I am writing these words on the morning of my 70th birthday. The first day of my 8th decade of this wonderful life. My first thought this morning is that twenty years ago today, as I was turning 50, I had surgery for cervical cancer. I was so afraid, and then so greatly relieved to learn that I had been cured by the surgery. My second thought is that eight years ago this summer I was in a near-death car wreck, in which I broke my neck, right leg, and right ankle. As difficult as that time was (long recovery) I remember feeling extremely thankful that I was not paralyzed or dead.
My third thought is that my husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last summer, and what a blessing it is to be in love at this age with someone I first fell in love with at age 17. And fourthly I reflected on the gifts that our three adopted children (now 38, 39, and 43) and our four wonderful granddaughters are to us. And so as I celebrate today, those memories bring me tears of joy and thanksgiving to God.
Another of my morning reflections is the surprising joy of publishing six books between the ages of 66 and 69. And the immense satisfaction of having my seventh book come out this June. I got a late start on my writing career, but I am having the time of my life and hope to continue as long as I’m able.
My Mother and Grandmother at 70
When I went to bed last night, I told my husband that I had been thinking about my mother and her mother, and what they were doing when they turned 70. My mother, Effie Watkins Johnson, lost her husband of 49 years just six months after she turned 70, in 1998. Here they are together two years earlier, when Mom was 68. A year later my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in July of 1998.
Her mother, whom I adored and called “Mamaw,” is my namesake. Her full name was Emma Sue Covington Watkins. When she was 70, she made me this amazing quilt as a wedding gift, using scraps of material from all the dresses she had made me when I was a little girl.
And I have a shoebox full of letters I wrote to her from age six into my twenties. It’s kind of amazing to think that at age 70 she had a 19-year-old granddaughter.
Other Women on Turning 70
As I considered what I would write today, I decided to ask other women for their reflections on turning seventy. I put out a request on Facebook, emailed a few friends, and also asked women from my high school class of 1969 (who are all turning 70 this year) for their thoughts. I received 15 replies, mostly short reflections, so I will share them all here. Enjoy!
Sally Palmer Thomason
After I went to bed last night I lay awake for I don’t know how long, wondering what/how I could respond to you request for a piece on turning 70. As I think back, I realize my 70s were absolutely one of the best decades of my life. As you so remarkably captured in Second Blooming, we found the impulse, the courage, the strength to become the women we were meant to be in our 60’s and I believe that was the grounding for a new way of being in the world. Once you reach 70, you know your time in this life is limited and your body has been through some major challenges and adjustments. But with a new understanding and acceptance of who you are, you know what you want to do and you spend your time and energy to see what you can accomplish. You accept you are living a reoriented life in new territory….many of the “responsibilities/obligations” that molded you in the past might not fit your evolved being. You have realized you can be who you are and by your 70’s you begin to relax a bit and enjoy this new reality.—Sally Thomason, Memphis, Tennessee (Note: Sally was my neighbor for about six years, and over many cups of coffee at her breakfast table or mine, I soaked up her wisdom. Sally was a big part of the inspiration for the first anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. An octogenarian now, when she was 65 she got her PhD in aging, and published her thesis as a book: The Living Spirit of the Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out. Sally, and her book and others she introduced me to, changed my life. She gave me a new outlook on the “second half of life.” Last year she published her fourth book. Read about all of her books here.)
My author friend Nina Gaby has an essay coming out in an anthology soon, and I asked if she would share an excerpt. Nina is another of the women who contributed to the anthology A Second Blooming. Here’s what she shared:
As I approached turning seventy during the pandemic with few ways to celebrate still open to me (I had planned ahead–a writing retreat, an artist residency, a week in Boston which included a psychiatric conference at Harvard, a group reading for a new anthology, and museum and restaurant time with my daughter) I did what I do. I wrote and made my mixed-media collages, and saw my patients over telepsychiatry. The idea of ritual became more important as I, like so many of us, scrambled about in those early days of the lockdown looking for traction.
“I find the birthday card that I already chose for an old friend of thirty-six years. It will accompany a little plastic Florence Nightingale doll that I am packing up to send back to her as I do every other year. This year the ritual is more of a lifeline.”
