right there on a nearby bench sporting a new nose ring and tatoo (is she old enough to do that?); and what in the world is Tim doing with Tom? (surely he’s not? or is he?); and there goes John, walking by with a woman who is definitely not his wife (is she a business associate or what?) Well, do your best on number 1 anyway.
So tell us what you think–Would you want to live to be 115 years old? And how old do you think one is when they become a “Little Old Lady?” Is there a certain age when one really must cut her hair and wear sensible shoes?
Until next time, Friends, savor the flavor of life!
Lots of love, The City Farmgirl, Rebekah

  1. Deborah says:

    Beautiful post about a beautiful woman. Reading this blog is a great way to start off my day. Inspiring! I’ll try to live by those tne things too.

  2. Cathie says:

    I work in a retirement home (I’ve been a geriatric nurse for YEARS) and we have three residents who are 101 years old. Two are pretty well with it, and one lives in a time warp but, if you’re willing to step into that warp, can carry on a great conversation! The oldest I ever had was a lady who died in 1985 at 110 years of age. Never wanted to do any other kind of nursing. I’m 60 myself, and so a comparative youngster! Lovin’ where I am in life and looking forward to what life has in store! And I love "The Besse Ten"

  3. Jan says:

    What a great post, and what an incredible woman! I don’t think I would want to live to be 115, but who knows what modern medicine and technology might come up with! I think you become a little old lady when you FEEL and ACT like a little old lady. I intend to NEVER become a little old lady!

  4. Darlene says:

    I love it! This morning I started a class called Psychology of Aging. I am a 43 year old nursing student and I LOVE working with, talking with, spending time with the "elder" population. I took a little break from looking over my syllabus and read your blog. Perfect timing! I am going to link your blog post to my online class 🙂

  5. Janice K. says:

    Soap box replay: I totally agree with your sentiment. In the US we have a tendency to tire of those that GAVE US LIFE..I am continually blessed to have been able to help care for my parents until they passed. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t sit in my garden (which was theirs)and think of the blessings that I received from them.
    I can’t imagine making it to 100, let alone 115. The ‘Besse Ten’ is right up my alley, though I struggle with minding my own ‘bees wax’. I have purged my life of ‘friends’ that deplete me and strive to simplify…
    This blog was wonderful!

  6. Carol in NC says:

    My dad had six older sisters, all fun, witty, white haired and very close knit. The four still living are active and sharp and one of them celebrated her 100th birthday two weeks ago. Family members came in from all over the country for the party and we had a grand time.

    The Besse Ten sounds pretty much the way my Aunts have lived their lives, certainly something to strive for!

  7. Karen says:

    Your soap box is so very true and not to sound to overly dramatic, but 1 Timothy 5:8 says:But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever and Ephesians 6:2
    “Honor your father and mother” That’s all I have to say on my Soap Box.
    Love "The Besse Ten" !!!

  8. Sue says:

    Fantastic topic, Rebekah! Brought tears to my eyes, actually — I so agree with your soapbox rant! I was raised by my Great-Grandma, who was with us on this planet until she was 104. (My Mom worked, my Dad was ill, and my Grandma was still raising her kids and caring for GG and my OTHER GG, and a great-aunt.) We all lived together in a big Waltons-like house. GG taught me to read at age 3, to embroider, to play winning dominoes — and to love. Also, because she was wheelchair-bound from a broken hip that didn’t heal — she gave me the most awesome rides on her lap, in her wheelchair! She was fast!! When I told her that a man had walked on the moon, as we all watched the television coverage together, she just laughed, and kept saying "My land! Land sakes!" (Which is mountain-talk for Wow, and Oh, my.)

    And, at 53, I still have not cut my hair — though my shoes are sometimes sensible. Good thing that college profs/musicians can be a bit out there …

    And yes — if I have my health, I’d love to be old! But my 81 year-old Mom would disagree with me about what age is Little Old Lady-dom! She’s still on her own, and going strong.

