Nearly eight years and exactly 398 posts ago, I began publishing my weekly blog, “The WOW Factor,” by interviewing an amazing woman, my friend and former student in Taos, New Mexico, Grace Fichtelberg, then ninety years old.
Initially I’d thought my blog, subtitled “Words of Women from Wise Older Women,” would consist primarily of interviews with women over the age of seventy who could serve as inspiring role models for us all as we enter the rocky terrain of older-and-older age. I believed then, and I believe as strongly now, that we women need more role models to show us ways to live our lives as meaningfully, creatively, and purposefully as possible right to the end.
Over these eight years, I’ve done many WOW interviews; but in recent years, due primarily to COVID and people’s reluctance to meet face to face (the way I prefer to interview), my interviews have been fewer. Instead, I’ve been writing mainly personal essays (“Views”), although I know I’m a long way from being the wise older woman I hope one day to be.
Today, March 18th, as I write and post this, my indomitable friend Grace — still in Taos, still going strong — is celebrating her ninety-eighth birthday; and I’d like to dedicate this week’s WOW post to her.
As I wrote in that first post, titled “Amazing Grace,” dated May 6, 2014, “I’d met Grace Fichtelberg, a diminutive woman with soft white hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, a radiant smile, twinkling eyes, and a strong New York accent […] in 2007 when she, at 83, was a student in my first Creative Nonfiction Writing course at UNM-Taos. Fortunately for me and everyone else in the class, she has attended every CNF course I’ve taught since. We’ve all learned a lot from her and her stories.
“Undaunted in her eighties, Grace was still pursuing her lifelong desire to become a writer – a goal she’d had to postpone while she was married, raising three children, and doing office work to help support the family on the East Coast. In fact, the first writing course she took […] was at The New School for Social Research in New York in the late 1940s. It was there that she met her future husband, Jack, to whom she was happily married from 1950 until his death in 1998.”
For me, the story that stands out especially among the ones Grace wrote for my Taos classes was of the work she did in New Jersey when World War II broke out, filling requisitions for Navy destroyers docked in the Hudson. Before I was born.
In that first interview eight years ago, I tried my best to press Grace for some of her secrets for successful aging. So she shared a few, tersely: “Choose younger friends…. Love animals…. Read at least one book a month…. Laugh a lot…. Volunteer your time…. Be a good human being…. Keep dancing.” When I asked whether she thought about the future, she shook her head. “I never think about the future,” she said. “I just live day by day.”
My “Amazing Grace” and I have stayed in touch via e-mail since I retired from teaching in Taos and moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in December 2015. She writes to me once a month, telling me her news (“COVID has made me a homebody!”), giving me her Taos weather report (“brrrrrrrr!”), sharing with me her publication successes (“I had a story accepted in Howl!” — the UNM-Taos literary journal).
For as long as I’ve known her, Grace has been writing her memoirs. She’s not finished yet, but I don’t think she needs to rush it. I suspect she’ll live at least another twenty years.
When I asked in a recent e-mail what she planned to do on this, her ninety-eighth, birthday, she told me, “My son in Connecticut and my daughter in California will not be able to visit, but my daughter and granddaughter here in Taos will help me celebrate. We’ll have a birthday lunch. I’ll receive the usual phone calls, birthday cards, etc. This makes me happy. Then I’ll open gifts, blow out 98 candles (I’m only kidding!), and at the end of the day I’ll think, THIS WAS THE BEST BIRTHDAY I EVER HAD!”
Please join me in wishing my friend Grace a very Happy 98th Birthday.
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To read some more recent interviews with amazing older women here in SMA, go to: