Not long ago, after an unpleasant morning at the dentist, I took myself off to lunch. The grown-up equivalent of an ice-cream treat. It was not a high-end establishment but neither was it a fast-food joint. And having been warned not to imbibe any hot liquids, I sensibly rooted for a glass of rosé, it being a sultry Houston day.
I was still numb, but past the drooling and slurring stage that often accompanies a root canal, and I was happy in a hamster-like way. Until the waitress arrived.
What makes a young woman, maybe twenty, think it is okay to call a woman edging towards the wrong side of middle age, ‘dear’? I have earned every grey hair and line and the familiar, almost intimate, use of the word rankles. Three times this bubbly bottle-blonde wearing short shorts addressed me thus. Each occasion raised my hackles akin to a South African ridgeback, and yet I said nothing.
My normal response to such impertinence might have run along the lines of “You may call me by my name, or you may call me madam, but you may not call me ‘dear’.” My restraint is unusual. But each time I went to utter those pompous words, I glanced up and saw not an ounce of presumption, or malice. Instead a wide smile in a rather vacant face gazed down as she awaited my answer as to whether I wanted fries or coleslaw, sparkling or still.
Maybe it was because I could visualise that same young woman in twenty years. Her roots no longer quite dyed, her legs no longer lithe, cigarettes she obviously smoked having created fine lines about her mouth, waiting, not necessarily the same tables, but tables nonetheless. In twenty years the ‘dear’ would not sound quite so brazen, though I imagine my hackles would still prickle.
Or maybe I heard my mother. In twenty years I will be nudging old age, and as that age creeps up on me, I find myself in many ways becoming more like her. Short on patience when liberties are taken. As I write, I remember Mum becoming infuriated by a shop assistant calling her ‘dear’. I was probably about fourteen, and I can hear her now, her slight Australian accent tinged with venom. “I do not expect to be called ‘dear’ by a girl young enough to be my daughter. And certainly not in Fortnums.” For those reading this who may not know London, Fortnum & Mason is a rather nice shop on Piccadilly. We were probably only buying tea, or those delicious hand-made chocolates, or maybe a wedge of brie, but that was irrelevant.
Mum, having had me when she was 44, and been what is called in cold medical terminology, an elderly primagravida, or even worse, described as having had ‘a geriatric pregnancy’, was technically old enough to be the sales girl’s grandmother.
The rather frightening thing is that I am now the same age Mum was that afternoon in Fortnums, and I am a grandmother. The wheel has spun. And so I warn my daughter, all daughters, beware. You will become your mother!
Maybe I should just have another glass of rosé – it obviously mellows me.