    Thanks so much for this! Sue

  9. Nicole White says:

    Thank you! Awesome article. My Grandma is 104. She remembers in detail back to when she was 4. 100 years of history she knows and has lived. Last year the family got her a Kindle. She loves to read on it, lighter than her large print books. A few months back she got her first scooter. She’s learned to operate the joy stick and get around her retirement home. She goes on shopping trips, to the theater, does chair aerobics (a year ago they made her sit to exercise after she had a fall). She is a testament of love, guilelessness, forgiveness and the fact that you are never to old to learn something new. Her husband lived to be 98 and one of my great-grandfather’s to 98 so I’m planning on a long joyful life by following their examples. 🙂

  10. mary says:

    Oh how I love the subject of beautiful aging people! I am the fix-it manager for a nonprofit that helps Seniors with minor home repairs, grocery delivery and rides to doctors appointments. Some of our volunteers to these people are seniors themselves in their 90’s. They are all so beautiful and with so many stories to tell. It’s a tragedy they are such a marginalized part of our society.

  11. meredith (hereford girl) says:

    I love the Besse Ten! And I am looking forward to my little old lady status, although not in the near future! If I can live to be 115, I will think thats great! I loved dorm living in college so I can only think I will like living with a bunch of like-minded (or maybe no-minded!) individuals when I am old and in a "home". In the meantime I am going to work on #2 and #4 so that I can live to be a little old lady! (my only concern- I am currently 6 feet tall- will I really get to be a "LITTLE" old lady?!)

  12. Debbie says:

    I love this…and the Besse Ten… I would love to live to be a little old lady! Yellow Polka dots, pink pants, and pearls all the way baby!!! 2 and 4 would been my challenge areas. Oh alright, and one too! A good go to list for sure!

  13. Paula says:

    LOVE little old ladies! I’m 63 and am in a women’s camping club, Sisters on the fly…our oldest member is 90! Am I going to be camping when I am a little old lady! You bet! Our motto is "we have more fun than anyone"! That’s another one for the list…

  14. kathy schild says:

    My ninety-one year old grandmother’s Sunday school teacher told her (and the rest of the class) about 65 years ago (!) that in order to be a sweet elderly lady, you must first be a sweet young(er) lady. My grandmother took that advice to heart and passes it on as well. She would agree with Besse’s Ten, but because she has fair skin, red hair and freckles, she would omit numbers five and six and replace it with ballroom dancing. She finally turned in her dancing shoes when she hit 85. She also firmly believes in a little bit of high quality ice-cream every evening – just a bit. 🙂 This goes against all of my nutritional understanding, but it certainly has worked for her. I should also mention that she weighs all of 95 pounds and wears jeans, cashmere turtlenecks, and silk scarves.

    Your soap box is right on. My husband and I have assured her that, when the time comes, she will be able to do what she desires: home care with a nurse, a nursing home, or our home. Yes, it will be a commitment on our part, but what a blessing to have that time with her. I watched my mother-in-law care for her mother in her year. Yes, it was hard, but it’s what you do – character.

  15. kay says:

    Weeellll…I am 62 and haven’t cut my hair yet
    and don’t wear sensible shoes…sooo guess I am
    not a little old lady yet.

    I love listening to Clarinda (my 87 year old friend)
    and admire her energy and attitude to match.

  16. Becky says:

    My grandmother and all of my great grandmothers lived to be close, if not into their 90s. Compared to 115yo, this isn’t old. Somehow, none of my grandmothers ever seemed to be a little old lady to me. Their youthful outlook on life may have been the reason. I do think this post has prompted me to get out there and live life more fully so that my own years might be long and rich. I definitely want to be the classy jean-wearing grandmother. I will also do my level best to never admit defeat and succomb to practical shoes. Finally, if there is anyway possible, I would be honored to care for my own parents in my home with love.

  17. jane kelly says:

    I try not to look in mirrors that way i continue to feel at least 30 years younger than my actual age.I know it takes longer to get things done but I accept it and keep pushing onward.Life is good!

