Not grouchy. Just old.

April 24, 2016 § 7 Comments

catfishI glanced around the meeting room table.

Every one of the women gathered to discuss library business wore a catfish frown.


Catfish can’t help it. It’s simple anatomy, but as a young person I assumed the human face was mobile, and that facial expressions revealed the emotions within.

If so, I was in trouble. New at running a public library, I read the frowns of those women-of-a-certain-age as disapproval.

I hadn’t reckoned with the way age creates unintended facial expressions including the, “Hey kid, get off my lawn” glare, the “Life is one long disappointment” slump, and the face-at-rest frown.

Gravity, sun, and thinning skin conspire to make the vintage face look perpetually slept-in, but they do more than that. They alter facial expressions so much that past a certain age our faces send erroneous messages.

The eyes, those “windows of the soul” shrink, hooded by sagging eyelids. Others judge our intent by looking us right in the eye, but that open view is less available. We must be hiding what we are really thinking.

And mouths? Because gravity always wins, old lips settle into a frown when not actively smiling.

Smiles change as well. Smiling-while-old sets off a cascade of wrinkles that follows the worn path of years and years of facial expressions, becoming a parody of the easy grin of youth.

In extreme old age faces become hard to operate, setting up like Rushmore, almost always set in an unintended expression of disapproval or skepticism, and so observers misinterpret the emotional life that still unspools inside the wearer of that aged face.

In one of my novels an older character says, “There are no old people. Just young people, and young people wearing old bodies.”

If you catch me wearing a catfish frown, look past it. Behind that face seemingly stiff with disapproval is an inner young person, alive and well and still eager.

And I’ll do the same for you.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

§ 7 Responses to Not grouchy. Just old.

  • craig reeder says:

    oy! is that ever true! i wince at half of the pictures I see of myself.


  • Bea Francis says:

    So true! My daughter and I take her 2 year old to a music class at Dad’s assisted living. Our “gran friends” are sitting in chairs and wheelchairs in a circle waiting for the arrival of the little ones. Their faces are grim, eyes shut, trapped in a body and mind that just doesn’t work the same until the little ones arrive. Suddenly, they are smiling, laughing, singing, dancing as they watch the children. It makes me cry every time.


  • Linda Guy says:

    So true! Hate to look in mirrors these days! We turn into our mothers and fathers.


  • Oh, Adrian!
    This reminds me of when Anna & her Scout troop were often doing Good Deeds for older folks. Yet it also makes me think of non-grim folks (men & women) in their 80s & 90s i saw as perpetually young looking. (Without the surgery & treatments that some wealthy insecure folks take)

    Max, our landlord when we were just married, wore a smile on his face. And we saw that smile & heard his big laff often, as we lived in his attic. He was a widow, he had med. troubles, but he was a happy to be alive every day, fella.
    Alice, the historian who helped me so much in my writing when Anna was just born, had the sweetest expression whenever I saw her & that was quite a bit – she was always at the library, researching or volunteering. And she always looked as if she was about to burst into giggles..

    There are optimistic people. Who were that way in their 20s, 30s & so forth, keeping their basic personalty thru the decades.
    Mebe those grim faced older folks, possibly were not so happy years before, too?
    Thanks for the skip down memory lane!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Not grouchy. Just old. at Adrian Fogelin.


%d bloggers like this: