Charlotte County, Florida has the highest percentage of people of over 65 in America. I know this because Wikipedia said so. Vendors here sell T-shirts and bumper stickers that say “I See Old People”. And I’ve been out there on the street. Researching.
I doubt there will ever be a reality show about the Real Housewives of Charlotte County, but if there ever is my research tells me it might look something like this:
The housewives will have names like Eleanor, Margaret, Mary and Frances. They won’t stab each other in the back for ratings – they will HAVE each others’ backs – there when a spouse is sick, a beloved pet dies, a diagnosis is delivered, or loneliness overwhelms.
Instead of dining on caviar and champagne at elegant charity balls, state dinners or celebrity shin-digs, these housewives will meet on Friday nights at the VFW for the fish fry. Or at their favorite restaurant. Instead of ordering separate meals, they will order one Early Bird special, 2 plates, and a pot of hot water for the tea bags they brought from home. They will chug prune juice before bed (somewhere around 7:30 pm).
Instead of designer gowns and glittery shoes, they will wear house dresses with easy front snaps, and house slippers. Instead of manicures and pedicures, these ladies will arrange appointments for diabetic foot checks and fungal toenail infections. They will buy orthopedic shoes, with velcro closures, and support hose.
Instead of getting hair extensions and highlights, these ladies will get rinses with a lovely blue tint. Their hair will be set on rollers, then styled into a helmet shape that will be heavily lacquered for stability. In fact, their hairstyle will have more strength than their bones.
Instead of spending money on elaborate parties for their children, these ladies will get swindled by callers impersonating their grandchildren. Who claim to be in serious legal trouble and who need quick cash. They wire the money because they love their grandchildren; even through they haven’t called or written in several years.
These women don’t have to try to decide which fancy school their spoiled brats will attend, or which charity to support. They have to decide whether to get prescriptions this month OR groceries.
Instead of catered affairs, these women are likely to dine on culinary offerings from Meals on Wheels. They own playing cards older than the televised housewives; and they play euchre, bridge, or canasta with friends they’ve kept just as long.
Instead of cosmetic surgery to erase wrinkles, sagging skin and laugh lines, these women carry the evidence of years spent without sunscreen. Instead of getting their eyes done, they share a pair of reading glasses with their spouses, taking turns reading the Sunday paper.
Speaking of Sunday, these women are likely to spend it at church. It may be the only trip their 20 year-old automobile will make this week. They may not remember their neighbors’ names, their own phone number or which medications they take, but they still know every word to their favorite hymns and Bible passages.
Instead of arguing with, or browbeating their husbands for not providing MORE, MORE, MORE, these women will know there is no more. These women are likely to outlive their husbands. Many will become 24-hour caretakers for men who don’t know the old woman sitting across the table from them.
Instead of employing drivers, gardeners, and housekeepers these women struggle to maintain their homes and yards with gnarled hands, hips that no longer bend, and knees that don’t permit kneeling.
Instead of forking over dough for personal trainers and massages, these women will spend their precious resources on physical therapy, chiropractors, and incontinence supplies. Instead of tummy tucks and boob jobs, these women endure colostomies and mastectomies.
And instead of trying to convince the world that their televised lives aren’t scripted these housewives will be living out their own – sometimes harsh, sometimes desperate – reality.
With quiet strength and dignity.