  18. Phyllis Blottenberger says:

    i loved this story and all the comments to follow. and must add i couldnt agree more!

  19. Terri says:

    I plan to become an excellent little old lady, like my Grandma was. I hope my two (younger) sisters reach this with me, too, so we can be three little old lady sisters, and still giggle like we do now.
    Years ago, when I was somewhere over 30 years old, a coworker said something (to anyone who was present) about how she cut her hair when she was 30 because, when you are that age, you "just don’t do that(long hair)anymore". I felt sorry for her. It’s fine to have long or short hair – whatever you like best(shorter hair worked best for my Grandma) – but it should have nothing to do with one’s age. Doing what you like (instead of what you think you are "supposed to" do) helps you enjoy life so much more. I’m now 55 – almost 56 – and I still have long hair, which I often wear in a braid, and that works best for me. 🙂 Doing what’s best for us, and enjoying Life, that’s the Farmgirl attitude! 🙂

  20. Joan says:

    Now that I have dried up my eyes – I want to say THANK YOU!!!! these are words that I would have said if I had had them – You are so bang on from beginning to end of your writing. Love Besse’s 10 – going to make a little plaque with them on it to remind me —- God is Love.

  21. Susiebelle says:

    Hi – love this story. I turn 50 on the 6th and am feeling so good about it! My life is terrific and my motto is 50 down/50 to go! My parents are in their 70’s and are very active. The only thing they do not like about aging is the feeling of being invisible when they go to stores or restaurants. They are often not spoken to or ignored, they feel because of their age. Do others feel the same? Thanks for the inspiring story.

  22. Brenda says:

    what a great story both my mom and dad are in there 80’s and they have seen so much of the history of our time. And yes I would love to be a little old lady and spend days with friends talking about the past and with family just to sit and watch them and love them. wouldn’t it be nice to knew what was really important in our life when we were young and starting out. And Besse’s ten is a something to live by and I too think it will make a great plaque. thank you again for inspiring me

  23. lisab says:

    What a wonderful article . Bessie is so lucky to have a loving family

  24. Donna says:

    Very nice!

  25. Denise says:

    I love it! A little late in reading this post. So funny to me as I am know to quite a few people as "your little old soup lady" For many years I did the cooking for "Tuttle’s Red Barn" It is the oldest farm in America handed down to youngest son for 13 generations This past year the "youngest son" decided farming was not for him and put the farm on the market to sell. WHAT IS HE THINKING!!!! Anyhow, minding my own business. Many of our customers wondered where they would get their soups and one by one they found me. I cook them once a week and deliver door to door. If I can do this till I’m 105 that would be great. I think 115 might be pushing it. I grew up in a 3 generation home and my memere was my best friend for a very long time. I too wonder why we thought elderly housing and retirement homes was a good thing…… thinking? Elderly care and daycare….what were we thinking.Going on a picnic now with a good book.Thanks for the reminder

  26. Jeanette says:

    Precious! I enjoyed reading about Besse. I’m posting the Besse 10, they provide great advice for living. As long as I feel good (and look okay), I’d love to live to a ripe old age.

  27. Bonnie Carsey says:

    This reminds me of one time we went to visit my older daughters church for Easter and my daughter Sarah then about 15 saw a beautiful older lady who had a name tag that said Ethel, in passing Sarah said "I want to be an old lady name Ethel just jesting, but later still I had the opportunity to share the comment with Ethel who promptly stood up walked over and placed her name tag on my daughters chest. It has now become one of "our" family stories and we still tease Sarah by calling her Ethel, she was so surprised I wish now I had gotten a picture

  28. Barbra says:

    I read the comments and they’re beautiful. Elders truly need to be more respected, valued and protected in the US. Our country and so-called congressional leadership is on the brink and we need wisdom and empathy to get us back to sanity. WHERE ARE THE GRAY PANTHERS WHEN WE NEED THEM ?
    For the record, I’m over 60, feel 35 and I’m raring to go. Where are those who feel the same and want to start a movement?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *