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March 14, 2002 Growing old gracefully and with spice



Old Spice Girls

Spice of Life members stay young with fitness routines.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Eleanor Brown

Nora is 88 years old. She’s ignoring her broken toes and her doctor’s 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. She’s a bit of a ham. They all are.

The four Old Spice Girls and three Over-Spiced Men visited Sociology Professor Pearl Crichton’s 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. She’s 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 — it’s 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. It’s 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 it’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t know anyone in Hudson. “For those of us who live alone, the emotional thing is just great. It’s like a second family.”

Kay has own agenda for this class of students. “If I could make a law, I’d make sure there must be a law that if you’re 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 it’s just moving hands and feet. Music from the 1920s and ’30s recall their youth, and even those with Alzheimer’s are cheered.

Most of the Spices say they’re not afraid of dying. It’s illness that bothers them. “My husband died quickly,” said one. “It was a heart attack. I was grateful for that.”

They’re more forgetful, but they get away with everything because they’re old, said one senior with a laugh. They’re still interested in sex. Another regrets only that she can no longer dance all night long.

All but one still drives. “So you feel you’re competent drivers?” asked a student. “You’re darn tootin’,” Kay responded. “We’re not old yet.” Kay has decided that no one’s 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 we’ve neglected old age, which is a natural, inherent part of life.”