From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

The Pinup Girl

My husband reminded me to go grocery shopping. I hate shopping for food and agree to it only because it’s my job and obligation as a good wife, although I never read it in the marriage vows. Do you promise to love, honor, and do the food shopping? But every week since I’ve started school at Florida International University, a late-in-life decision I admit, the conversation goes like this:

”Honey, don’t you think it’s time to get plastic bags, ice cream—the chunky kind—and dog food? Oh yeah, bread, ham, cheese, and steaks. . . . ”

Well, you get the idea.

On Friday of last week I found myself at Publix sprinting down the dairy aisle. I felt a cart close behind me, but I didn’t stop to turn around. My focus was to get in and out as quickly as possible. I have been known to throw a container discus-style from fifty feet into my food cart— call me Michael Jordan. (Hint: Cold cuts fly especially well, and they don’t splatter when they hit. Or you miss.)

I moved on to the meat section and felt the rush of adrenaline; I was almost done. Reaching for the rib eye steaks, I heard an older female’s voice, “You should be a model. Someone should take a picture and send it in to one of those magazines. I mean, everything about you— your hair, your face, your body, they all work.”

Well, what could I do? If someone tells you that you look like a model, especially if you’re over fifty, you stop to talk with them. I wanted to kiss her, actually. I didn’t think I’d looked that great when I left the house that morning. Now she was telling me I looked glamorous. She was about seventy years old, and she looked darn good herself. Her hair was gray but well-styled, and she had a petite body and well-shaped jaw line with high cheek bones.

I tried to sound modest. I’m not sure if it worked. What I really wanted to tell her was that I’d been a model most of my life. Not anything big-time, like Cindy Crawford, but in my thirties I’d had enough small jobs to earn a living. I was the ditzy brunette who said, “You’ll love it at Levitz.” But now I was older. In the last few years the economy dropped; when that happens, so do advertising campaigns. The terrorist attack on 9/11 didn’t help. At fifty, I’m in a nonexistent category: too old to play the slice-of-life housewife and too young to sell pharmaceuticals. My next big earning market will be in my sixties, if I survive and am still breathing. Instead of crying in my beer, I decided to stop waiting for agents to call with job offers and registered for college courses, including creative writing. But what did this woman care about my modeling career?

She stared at my face, not willing to let the subject go.

“No, really. You look good.”

”You mean for my age,” I said. I knew that’s what she really meant.

“How old are you?” she asked.


“I never would have known if you didn’t tell me.”

”We both look great for our ages.”

I guess that was the wrong thing to say. She smiled searching for the right words—her lips formed a round hole—but nothing came out. Then I realized that I’d made her uncomfortable; I tried to look at the steaks in the freezer, anywhere but her face.

She leaned over her cart. “I’ve been out in the sun much of my life. All of this,” she pointed to her face with her index finger, “is wrinkled now.”

I saw her eyes travel back to another world, and I waited patiently for her story. She didn’t disappoint me.

“I worked for my father. We used to raise chickens. I’d go out and collect the eggs while the hens were sitting. One day someone took a picture of me in a big straw hat and sent it in to a magazine. It appeared overseas.”

I don’t know why, but I could suddenly see how she must have looked back then. Long brown hair flowing in the summer breeze, teeth glistening in the sunshine, and Betty Grable-shorts that showed all of her curves. She was beautiful.

“One of my friends called and asked, ‘Aida, what are you doing overseas?’ I laughed and told them the picture was taken here in Miami. I’d never left. I’d never been outside of Florida. But there I was, overseas in a magazine. Them boys were pinning that picture up of me over their beds at night. Can you imagine that? I was a pinup girl.”

I felt a lump form in my throat. I was witnessing a great moment in time. Shewas talking about World War II. She had been the reason why so many of our boys, now our grandfathers, had come back home. She was their inspiration.

There are days when you have to do things you don’t want to do. If you do them, sometimes there is a reward at the end—if you take the time to see it. She was mine.

Joyce Newman Scott

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