"I’ll Never Tell My Age Again!”
NELLIE L. McCLUNG
I THINK I know why I was chosen to write an article on age. Once in the long past, I was presented with a sheet of questions to answer and one of them said:
Year of Birth? and in that space I gaily set it down. Later commentators on the subject of why women do not tell their age, referred to this bulky volume in which my answers and many others appear and said: “In the Canadian Who’s Who, of a certain year, only two women have set down their age.” I was one of them.
But before I go an inch farther I am going to make a statement. If I had to do it again, I would not write it down, and I want to tell why. It isn’t that I care who knows my age but, under present conditions, improved though they are, regarding women, there is still a feeling that for women to grow old in years, is something of a crime. The reason for this is not far to seek. Age has been a severe disqualification in women’s greatest field. The man who said he would rather have two women of twenty-five than one of fifty stated the case with brevity and exactness. In the specifications for matrimony Clause A deals with age.
So it is hard to tell a woman’s age after she has passed thirty-five, hard for her to tell it I mean. After that it is not a mere matter of telling; it is a confession. All this is changing and will change still more.
Blow, Blow, Ye Trade Wind!
Some little time ago the author of “The Second Chance” confessed her age in a Who’s Who. Now she says: “We women have to stand to-
gether”—and refuses to tell it again. Why? Well, for one thing:. “Even ladles must eat.”
his secretary was responsible for the work. When she remonstrated with him, he told her he liked them “young and pretty.”
Even Ladies Must Eat
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH CO. Coble Service to oil the World Money Transferred by Telegraph
lerms oo back here»:', which are bcieb? agreed !o
November 24, 1925.
Mre. R.W. McClung, 1501 - 7th st. W., Calgary, Alta.
your article on *'Age” is splendid (3top) To malte it more informative for our readers may I mention your own exact age?
Editor, MACLEAN'S MAGAZINE-
WCA2 88 5
BRANDON MAN 27 1125A J VERNON MCKENZIE
‘A? EDITOR MACLEANS TORONTO ONT
AGE TOLD TOO OFTEN ALREADY^
925 NOV 27 PM > 24
THE emancipation of women came with the typewriter and the introduction of electricity into the home, and to-day the trade winds have carried her a long way on the road to self-determination. But these same winds, strong as they are, have not entirely blown away all the prejudices that have grown up around women during the long years of their economic dependence.
Even in business, a woman has to combat the idea of age and its association with incompetence. Old age pension bills plainly state that women employees must be superannuated earlier than men. Examine your own mind on the matter and you will find that you are in accord with this, though you will admit, at least I hope you will, that it is unfair. We glibly say women age faster than men, which is true only in the manner in which we “age” them in our minds.
That brings me to the statement I made in the first paragraph, I don’t care who knows my age, but I feel that we women have to stand together, and until the world puts women on the same age basis as men, we are wise to keep our age a secret. I did not think of this until a friend of mine pointed it out to me. She said: “By telling your age so frankly, you seem to reprove the others of us, who refrain from setting down the date,” and then she, being a New Thoughter, went on to tell me that as I grew older 1 would suffer all sorts of age-symptoms, failing sight, rheumatism, loss of memory, garrulity (she said that wouldn’t show so much), credulity, and despondency, because so many people were directing age-thoughts toward me.
I locked myself out of my state-room, on the Noronic when I went east this summer It wasn’t my fault. It -wasn’t because I was thinking so hard about this article.
Not at all. Some of you had sent me an age-thought!
Well, anyway, I am here to say that this friend of mine can talk with authority. When I saw her first she was a mature woman about forty, slim, black haired, athletic. So was I, but then I was only about thirtythree; that was some time ago. She is still slim, black haired, athletic. I am, oh well, I’ve quit telling; anyway I am in no shape to talk back to her!
And after that she went on to say: “In the years to come when you write another book people will say, ‘Is that old girl still writing books? Let me see, she was born—I just forget, but I know where to find it. Well, it’s time she stepped back; she’s sure had her day.’ ”
She is a candid friend all right, but I see her point and acknowledge my mistake.
The reason that men are not so sensitive about their age as women is that age is not so deadly in a man’s work. Men are more independent and they know they are not hired for their decorative value. Almost every mature woman worker knows that she may lose her job to the lip-stick beauty, if her employer is a man.
One of the private secretaries in a big commercial concern told me she was instructed by her employer to get an extra stenographer. She interviewed the applicants and was prepared to recommend a woman whose ability she knew to be of the best. Her employer coming through the room where the applicants sat saw one little fluffy beauty, golden-haired and slim, and without hesitation, chose her. She was inexperienced, careless, and unreliable, but she held the position. Of course if he had had to bear with her mistakes, and her incompetence, her beauty would not have availed, but
IS it any wonder that omen, both matrimonially and industrially, look upon age as an incurable disease, whose ravages must be hidden as long as possible? Is it any wonder that beauty parlors thrive, with their muscle-strapping, hair-dyeing, mud baths and face lifters?
