Chapter 15: Accentuate the Positive
Marie does menopause, and it’s not a pretty sight. Even though she’s surrounded
by active older women, she has been infected by society’s negative view
of old age and is afraid of getting old and ugly. She quarrels with her
mother (Julia) and visits a number of night clubs where men do not find
her attractive. After she gets some straight talk from Margaretta, Emma
Clare conducts her croning ritual.
The chapter title comes from “
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” a popular song by Harold Arlen and
Johnny Mercer, most famously recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
Menopause—and cronehood—are defined by most neopagans as follows: a woman
must be in the fourteenth month after her last menstrual period and/or
have passed her second Saturn return (around age 56). As TV ads show, although
the boomer generation is aging and society is beginning to recognize that
menopause is a natural process, many people still think it’s a disease.
Our bodies and self-images are major issues, especially as we begin to
age and/or gain weight. Our bodies must, alas, obey the immutable law of
Laize Adzer was a designer of Moroccan-weave draped and asymmetrical clothing
that was popular in the 1980s. Today her clothes seem to be mostly available
There’s a dance in the old dame yet. The refrain sung by Don Marquis’
mehitabel the cat.
The nightclubs are real places. The Rainbow Room and the Roxy (actually
a theater) are on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Panama Joe’s and E.J. Malloy’s
are still in business in Long Beach, but Bogart’s and Barwinkle’s have
been replaced by a grocery store and a Pier One. The Crazy Horse Saloon
is in Santa Ana. One of my sources of information was my friend Angelo
Circo, another was Tim Grobaty, a columnist for the Long Beach
Marie’s description of her deflowering party in 1958 in the college dormitory
will bring a nostalgic smile to women of a certain age, especially as they
recognize the symbolic significance of the gifts. (And
Rod McKuen was considered to be a genuine philosopher back in those
innocent days.) I lived in Albert Hall during the year before it was torn
down and replaced by another dormitory that has also been torn down. Yes,
the housemother locked the door to keep her girls safe. This was a long
time before co-ed dorms.
Of course writers are spies! Why do you think there’s a T-shirt that says
Be careful what you say, or I’ll put you in my next novel?
The birth control pill was introduced in about 1960. It became a symbol
of women’s rights and was part of the apparatus of the feminist movement
of the 1970s.
Nursing school. The head of the nursing department at Southeast held a
Ph.D. and was addressed on campus as Dr. But when she went to a hospital,
she was addressed only as Miss. Has anything really changed?
References to consorts and power give us more information about Emma Clare’s
family. Power can be a major burden to bear.
Marie doesn’t want her blood to stop flowing because she’s afraid she’ll
“dry up.” Margaretta explains that “juiciness,” our essential energy, does
not dry up. The crones are living examples. A major theme of Secret Lives
is the strength and beauty—the juiciness—of the old women.
The croning ritual is an entirely modern phenomenon. It is not an ancient
ritual. It was probably invented by Caroline Harrison, a professor at the
Claremont Colleges in California, in the late 1980s. I once had lunch with
Professor Harrison and still have newspaper articles about her. Women were
not croned in the olden days because they often did not live past their
A modern belief among some young neopagans is that “crone is a state of
mind.” This is nonsense. Young women cannot rightfully call themselves
crones. The word “crone” comes from a Dutch word that means corpse.
At the ritual, we learn that Emma Clare can speak standard English if
she wants to. Why does she speak hillbilly all the time?
Are you getting older? How do you feel about that? Do you have body issues?
Are you living in denial? Why?
How do you react to the word “crone”? What is your opinion of croning
rituals? How old is a crone?
As you read this novel, are you looking at older women through more enlightened
eyes? Why or why not?
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
granted to print this page of the
Secret Lives Reader’s Guide for personal use only.