I cry through my mask at the Post office as I explain the little box to the curious woman at the counter.
“Every May, between our birthdays, we would exchange “Flo.” Flo is the little plastic nurse doll we named after Florence Nightingale. My mother bought her as a cake topper for our graduation cake in 1986. I made a special foam-lined box so she could travel safely between Arizona and Vermont. This year, I would be sending Flo on time to arrive by Fran’s seventieth birthday.”
From Crying at the Post Office, or Help! I Can’t Find My Eyebrows, in the upcoming anthology, (Her)oics: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Coronavirus Pandemic, editors Roost and Serra, from Regal House on March 11.—Nina Gaby, Burlington, Vermont
I had a hard time with 70. It sounded so old…and then the pandemic came along and they kept referring to the “elderly”—a group that I now belonged to. Some were even suggesting that 65+ was “elderly”! I was insulted. There was some other reference early in 2020 that also insulted me. I turned 70 in November 2019. By the fall of 2020 I was adjusting. I might be 70 but I’m not old! Then to add insult to injury, I broke my collarbone and was told by several different doctors that I was too old to consider surgery—that I would probably (!) heal just fine. (And apparently I have). Also had a tooth issue at the same time and it was suggested that at my age I could probably just have the tooth pulled. (Which I did). Anyway I don’t feel old and resent the implication that I am! Sure I go to bed at 8:30 and am totally clueless about all the people in People magazine, probably not very clued in to computer stuff anymore, etc., etc. But 70 does beat the alternative! And I have truly “elderly” aunts. One is 100 on my dad’s side; on my mom’s side, one is about to be 97 I think! So I sometimes wonder what the next 25-30 years holds for me! Sounds like a very long time.—Margaret Cardwell, Memphis (Note: Margaret is a neighbor, a retired librarian, and avid swimmer who looks, and obviously feels, much younger than seventy!)
There’s a tree outside my window. It’s not a tall tree; in fact it’s quite small. And, since it’s winter and there are several inches of snow on the ground, the tree is completely bare–not a single leaf clings to a branch.
But it’s still a good tree! Its bare bones are attractive in a way that’s different from the buds of spring or full leaf of summer.
It parallels my life as a senior, especially since the pandemic has stripped from me all the superfluous activities that filled my calendar. I think I was ready.
Bare bones right now. But who knows what spring will bring! God can make orchids bloom in the desert!—Celeste Thompson, Franklin Tennessee
Kathy and I will be entering our 8th decade together, like we started our 1st in 1957, side by side. Dear friends & BFFs from the beginning, and then widows of the greatest guys in this world. Each gentleman knew we would take care of each other when they were gone.
We’ll face this next adventure, knowing that the memories we carry with us will keep us laughing through the tough times.— Bertie Hamilton DeWane & Kathy Stanfield Blevins, middle Tennessee
Murrah High School Class of 1969
Several women from my class (1969) at Murrah High School in Jackson, Mississippi have contributed short reflections on turning 70.
Brenda Logan Eddy: Thoughts on 7 Decades
- The first thing that comes to mind is, Wow! How can this be? Just yesterday weren’t we just 30? I still feel 30, but sometimes after a run my body tries to convince me otherwise. And the stranger in the mirror talks back to me.
- Reminiscing about and with old friends is the best; sharing nostalgic music, movies, shows and memories. People you never have to explain anything to; they already know you.
- It’s great to be on the COVID vaccine list early!
- There is no joy like watching your child grow up and getting to know her as an adult and friend.
- Love the connections technology allows us today but hate the depersonalization that can come with it, not to mention lack of grammar.
- 70 years of experiences—in work, relationships, travel—help keep everything in perspective; it’s all been done before. There is nothing more important than your family, friends and just people.
- There is so much beauty and so many wonderful people, but sadly sometimes it seems evil wins. We all continue to leave God out, even legislate it, when all would be so much better if we had faith in His ability to heal.
- So blessed to have married my best friend!—Brenda Logan Eddy, Powell, Ohio (Note: Brenda was a bridesmaid in our wedding, June 13, 1970.)
