Exactly seven years ago – on May 6, 2014 – I published my very first WOW blog post. It was an interview with an amazing woman, Grace Fichtelberg, whom I affectionately call “my Amazing Grace,” now 97 years old.
I’d met Grace, a diminutive woman with soft white hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, a radiant smile, and a strong New York accent, in Taos, New Mexico, in 2007 when she, at 83, was a student in my first Creative Nonfiction Writing course at UNM-Taos. She subsequently attended every creative writing class I taught in Taos, and we all – her fellow students and I — learned a lot from her and her stories.
Undaunted in her eighties then, and now her nineties, Grace continues to pursue her lifelong desire to be an accomplished 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, she told me, 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.
Encouraged by her grown children and grandchildren, she still enjoys taking the sharp memories she cherishes and turning them into true stories to share with others. “I used to try to tell the kids about my past,” she told me. “But they’d say to me, ‘Put it in writing, Mom!’”
“Heaven,” one of Grace’s many published essays, was one of the 180 stories (chosen from 4,000 submissions) included in Paul Auster’s 2002 collection, I thought My Father Was God, and read on National Public Radio. In his Introduction to the collection, Auster states, “If I had to define what these stories were, I would call them dispatches, reports from the front lines of personal experience.”
For me, the story that stands out especially among the ones Grace wrote for class was of the work she did in New Jersey when World War II broke out, filling requisitions for Navy destroyers docked in the Hudson River. Before I was born.
When in our WOW interview in 2014 I tried to press her for some of her secrets of successful aging, Grace shrugged her shoulders. “Good genes, I guess,” she said, and laughed. And then, little by little, a few “secrets” trickled out: Choose younger friends. Love animals. Take your dogs for daily walks. Read at least one book a month. Laugh a lot. Volunteer your time. Be a good human being. Keep dancing.
When the subject of health came up in that interview, of course I solicited Grace’s thoughts. “When you’re ill, you’re old – at any age,” she stressed. “As long as I’m healthy, I feel great. And when I feel great – as I do now – I’m me.” 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, 352 weekly WOW blog posts ago. In her most recent e-mail, she told me that a new piece of hers, “Reincarnation?,” has just been published in the UNM-Taos art and literary journal Howl (https://www.unmtaosart.com/howl2021).
This from her e-mail to me: “Again I am famous.” My Amazing Grace, at 97, shows no signs of losing her sense or humor or slowing down.
One of the facets of my weekly WOW blog has been from the beginning to feature interviews with older women (over seventy years old) who have not stopped creating and contributing, women who have stubbornly refused to let the number designating their age slow them to a halt. Such amazing women, I deeply believe, have the power to inspire the rest of us to keep on keeping on. God knows the world needs confident, creative, funny, strong, and wise women of all ages.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the necessary precautions we’ve all had to take, in-person interviews have been impossible for me to conduct here in SMA. But as more of us re-enter some semblance of normalcy, I hope to meet and speak with many inspiring prospective interviewees. There is no shortage of amazing older women in San Miguel de Allende!
I’m totally open to suggestions, recommendations, and referrals. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To see other WOW interviews, go to my blog’s home page and click on “Interviews.” Here, for example, is my July 7, 2015, interview with Susan Page, director of the San Miguel Writers Conference: