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A geezer's journal: Lavinia

lavinia"Come in," she said, waving me in with a low hand.  I caught the door and she turned around in a measured pivot, giving me her back and talking as she walked toward the living room.

"I don't know why you want to see an old lady like me," she said as she hobbled away from me.

I could see she was bent over.  She had that smallish hump in her back many old people have, and it seemed to weight on her heavily.

Lavinia. Lavinia Russ.

She was the "old lady" I would visit weekly in her apartment in Greenwich Village for about two years until I left for France to try to be a real writer.

Lavinia taught me what it was like to grow old, be old, and not to like it one bit.  She faced it with acrimony, honed sarcasm, flair--oh, she had flair!--and downright anger.

I met her through an organization in Greenwich Village called Village Visiting Neighbors that paired older people who wanted company with younger volunteers.  It really turned out the other way around.

Now, after two husbands and a career as a children's book author (Over the Hills and Far Away), she was alone.  And growing old.  And despising it.

"The thing is," she said once, "I don't like old people.  I can't think of anything worse than sitting in a room with a bunch of old people."  She shuddered.  "They're always complaining."

She said once to me that when she died, the first thing she was going to ask God was, "Whydo we have to grow old?  Why can't we be like one of those big wonderful trees in the forest that simply..." And here she made a long slow swooping movement of her hand, "...fall down when it's time.  That would be so much more dignified."

She died in 1992.

Lavinia, I wonder what answer you got.

Richard Goodman is an assistant professor of creative nonfiction writing at the University of New Orleans.  He’s the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France.