When I turned 60, I threw a big party with a live jazz band and lots of great dancing and I knit myself a very long indigo sweater because I wanted something warm between my ass and a cold seat. But the best thing I did was to get involved with my yarn spinning group to produce a calendar filled from cover to cover with naked women and multicolored yarns in a celebration of the “art of handspinning and the ageless beauty of women.”
I’ve heard it said that when we turn 60, we won’t care what other people think, perhaps because our parents will be either dead or too old to care what we do. That’s not quite true. We still care, but the emphasis has changed from co-workers who are competing with us for seniority and responsibility because we’re trying to get to the top of the ladder and that next door neighbor who thinks our lawn is too straggly, to friends we choose to be involved with.
Our spinning group gathers every Wednesday at someone’s house laden with cookies and pickled beans and spinning wheels and bags of colored carded fleece to spin. During our yearly retreat, we were lounging in a hot tub sipping wine, discussing wool, breeds of sheep, dyeing silk, the state of the world and getting old, when my friend, Susanne, came up with the zany idea of producing a naked spinners calendar replete with soup recipes, hints for choosing a fleece, and filled with glorious socks and sweaters, to help finance our trip to Ireland. As our plans developed, we decided to donate a percentage of the money we might make to breast cancer research. We threw ourselves into this project that ultimately transformed our lives.
Our first session began with a glass of Merlot and great hesitancy on the part of some. Our last only needed a shout of “everybody ready?” to begin a ceremonial tossing of all manner of clothing out of the camera’s range amidst sounds of laughter.
Thirty women living on the rugged coast of Maine decided take the leap. Doug, a photographer friend, took pictures of us walking hand in hand across a field, our assorted bottoms peeking out from beneath blue and purple and green colored patterns of handspun handknit sweaters. And another picture of nine naked women, fanned out, prostrate on the grass, our glorious socks touching, our bare bums forming a dazzling array. One in our midst wanted to do the shot but didn’t want to disrobe. I believe it was at that moment when we said, “oh, please, join us, sure wear your clothes,” that I felt I had arrived at a point that I would only care what people I loved and respected thought of me.
We continued doing “shoots” of shearing sheep on a nearby island and slogging our spinning wheels through a mud rutted woods road, naked and loving it. We spun en mass at the edge of the sea from baskets of fleece, our wheels perched on rocks and seaweed strewn sand, our fingers silky smooth from the lanolin. Striped knee-high socks, a magenta angora hat, sturdy rugs dyed with indigo and goldenrod from our gardens, enhanced the rugged Maine coast and the au naturel women of the Wednesday Spinners. We knit in a line on our porch from baskets of brightly dyed yarns and piled into our horsedrawn sleigh buffnaked on a snowy December day.
We were featured on CNN, The Sun, the New York Daily News, FOX news, even Japanese radio. We sold almost twenty thousand copies of the calendar and letters poured in from all over the world praising our courage and spirit. And yes, we did go to Ireland.
Sure, it’s easy to take off your clothes when you’re young and confident with perfect skin and a size ten body. And then there are those years in between when it can be dreadfully difficult. But when you’re 60 or 70 and covered with sags and wrinkles and scars and rolls, it becomes easy again when you’re with people who cherish your ideas and your beauty, both inner and outer.
No, we don’t reflect the American standard of what women are supposed to look like. But who does? A few select models? The Hollywood elite? We are who we are. We are a group of women who love spinning wool, knitting, weaving, crocheting, and ourselves. We are crones. We are the wise ones. If we happen to be spinning on one of the off-shore islands and the weather is hot, we throw off our clothes with abandon and include one or two who have waded in with shorts and a tee shirt in our laughter and our splashing. We have learned to be different. And we don’t care what other people think, except for those whom we respect.
Sixty is a time for wearing purples and greens together, for shaving our heads if we want to, for spinning madder red yarns full of gold threads, for knitting a sweater that hangs down to our knees, for laughing ‘til our sides ache, for spreading our love of being different to the younger generation, to frolic in the waves with our friends until our skin is numb, to create our own triathlons, to hire a rock band and boogie ‘til we drop. It’s a time to change professions or paint our toenails ten different colors.
And sixty is a time of surrounding ourselves with friends who will love us whether we make fools of ourselves or wear clothes that don’t match or fail at our latest creative project. It is also a time for showing our grandchildren and the children of the world that it is good to follow the road less traveled, the one that’s grassy and wants wear, and that we will love them and support them on their journey.