This is a guest post by Alita Buzel, licensed clinical psychologist.
Mrs. Waller’s Memorial Nose
Turning 60 is one of those recently invented rites of passage that post-menopausal women have begun to celebrate in newly established and culturally condoned ways. Often times, women throw themselves elegant parties; treat their very best woman friends to a week at a spa, and/or treat themselves to the classic gift of getting one’s very first face lift. I suppose this is a continuation of the sort of reward that comes with different age hurdles: your “very first bicycle” or “very first kiss” or “very first car” or perhaps your “very first divorce!” Truly, something to look forward to, no?
But, for me, turning 60 meant I could finally treat myself to what I’ve always wanted; a new, smaller, stream lined nose that wouldn’t mortify me when I’d catch my fleeting profile in store mirrors. The response, upon hearing my Turning 60 rites of passage present, has been a fairly unanimous and rousing, “What!?” which equals, “You’re way too old. Why bother now?” Which makes no sense to me; what is a face-lift about except “bothering now.” What does make lots of sense is my not doing what is expected. I’ve made it through almost 60 years listening to my own, somewhat quirky, drummer and done fine. And I have a wonderful role model, someone whose nose I would follow anywhere, Mrs. Waller.
Every young woman should have a Mrs. Waller in their growing years; the mother who was so unlike your mother yet still a mother! (Often times your best friend’s mother) who offers you a peek into a different reality and possibility. She has to be somewhat outrageous, brilliant, courageous; a towering figure that inspires awe, wonder, and among her various children, a certain degree of exhaustion and resignation. “Yes, that is, in fact, my mother.”
Growing up (or hiding out) at Mrs. Waller’s big, sprawling house was, I suppose, challenging, definitely different. There were so many children from her various divorces, marriages, remarriages, so much chaos, that it was easy to just blend in with the crew and get fed if you happen to be at the table when dinner was served (no one noticed, which was such a difference from my quiet household). Or scooped up when everyone was heading out on the WallaWalla (Mrs. Waller’s little boat that ferried her to her father’s yacht) to spend the day floating around the bay watching the adults drink (a lot) while my best friend and I passed the hours looking for dead bodies in the water(our favorite pastime when stuck on the boat).
It was a house of incredible wealth, but I never, not for one moment, felt less than or that I didn’t belong. That was one of the beauties of Mrs. Waller. She just loved; if you were there, you were loved. It was a house of women’s energy. Yes, Mrs. Waller had a husband (actually a couple along the way) but that wasn’t where the energy, the heart of the house resided. Woe be to you if you disturbed “Mom” who was perpetually working on her Library M.A.. And woe, again, be to you if you didn’t stand up to bullies, or you let a boyfriend hurt you or you didn’t hold your head up high….then the power of Mrs. Waller could be felt in her angry cheer-leading of her children, “You are wonderful, God Damn It! Now remember it!” And if things went wrong, as they invariably do with all those kids, you could hear Mrs. Waller storm around screaming, “Balls! Balls! Balls!” in her beautiful private-school diction. And you knew to run into whosever’s room was closest and take cover.
Yes, she was beautiful. She was tall as an oak tree and as elegant and graceful with dark, curly hair and matching olive completion. She didn’t move, she flowed. Years later, when I was visiting her during a college break, I noticed that her nose, always patrician and impressive, was now beautifully shaped. I didn’t say a thing, she seemed not to notice me noticing, but she looked, if anything, more beautiful than ever. She was no longer young but her energy and life-force were vital and vibrant. I was so proud of her.
I loved Mrs. Waller for what she gave me; I wish I knew how much before we lost her a few short years ago. So, here I am, at the brink of 60. What I want, more than a face-lift, a new car, a week at a spa, is to channel Mrs. Waller’s courage, playfulness and joi de vivre that never left her. So, my beloved and dearly missed Mrs. Waller, I dedicate my new nose to you.
Alita Buzel is a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist and writer. She enjoys writing articles and essays on women’s issues.