Is it any wonder that women hate to tell their age? Can you blame them? Of course, we know they should be brave and tell it out plain, and never try to dissemble, even though they lose their jobs. Theoretically that is fine, but it just won’t work. Even ladies must eat.
There are women so sensi tive about telling their age that they will not take out an insurance policy, because of that question which must be asked and answered. Indeed it is a wise agent who takes the brutality from it by asking, “In what year were you born?’? and then looking so innocent and detached from life, that his lady client feels sure he never learned how to subtract, and has too lofty a mind to do it, even if he did know.
But the picture is not all dark. I see a break in the clouds. Times are changing. Women have other fields of activity now than marriage; life is not all a beauty contest. We are not perpetually marching down Peacock Alley! Even men are beginning to believe that there are other qualities than beauty necessary for a successful marriage, and the conception of beauty is widening, too. Curls and dimples are not obligatory. Heroines of books are not all beautiful, I remember what a thrill it gave me, years ago, to read Florence Barclay’s “Rosary” and find that the heroine was a big raw-boned, dark-skinned girl, over thirty, who stirred the fire with her boot, and who! in spite of all, was able to cause quite a flurry in masculine hearts. It was a surprise to me to find that it could be done, brought up as I was on the lovely, delicate, cherrybloom type, who burst into tears on one page and faint dead away on the next.
Athletic sports for women have done much to widen the conception of beauty. Durability and strength have entered the picture. The Commercial Grads, of Edmonton, who brought to their city the first world championship and are popular idols in the west, are all big girls, with swinging strides, capable hands, swift and graceful, and lovely in a new sense of loveliness. Not a faint, not a tear; no one could ever call them clinging vines. But every little girl who ever saw one of their wonderful performances wants to be like them. They have created a new type of beauty, not only of physical grace, but of mind and heart, these western girls, so dignified, and sweet, and wholesome, and unspoiled by all their triumphs.
The passing of youth is not all sadness. Life has its compensation all the way along its long road. When Kittie Kite, in “The Passing of the Third Floor Back,” rebuked by the kindly stranger for trying to look younger than she was, turned to him almost in terror and cried, “I have to hide my age if I can, I am forty,” he replied, “Forty is a beautiful age; it is young enough to have still the enthusiasm of youth, and old enough to have learned charity.”
That is the great compensation of the years. We
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“I’ll Never Tell My Age Again!”
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mellow as we grow older. Time shows us the error of hating and worrying. It allays the griefs that are too poignant to be borne.
NOT wishing to contradict any one who says forty is a beautiful age, I cannot help remembering that on my fortieth birthday I felt old and withered and sad. It was a dark day of rain that slithered down the windows all day and turned to snow at night, whitening the grain-stooks that stood in the fields so that the next morning they looked like
the tents of an enemy that had crept up on us while we slept. The desolation of “Rain in Harvest” was over everything. The old-timers said the crop was done for this time. The grain was growing in the stooks. Life seemed to me to be unnecessarily cruel and the few gray hairs that ran back from my temples were all a part of the sorry scheme of things. They, too, were portents of the enemy who could not be entreated or stayed. I knew I was fighting a losing battle with a relentless foe. To make matters worse no one remembered my birthday, and that was something which
had never happened before. So I was sure that I was the “sort of a girl that the world forgets,” though I probably did not think of those very words, for that doleful dirge had not been written then. Anyway I went deeper and deeper into the Slough of Despond. I was like the colored girl who when her sister died went into mourning from the skin out and when told by her mistress that to wear black outer garments was quite enough, replied, haughtily: “Not fer me! Wben I mou’ns, I mou’ns!” I cannot remember how I came out of it but I do know that I have never suffered another attack like this one.
No, not even when I got the first jolt on this subject. It was when a party of newspaper people came to Edmonton and we were all on hand to welcome our guests. We drove them around the city, and made speeches for them, even listened to their speeches, took their photographs and sent them prints and all. They did their part, too, for when they went home and had time to think about all they had come through they wrote about it in their papers—and sent it to us. One old man sent his paper to me. I remember him very well. He was so old I thought he was a brave old chap to attempt the trip and so singled him out of the crowd and did all I could to give him a pleasant visit. He assured me that he had been “West” before. He had twice been to Sarnia!
This is what he wrote, “When we were in Edmonton we met two women of note, Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. McClung, and both were a surprise to us ... In the rotunda of the hotel we saw coming towards us a stout middle-aged person of kindly face and plain dress, and were surprised to know that this was none other, etc., etc.”
Stout! Middle-aged! Plain dress!
I am sorry he ever got past Sarnia! But that is not a proper way for me to talk, and I will take it all back. I have nothing against Sarnia.
