When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple – Dear Mumsie

Like many of my finds, this book showed up on the shelves of one of my fave thrift stores. Actually, it is my ABSOLUTE FAVE but it’s also far enough away that it’s a treat when I go. I hadn’t been for months, what with the pendemic and all.

Imagine my delight when I got there last week to find EVERYTHING IN THE STORE 50% off!


Stuff was picked through pretty good but there were some neat things left, like this book I’ve always wanted, “When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple“. So, of course, I picked it up!

As happens occasionally with books I get at thrift stores, this one is inscribed:


I think you are familiar with the poem of this title. One day at dinner with [a friend] she told me there was a book by this title and that it was very good. Well, when I saw it in the airport bookstore, I scooped it up for you!

Love from [your daughter]

Christmas ’96

Ah yes, I need to handle this book with care, as it was once “Mumsie’s” and given to her with love. I bet she kept it until the day she died.

Why didn’t her daughter get it back? Or maybe she did, and died herself? What is their story? <<< Questions from an empath.

It is an anthology of essays, photography and poetry submitted mostly by women (but there’s a fellow or two – or more – among the contributors).

Jenny Joseph writes the forward but her name is not on the front of the book. She is the writer of the poem titled Warning. And guess what? The first line is the title of this book! She is the person who… coined… I guess?… the phrase. She says she wrote the poem thirty years before the publishing of this book (1991)… so…she wrote it in 1961 at the age of 29! Amazing, right!

Her’s is the story that anchors every other one within the book’s pages. It seems apt that I should share Ms Joseph reading the poem in her own voice:

And now, for the rest of the book…

Even though they are essays and photos and poems… I am going to call them stories. That’s what they are! Stories of people, real and imagined… but I suspect… mostly real.

I almost don’t know what else to say. Why? Because there is SO MUCH emotion in this book.

I refuse to pick out one story above the rest. I REFUSE!

I find myself reading… and then stopping… like I do with special books (and indeed, THIS IS a special book!)… and then holding it in my lap as I sit in reverie… considering what I have just read.

It happened over and over again.

“Yes,” I hear myself saying.

A tear drops.

Or laughter.

Yes, it is about women of a certain age…

And childlike abandon.

It is a love story…

And a warning — after all, the original poem that started it all is called, “Warning,” isn’t it?

My copy is paperback. I wish it were hardcover, sturdy, glossy and heavy. Instead, I have to settle for this light-as-air, just-under 200 page book… heavy with truth.

I know it’s a little disappointing that I’m not sharing more of the content. Trust me, it would be unfair. Every page is more beautiful, poignant and wonderful than the last. I’d put a post-it on a poem I’d like to share and then another, and another, until the book was filled with them. I can’t share them all and in sharing one, it would make it more important. Wouldn’t it?

You’ll say, no, please, tell us what you’re talking about…

Okay, here’s what I’m going to do…

I’m going to share lines… no authors mentioned… just quick *snaps* that should show you what I mean… and you’ll want to get the book so you can read them in all their glory!

  • You’re a survivor with all the loneliness of survivorship.
  • Gnarled finger of hands that were once beautiful fondle the yellowed keys.
  • Time, master mugger, snatched this century out of my hands and fled.
  • As the elderly widow fights upstream through cobwebs and obsolete relics, her old chickens gather and rustle.
  • You wonder where the years went and with horror realize you forgot to flush the toilet.
  • I now mother my mother when I can no longer mother my daughter who is older than I have ever felt myself to be.
  • Scatter my ashes in my garden so I can be near my loves.

This is an exquisite and special book. When I die, if someone doesn’t keep it, it will, most likely, end up in a thrift store. Someone else will come along and read the daughter’s inscription and wonder…

Did Mumsie love this book as much as I do? What is her story?

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