About a quarter of a century ago I was introduced into two close circles of wealthy dowagers of ages ranging from the mid-seventies to mid-eighties. One circle was in a major city in the northeast and the other in a southern small exclusive community. I have no details of their economic worth but just let me mention that one owned a famous racetrack and the other endowed enough money to a university that her name became almost synonymous with it.
I must emphasize two things: the first is that, even as a kid, I always respected and enjoyed the company of the “old folks”, and the second is that I was about 25 years younger than the youngest dowager. Also, I’m not sure whether any of them are still with us.
Though with certain exceptions, there was a commonality of life’s outlook among them. All were tough, impeccably well dressed, loved their lunches and dinners together and all had unbudgeable opinions- and I mean unbudgeable! At that time America was entering our rapid social change ranging from increasing drug consumption and sex participation to the increasing welfare state. If they were alive today, they would not be happy troopers – not at all.
Before I go on, there was a very clear-cut difference in behavior between the North and South dowagers. At lunch the southern ladies frequently wore outlandish hats, and they wore them with pride! One day, I dared to ask the question, “Why do you ladies wear these hats at lunch?” One of the very strong ones fired back, “Doctor, because we like it.” That answer shut me up. All the dowagers unequivocally believed in heretofore American belief that one should mind their own business. Privacy was the 11th Commandment with these gals.
They, however, when asked by me, were not at all hesitant and also proud to tell their stories of how they came upon their wealth. A few told me it came from trickle down family wealth but a number from their husbands who started out from scratch and made it on their own. One, as a boy, started out selling newspapers in a freezing mountainous region to help support his family. Another husband was also a boy from a poor farm family out west who milked the cows at 5:30 in the morning during the freezing weather. They were all, with eyes sparkling, very proud of their husbands and talking about how these men took care of them and their families.
Needless to say, they were all conservative in their politics emphasizing the importance of hard work.
I loved being with these dowagers, and here’s something that will surprise many of you. They still, on a level of man-woman chemistry exclusive of hormones, expressed interest in being with men. One day, I was having lunch with four of them in their private club all regaled with wondrous hats when a distinguished man in his early 80’s entered the restaurant. One of the ladies was puzzled and somewhat displeased why he had chosen as a companion a woman who was a bore. I, curious asked why they thought he was such a catch. One of the ladies smiled and replied, “He still has his teeth and still can drive at night.”
To my platonic sweethearts of the past, let me just say, “Wherever you are, I both enjoyed and immensely miss my moments with you. Happy Valentine’s Day!”