Billowy Beds of Knotty Boughs
THE first symptom of my rebellion, though I did not recognize it as a symptom then, was a stern resolve to show to the-..world that I was just as young as I ever was. I was suffering from this complex when I decided to take a horseback trip. You see I can see now what was controlling my thoughts but at that time I was convinced that the wide-open spaces were calling me, and that I was being choked by the dust of civilization, and that I needed to bathe my sensitive soul in silence and all that. So we went; and we slept on billowy beds of spruce boughs, gnarled and knotty and hard, that dug cruel elbow's into us, and pretended we did not mind being punched black and blue; and ate out of the frying pan; rode over rough mountain paths, and found out that the man who gave out the number of bones in the human body to be two hundred and eight, overlooked some. But I looked the whole world in the face and dared anyone to even think I was tired or aching. And I took a lot of pictures and wrote about the healing tang of pine trees, and the balm that lurks in the heart of lovely things. I suppose my mind turned to balms and unguents as naturally as the hungry man tortures himself with thoughts of food. But I stuck it out and came home triumphant. I had ridden and walked and climbed the hills and kept up with the party, and no one could do that who had not some of the fires of youth in their blood! And so passed another reel of the moving pictures that are being constantly thrown on that narrow canvas which we call the Present, where the film is called the Future on one side and the Past on the other.
I never like to hear people tell children that they are in the happiest stage of life’s journey. Childhood is the time of poignant grief and bitterest disappointments. The road really gets better the farther we go or we achieve a philosophy which acts as a shock-absorber when the going is rough.
Last Fall we had a snow storm in September. Into the trees with their spreading branches fell the snow, great wet blobs of it that stuck to the green leaves and weighed down the poor branches until they cracked and fell with groans that were almost human. The
streets were piled with broken trees— trees that had taken years to grow snapped off in a night. Here and there stood a birch that had matured early and shed its leaves in the first wind storm of the early fall, stripped and hare and defiant of the snow. That sight comforted me when my heart was sad for the broken trees, for I knew it was a parable sent for our discerning. It is well for us to shed some of the leaves of youth before the snowstorms of life come upon us. Our craving for admiration, for entertainment, for applause, our dependence on external things for happiness—these are the leaves which will catch the snows of disappointment to our soul’s great sorrow, and withering disappointment. But when these are shed how straight and gay we can stand, like the birch tree, slim and black and wonderful with all unrest gone by. And growing old is not all loss. The autumn-tinted maple tree, though lacking the slimness of the willow, has a beauty of its own.
Our Face is Our Road Map
THERE is no doubt about it. There is a beauty of age as wTell as of youth, but the years are relentlessly just. We reap as we bave sown. We may hide ill temper, envy, greed and all other unlovely things in our youth, keeping them fairly well hidden from view, but they will come flocking down the front steps, shouting to every passer-by, when youth is past. There is no such thing as camouflage when we get past forty-five. What we have been, and are, is written between our eyes. If you have ever poisoned your neighbor’s dog or have written anonymous letters or knifed your best friend, it will show then.
That is why faces are so interesting; they bubble over with information and it is for this reason, too, that the use of the word “map” instead of face is not a slang expression; there is truth back of it. Our face is our road map inasmuch as it shows the way we have come.
The saddest old face of all is the negative face, that has no enthusiasm, no interest, no inward light at all; the burned out old face that hasn’t even a pleasant memory. Poor young Byron, old not with years, voiced this condition pitifully when he said that his days were in the yellow leaf, with all the flowers and fruits of love gone, and only the worm and the canker remaining.
The trouble with people who come into an empty old age is that they have overspent their account in the days of their strength, and didn’t put by one nourishing memory, nor one wholesome enthusiasm or one devouring loyalty, and so find themselves stranded on an arid and barren coast, with their mind turning round and round like a mill stone that has no grist.
And just as we need an insurance policy to secure us from want, so, too, we need a mental and spiritual insurance against that terrible isolation and loneliness into which so many old people enter, when they are no longer able to seek excitement and distraction from without.
I know one woman, who was always interested in Missions, but had little time to spend on anything but the daily grind. Now she is free from family cares, and spends her time happily. She writes to twenty-five missionaries, she clips newspapers for them; and keeps them in touch with the happenings of their native land, and is interesting many in their work. She has not one dull or idle moment. Her interest in Missions in her Old Age Insurance.
It is only those who approach old age with no hobbies, no deferred ambitions, no unfinished business who are bored, and desolate.
So let us take Henley’s courageous words for our slogan—that the years have found and will still find us unafraid.
JUST as I wrote these words, a young friend of mine came in to tell me it was his birthday, and dared me to giiess his age. I guessed it. Five years! Then having this subject of age in my mind I asked him to guess mine.
He wrinkled his little freckled nose, and turned his head on one side so that he might the better see me; and after a long pause, gave his decision.
“0 gosh!” he said. “You’re pretty near a hundred”—No doubt the young man was merely speaking in round numbers!