by Eleanor Brown
Nora is 88 years old. Shes ignoring her broken toes and her doctors
advice to two-step her way through a Spice Girls hit tune.
Call her Mini Spice. When the line I want you pops out of
the boom-box, she swivels her stooped and frail frame, pointing at each
of 30 students in a Hall Building classroom. Shes a bit of a ham.
They all are.
The four Old Spice Girls and three Over-Spiced Men visited Sociology Professor
Pearl Crichtons class on aging and seniors on March 6. They performed
enthusiastic but not-quite-synchronized fitness routines (the men lifted
five-pound weights to the tune of Old Bones) before sitting down
for a question-and-answer session.
Alison (Naughty Spice) was married for 51 years to a minister. Shes
been on her own now for 12 years. After he died, the parish work
disappeared. I was lonesome.
The oldsters, all over 75, exercise together in a church hall its
less intimidating for seniors than walking into a gym filled with high-tech
gizmos. Exercise keeps injuries down. Perhaps more importantly, it creates
a social network for people who become increasingly isolated as friends
die and family move away.
Activity is important
The company is led by fitness instructor Gay Elliott. Its the children
of her clients who give her the most grief.
Do you think they really should be doing that at their age?
mimics Elliott. She wonders what the oldsters should do instead. Do
you wait around and twiddle your thumbs until its time to die?
The less you do, the less you want to do, Elliott said simply.
The world gets smaller.
Some of the seven tell of strokes and cataract operations or bypass surgery.
Hippie Spice has an artificial one. Ken has two titanium knees (the men
dont have the nicknames or at least, none that they share
with the crowd).
Kay (Forgetful Spice) says she travelled so much with her husband that
when he died a year ago, she didnt know anyone in Hudson. For
those of us who live alone, the emotional thing is just great. Its
like a second family.
Kay has own agenda for this class of students. If I could make a
law, Id make sure there must be a law that if youre in a nursing
home, someone must come to see you.
Two of the women volunteer at a nursing home, where they lead exercise
routines, even if its just moving hands and feet. Music from the
1920s and 30s recall their youth, and even those with Alzheimers
Most of the Spices say theyre not afraid of dying. Its illness
that bothers them. My husband died quickly, said one. It
was a heart attack. I was grateful for that.
Theyre more forgetful, but they get away with everything because
theyre old, said one senior with a laugh. Theyre still interested
in sex. Another regrets only that she can no longer dance all night long.
All but one still drives. So you feel youre competent drivers?
asked a student. Youre darn tootin, Kay responded.
Were not old yet. Kay has decided that no ones
going to stick her with that label.
Professor Crichton has taught this class for six years, but only discovered
the Spices in 2001. She hopes the seniors will make an annual appearance.
There is very little interaction between the generations, she said, and
this is an opportunity to share insight and experience. Our old age will
reflect how we have prepared for it.
We age and die as we live. I try to show my students that weve
neglected old age, which is a natural, inherent part of life.