Does this content look wrong? Click here to report any errors.

Silver Threads: Borrowing a page on aging from Nora Ephron

Many years  ago I went to a seminar for features editors at the University of Missouri and a man from an Iowa newspaper presented us with 50 ideas for stories that he invited us to  localize for our own sections. “Ideas You Can Steal” is what he called his presentation, and many of us took him at his word. But Nora Ephron did not tell me to take one of her ideas. I figure , though, that if I practice full disclosure to you, plug her funny new book, “I Remember Nothing,” and send her a copy of this column if I can get the email address, then I will have done the right thing.

Ephron, best known for her screenplays for the movies “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail,” and work on Esquire magazine, is about 70 and her new collection of essays includes one about her “Aruba.” It’s the spot of hair on the back of her head that always lies down flat and makes her look bald there. She calls it her Aruba after the scrubby, stunted and twisted growth of vegetation on that Caribbean island.

Well, I don’t call it my Aruba, but I’ve got one. (How many hands do I see?) And it’s very deflating for an older woman  to know that, try as she will to look good from the front, she will never, never ever be sure about her back side.

Walking into parties confident in the perfection of my grooming,  I’ve too often had friends hiss at me from behind and start rooting around in my hair, trying to smooth my locks over the crater back there.

I am not making this up (and I stole that line from columnist Dave Barry: Thanks, Dave).

I had thought that my problem arose from spending much of my time with my head pressed against the high backs of my reading and computer chairs and the headrest on the driver’s seat of my minivan. And of course the pillow on my bed. But Nora’s piece made me give it some more thought; not everyone with an Aruba leads the sedentary life that I do. Perhaps jogging around your block 10 times a day with the wind whistling through your tresses would cure an Aruba. But I’m not taking it that far.

Among the other problems in preparing my presentation of myself for the day, is the head and hand tremor that makes it hard to apply the eyeliner and eyebrow pencil that I‘ve used almost since puberty. (I used to worry about fire in the college dorm at night: I would have to run out into the street and one of the jerky jocks on our football team would see my face au natural.) It’s especially difficult to do my eyes if I wait until after I’ve had my two Diet Cokes for breakfast. Movie icon Lana Turner’s eyebrows were once shaved off for a role and nevermore grew back. She had, of course, a makeup artist on hand to pencil them in for her, even at an advanced age.

The eye makeup problem has gotten so bad that I’ve thought of visiting a tattoo parlor. I know a woman who had her eyebrows filled in by a friend who runs such an establishment, and so far they look just fine. But it’s early days, and I fear that, like some tattoos, they could take on a bluish tinge over the years. Picture me, the one in the senior living home with blue brows and circles around my eyes. An exotic raccoon?  The inevitable pull of gravity on one’s skin could also make them sag sadly out of position.

And what if eyebrows go entirely out of style and we’re all supposed to look like Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I? Even older women attempt to conform to the whimsies of fashion.

Then there’s the application of lipstick. Tremors make it hard not to spread the goo into those vertical lines most of us have running into our upper lips, or totally lose control of the stick and veer toward a nostril.

I exaggerate, of course. But you get the picture, and although it’s not always as pretty as we’d like, if you’ve reached the age at which you have to worry about things like this, then you’ve really got it made, babe.

Bettye Anding is the former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


You must login to post a comment. Need a ViaNolaVie account? Click here to signup.