Coming of Age in Plainfield:
Women’s Stories of Successful Aging
Kay’s Writings on Aging
Like the other women in this study, Kay Metcalfe has always been fascinated by words. She has read widely throughout her long life, and she has also used writing as a way to express her views on life and aging. In these writings, Kay is doing the kind of mental processing that Gene Cohen, the influential geriatric psychiatrist, feels is an important task for many people in the years after seventy. At this time of life, people “feel more urgently the desire to find larger meaning in the story of their lives through a process of review, summarizing, and giving back … we begin to experience ourselves as ‘keepers of the culture’ and often want to contribute to others more of whatever wisdom and wealth we may have accumulated” (The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Mind, pp. 75-76, quoted in Beth Baker, With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older, p. 112).
In 1999, Kay’s desire to explore the meaning of her life led her to enroll in a writing group for seniors led by Wynne Busby and supported by grants from the cultural councils of Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield, Williamsburg, and Worthington, which are, in turn, supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a State Agency. In the first writing in this collection, “Somehow, somewhere …,” Kay expresses how she overcame her fear and joined this “creative” writing group. The next two writings (“A Momentous Moment” and “I Was And Now I Am”) were published in the group’s collection entitled “Reminiscences” (Fall 1999).
In this handwritten introduction to the writing group’s published collection, Kay explains how she overcame her initial fear and ventured into this “new and different experience.”
This piece from the collection entitled “Reminiscences” illustrates Kay’s independence and agency as a young woman who traveled to France to continue her study of art and design. Viewing the coastline of Europe from the deck of the steamship Champlain was a “moment that changed [her] view of life on this earth.”
In this piece, which was also published in “Reminiscences,” Kay describes the firm foundation she received as a child growing up in a family where life was “natural and safe” and where parents and elders “made life move smoothly onward.” She ends by contemplating her present life in a more complicated world. She realizes that conflicts will always be with us but believes that “Peace … will overcome eventually.”
Several years later, Kay began a series of reflective writings in which she actively worked to express to herself and others what she has learned from living and what growing old has meant to her. Sadly, the wisdom of our elders is not always welcomed in our fast-paced, forward-looking culture. This is a huge loss to society as Eckhart Tolle explains in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose:
“It is precisely through the onset of old age, through loss or personal tragedy, that the spiritual dimension would traditionally come into people’s lives. . . . In most ancient cultures, there must have been an intuitive understanding of this process, which is why old people were respected and revered. They were the repositories of wisdom and provided the dimension of depth without which no civilization can survive for long. In our civilization, which is totally identified with the outer and ignorant of the inner dimension of spirit, the word old has mainly negative connotations. It equals useless and so we regard it as almost an insult to refer to someone as old.” (pp. 285-86)
While others in her age group may feel silenced by society’s negative view of old people, Kay Metcalfe decided to share her perspective on aging with others in the community. In a series of writings reproduced here, the first written in 2003, when she was 90, Kay explores what it means to be one of the “oldest old.”
“I am 90 years old and much is to be said for this age” (August 2003)
In this writing, Kay expresses the idea that at age 90 she has ended up on the other side of the “Looking Glass.” This final stage of life “releases so many misconceptions.” In this new space, “one ponders not on regrets.”
Ode to Aging (2006)
Here Kay expresses the sense of “drifting” or “floundering” into a new time of life. She describes new sources of enjoyment along with challenges as she finds this “last phase” to offer “a grand awareness.”
“Since the ‘Baby Boomers’ are getting well into their 60’s” (March 25, 2007)
In this reflection, Kay acknowledges the challenges of aging, especially the illness and death of her husband. She finds herself in a “strange environment” where her life seems “Upside-Down.” However, she goes on to write that she “grasped some determination” to deal with the limitations of age.
“With my interest in writing about Old Age . . .” (April, 25, 2007)
In this piece, written during a spate of writing in spring of 2007, when she was 94, Kay asks a key question: “How I wish the knowledge in one’s brain, especially of great importance would survive after death. How can it pass into oblivion?” These writings may be her attempt to transmit and preserve the knowledge she has gained.
MOTION is not Stationary (April 30, 2007)
In this poem, which she revised many times, Kay explores broad philosophical and spiritual questions. Here she shares understandings that have evolved throughout her long life.
“Ah, Change” (September 2008)
In this poem, which Kay published in the Plainfield Post, she reflects on the nature of change, a subject that continues to be of great interest to her as she ages. Her own flexibility in adapting to change is a key factor in her successful aging.
“I must now write about myself” (May 18, 2009)
At a social gathering in Plainfield, a younger friend asked Kay how it felt to be 96 years old. This piece was her answer to that question.
In this reflection, Kay describes her daily life in what she terms “a different place, Eldest Age.” She recounts the physical problems that slow her down and mentions the tasks that still need to be done.
“My meditations indicate . . .” (May 2010)
In this philosophical reflection, which was revised extensively, Kay revisits the concerns of her 2007 poem “MOTION is not Stationary.” As in the earlier piece, she focuses on ideas of “Good vs. Bad” and the need for balance.
As she has in other writings, Kay describes “falling” into a new dimension—“old age.” Now, at age 98, she is very conscious of the “inordinate skills” of old age, which are making everyday life increasingly difficult.
“Several months ago, I fell . . .” (May 20, 2011)
With encouragement from Alice Schertle, a writer and friend from Plainfield, Kay revised the previous piece and reformatted it as a poem. It was published in the Plainfield Post of May 20, 2011. Through her writings over the years, Kay shares her experience of aging with the local community, creating a record of what this experience has meant to her.
“Dear Rebecca” (March 9, 2013)
I have many notes and letters that Kay has mailed to me over the years. This one, composed in her 100th year, was written in her beautiful, distinctive hand on lovely note paper.