tough times target elderly ladies

Dear Uma: Bring on the faggots! Winter has arrived and according to some research I’ve been doing, it’s witch-burning time.

Dear Uma:

Bring on the faggots!

Winter has arrived and according to some research I’ve been doing, it’s witch-burning time.

Winter is very lovely, graciously covering the litter of Styrofoam, plastic bags and beer cans with a blanket of white.

But with the blanket comes the cold and the dark, and people seem to have a hard time staying cheerful in cold and dark; the global economic perils add to the black chill and everywhere the sound of fear is heard, the voices scripted and magnified by a media loving the action around people who are scared.

Historically, when times get hard women are often the first to go, beginning with the old women, especially widowed old women.

We have all heard the stories of old women being left on ice floes, abandoned in camps, neglected, starved and burned at the stake as witches.

Emily Oster, an economist at the University of Chicago, has been gathering systematic data on the link between the witch trials and the weather.

She’s discovered between 1520 and 1770, colder decades go hand-in-hand with more trials. When the temperature dropped, the number of witch trials increased.

The findings of Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, show a correlation between tough economic times and the murder of women. Again, it is the elderly women who are the victims; they are the ones who are the likeliest candidates for witchhood.

Witch killings all but stopped in South Africa’s North Province after a pension scheme was introduced in the early 1990s.

The coming of Halloween prompted me to go searching for costume ideas, the scarier the better.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” it is said, and I am of the firm belief that Halloween is one of those occasions where all adults should step up to the plate and do our duty towards the children in our village.

We should make every effort to frighten them, to cause them to truly feel terrified out of their wits.

Engaged in this earnest desire to play my part on the coming eve, this is what I end up with — scholastic findings scarier than Stephen King.

As an aging woman in 2008, I am not about to ignore this information. Is it not enough that we are incessantly bombarded with the expectation we stay youthful using the thousands upon thousands of lotions and potions, pills and surgical procedures, diets, and exercises that demand new wardrobes as well as memberships or expensive equipment?

Isn’t it enough to be made constantly aware of how lonely, how utterly coarse and unlovely our lives will be should we age?

The unspoken, but universally understood threat is that no one will love us; no one will take care of us or help us as we lose the gloss of youth and totter into the sunset of our years.

We certainly will not be considered employable, so unless we have a dearly departed who left us money, we are also going to be wretchedly poor.

Now we learn that there is also the fear of being burned at the stake.

The only way to avoid aging is to die early and I’m already too old for that.

At various phases and stages of my life I have engaged in exercise programs, regimented and altered my food intake, slathered on lotions and eaten pills, all guaranteed to keep my body bendy and my taut skin moulded to my strong bones while my shining tresses tumbled over my perky breasts.

Even with the richness of these promises I lacked the strength of character, or the attention span, or whatever it takes, to stay with any of these activities for more than a few days — if that.

I have been known to go off a diet between getting out of bed and lunch time.

A fit of coughing, or a good sneeze, can be considered a workout, and stretching up to those top shelves where the snack stuff is stored keeps me limber.

The bathroom cabinet is home to bottles and jars of crèmes and oils, some unopened; by the time they’ve arrived at the post office I have either moved on to a greener pasture around the Fountain of Youth or forgotten to participate in the battle against getting older, leaving my weapons to moulder on the shelf.

There have been those long stretches of time, sometimes years, when I make no effort whatsoever to stave off the sags and wrinkles.

My body does its chores without complaint and whatever I see in the mirror as I wash my face or dress myself does not startle, or please; it simply does not engage my attention.

Then one fateful day, unprepared, I see my reflection in a store window, or a mirror in a public washroom. This experience often merits a shriek of horror and disbelief before crouching down, face hidden in liver-spotted hands, to weep and moan.

The buying begins, the resolutions are made. Once more, into the breach, waging the war against the telltale signs of a life lived.

Before any change can be effected however, the energy to make it happen has been diverted or has vanished.

Here I am, definitely aging, and seemingly widowed, due to Pete’s work schedule of two weeks home and two weeks gone.

I am living in a land of nearly perpetual winter — very cold winter.

The town in which I dwell has no economy; while not actually being poor, the townsfolk feel as though they live on the verge of deprivation.

These people who, half mad with the dark and the cold, can become like tuning forks, ready to vibrate with indignation and rage at anything displeasing.

Sounds like a place ripe for widowed-old-women bonfires, doesn’t it? And what could be more inciting than a woman’s weathered, widowed visage stuck atop a thick and drooping body?

Fortunately, winter clothing means one’s face and body are almost entirely covered and the coverings make people indistinguishable from one another. Age and gender are a mystery on the streets of Watson Lake in winter.

I will be safe checking the mail at the post office; it is on those occasions demanding one divest oneself of toques and scarves, snow pants and parkas, that the danger lies.

Those events can be avoided, at some possible cost to friendships, and definitely placing a strain on the primary relationship, represented by Pete, who is a social being and looks forward to mingling with the village folks when he is home.

It is a long time till spring, and I doubt he will share my new concerns about being burned at the stake.

He may, however, suggest a midwinter holiday in a warmer, kinder place; a place where I can walk in the sun, without fear that the sight of my middle-aged self will cause the locals to reach for the kindling.

Meanwhile, winter advances, and it is always darkest before it goes pitch black.

Happy Halloween.

Love,

Heather

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