Happy Birthday, Susan!!! Good to hear from you. Here are some of my thoughts on turning 70. I’ll turn 70 this year on November 13, the same day that my twin, Robert, turns 70. But for us, we’re used to having siblings in their 70s since we’re the youngest of five kids. The big change for me is that I just retired from working at the EPA for 35 years. But I’m finding plenty to do, playing golf three times a week and reading lots of books. Would love to go back to riding horses again !! Hope everyone has a great year!!—Louise Wise, Washington, DC
Leslie Wilkinson Sherrill
Happy Birthday Susan! Hope your 70th is the best ever!—Leslie (Wilkinson) Sherrill
Lynn Adams Long
I turn 70 on March 11th. I know it because the calendar says it but I truly don’t feel it. I am fortunate to be able to do anything I want and am healthy enough to do it! I may have a few aches and pains later but it doesn’t stop me! I do home renovations, play with 5 grandkids under age 5, and still have time to do some traveling. Life is great—at any age. I will be celebrating my 43rd wedding anniversary this summer. My husband and I have both received 2 doses of vaccine with no negative reactions. We’ll be going to a family wedding in April and look forward to seeing everyone again.—Lynn Adams Long, Madeira Beach, Florida
Gailyn Gammill Thornton
70 today with you, so hard to believe. Happy Birthday!! First, I cannot believe how the years have flown by, some I can remember like yesterday and some are a blur. Then, remembering all of the friends that have come and gone and special ones that will be with you forever. It is very sobering and sad to remember the friends who have died, they were so young. I cherish this position in life and am so thankful to be 70. Now I don’t have enough time to accomplish all the new things that interest me—grandchildren, bridge, piano, art, etc. I am optimistic for the coming years. We are35 years old for the second time, but there are not another 35 years to go. Good Grief!! Carpe Diem and be thankful for each one.—Gailyn Gammill Thornton, Atlanta, Georgia
Hi Susan! So good to hear from you. How do I feel about turning 70? In denial! Can it be? Was it that long ago that I danced around the back yard because I was finally eight? I could not wait to get driver’s license and now I have been driving for over fifty years? I remember the dress I wore the day I took the driving test—even the name of the Highway Patrolman. But where are my keys and purse now? My childhood phone number was EM 68051 but what is my Apple id? I know I look my age but I do not feel it. Okay, I felt it in 2019 when I had a hip replacement. Yes, a hip replacement. And I have faced reality and prepaid for my funeral. I am grateful to be here along with my 70 year old friends. We go back a long way! Happy birthday to everyone.—Michelle Hudson, Jackson, Mississippi
Martha Flowers McAlpin
How can I have turned 70 on Feb 9? 70 sounds old, distant, yet it is me right now. Complicating my perception of being 70 is that I physically feel EXACTLY the same as I did at 18. I have the same energy and curiosity I always have had. Surely 70 should feel old, washed out, tired. But it doesn’t. I’m enjoying life more than ever. My gratitude knows no bounds. I live in Starkville and still work full time as a RN with Fresenius. I’ve been with Fresenius for decades. I love my job and I have no plans to retire anytime soon. —Martha Flowers McAlpin, Starkville, Mississippi
Jeannie Culbertson Denniston
I LOVE turning 70. I have loved every milestone because life just keeps getting better. At each milestone I have looked back and assessed my life and made adjustments so that I could become a better person. I am proud of my character and my contribution to humanity. At age 70, I am old enough to REALLY look back and assess but young enough to still assess and still work toward improvement. At age 70, I am now no longer required to do continuing education (as an attorney) but still young enough to be competent in the courtroom. At age 70, I am old enough to be vaccinated but yet young enough to travel anywhere I want to go. At age 70, I am old enough to retire and work part-time and take my time to do the things I want to do. At age 70, I do have more doctors that I see than I did when I was in my 30s, but I am still enjoying good health. I wish everyone health and safety in these times.—Jeannie Culbertson Denniston, Conway, Arkansas
Susan Tate Ferguson
Happy Birthday Susan! This is Susan Tate Ferguson. I turned 70 in November and might be the oldest classmate. Aren’t you glad you are not the oldest? LOL. My hair is about 50% gray, and I am growing it out now (no dye) and embracing my 70’s!! Good times are ahead, and I wish you the very best birthday ever!—Susan Tate Ferguson, Madison, Mississippi