In Honor Of Ellen Olsen, A Ballard Beaver From Way Back

Ellen Olsen was a long time fan of my books who, when I met her, had graduated from Ballard High School more than fifty years earlier, making her what the folks in the neighborhood call “a Ballard Beaver.  Years ago she sent me a fan letter—a last century form of communication. It was written in pen and ink on a note card and mailed in an envelope, with a postage stamp, post mark, and everything.  In it she gently chided me for a passage in one of the early Beaumont books where Beau referred to a woman in her mid-seventies as “elderly.”  At the time Ellen was well north of seventy herself, and she certainly didn’t regard herself as elderly.

At the time, I was in my forties and the seventies seemed like a very long way away.  Guess what?  They’re not.  They’re here—not quite “mid-seventies,” but close.  And this week, when a newspaper headline referred to a 77 year-old woman as “elderly,” I went looking for my note cards so I could send the paper a piece of my mind.  Actually, that’s not true.  I wouldn’t use a note card these days—my handwriting is too bad.  But I didn’t send an email of umbrage, either, because it turns out elderly is in the eye of the beholder and not necessarily in the pair of eyes looking back at you from the mirror.

My one grandmother didn’t make it to her sixties.  My other grandmother conked out at age 76.  From my point of view, they were both elderly at the times of their passing.  I’m turning 73 today and I don’t feel the least bit elderly.  Announcing my birthday is not a ploy to get people to send me birthday wishes, although I’m sure many of you will.  It’s a simple statement of fact.  It’s also has to do with the reality that I’m in better physical condition right now than I’ve ever been in my whole life.  I usually walk 12,000 steps a day.  That translates into five miles.  I do regular workouts with curls and hamstring stretches and sits to stands.  I practice balancing almost every day.  Although my achievements in that regard pale in comparison to my two granddaughters’ poise on gymnastics balance beams, I’m still better off in the balance department than I’ve ever been before.  (My mother always maintained that there was never a school or Sunday school or Bible school program where I didn’t show up with at least one skinned knee.)

This past Sunday I was the “Author of Honor” for the 2017 Helldorado Parade in Tombstone, Arizona.  Never having been a homecoming queen, it was amazing to be riding the parade route in an open-air convertible, and believe me, that convertible was a sight to behold! It was a 99 year-old, Barolo red  Nash!!  Compared to the car—which could safely be termed “elderly,” I was the “sweet young thing!”


Perspective is everything.  I’m glad to be “older than dirt” at the moment; happy to be a late bloomer; amazed about that long hard climb, with, as Helen Reddy used to say, “everything taking its own sweet time.”  Tonight, to celebrate, Bill and I are going to put on our fancy duds and go out to dinner, just the two of us.  We’ll probably look old, but we won’t feel old.

Depending on where you are on your own life journey, I may seem elderly to you.  And I realize now, that when Ellen Olsen sent me that note, she wasn’t elderly, either.

Thank you for providing that piece of wisdom, Ellen.  You’ve been gone for twenty years now, but you are not forgotten.

PS. Thank you to everyone who voted in the Tucson Weekly Best of 2017 for making me Tucson’s Best Author for 2017. 

39 thoughts on “In Honor Of Ellen Olsen, A Ballard Beaver From Way Back

  1. If you’ve got your health, age is just a number, or at least that’s what my very active, healthy 79-year-old parents tell me. Happy Happy Birthday!

  2. Yes, every healthy day is a blessing…enjoy. Happy birthday and many more. Thanks for your insight on getting older.

  3. Loved this. Yesterday (26th) was my birthday and I was 74. Although I have 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren I am far from elderly. You can’t defend against gravity but you can certainly stay young mentally and do everything you can do to keep physically young. Keeping on in North Florida.

  4. Technically Grandma Anderson made it to her sixties but didn’t get out of her sixties alive. I thought she was ancient at the time, but she was younger when she died than I am now. All her daughters made it to ninety!

    And happy birthday!!

  5. Happy Birthday! Good to know I still gave time to get into shape! It has finally cooled down and the humidity has dropped enough I can take a walk now and then with sweating into a messy puddle. I hate the humidity here but love the no snow or ice and light jacket winters. Stay healthy so you can keep writing. I realized the other day that my favorite authors are my age range (65) or older and it boggled my mind. Who will I read when I’m 90? Enjoy your evening out!

  6. Happy birthday youngun.” I hope you plan to continue writing until you get “elderly.” You’ve got a long way to go.

  7. the pictures! So proud of you! Age is just a number and can never replace the wisdom we gain with each lovely year! Oh, and yes, happy birthday and may the good Lord grant you many more! Your fan in the White Mountains of Arizona…Az Ranger….

  8. Happy birthday! Hi. I have read several of your books in the past. I have bought some new ones that I will start soon. I love them. You are a brilliant writer. I hope you have a wonderful time on your birthday. Enjoy ??

  9. Happy birthday! You are only as old as you feel and having seen you at the Festival of Books this past spring you are a very young woman. Many more ageless birthdays.

  10. I know exactly what you mean as I too turned 73 this past May. We could live to 100 and still object to being thought elderly! My late MIL , in her 80’s refused to use a walker because it was only for OLD people!

  11. Happy Birthday !! Leslie and I both enjoyed “Proof of Life”, reading it during our week in DC. I hope I can co-ordinate our spring trip to AZ with a signing at the Poisoned Pen!

  12. Of course I have to wish my fellow 70’s relocated Seattleite…
    Happy Birthday to you?? and many more.
    Enjoy your dinner with Bill tonight ??? celebrating fabulous YOU!?

  13. I’ll be 70 in December, and certainly don’t think of myself being old! However, my b0dy has other ideas it seems. My mother, who lived to be 91, had a favorite quote, “The mind’s willin’ but the body ain’t!” Happy Birthday!

  14. Happy Birthday! My 99 year old grandmother used to say she still felt 21 inside. Now I understand what she meant, as I’m facing a milestone birthday in a week. I am thrilled to be around to celebrate, of course! Enjoy your special dinner out!

  15. Happy Birthday, of course. So glad you are in good shape! I was around older people all my life. Constantly surprised at ages of different people. At a recent cardiologist visit, he was surprised at the results of those pesky tests. He mentioned my age of 79 several times. People use elderly in an unflattering way. My daughter and her hubby, now around 60, were incensed to be called middle aged at 50! Enjoying life is the clue. For me, it is family and books by my favorite authors. Elderly with white hair gets me a box boy! LOL. Hope your dinner is wonderful!

  16. Wishing you a joyful birthday celebration and romantic dinner with your husband.
    Congratulations on your Author of Honor for the 2017 Helldorado Parade, too! Ellen Olsen is certainly smiling on all your miles of life.

  17. Hi Judy. Sue and I saw you in the parade but had to get back to Tempe so we couldn’t stay for the book signing. It doesn’t seem like 50+ years since you were Jean Ann’s babysitter. Time does fly. We celebrated my 70th in April and I am going strong. We Bisbee folks are a hardy lot. Happy Birthbay. Tom and Sue (Sharpe) Adams

  18. The Happiest of Birthdays to a Wonderful Author. Keep working out and writing your wonderful stories. You are a most wonderful role model for this 66 year old. What do numbers matter anyway when it comes to a life well lived?
    Sorry we couldn’t make the Tombstone appearance but thank you for the fantastic photos. Please keep us posted on future book signings so we can meet with you again. We love you.

  19. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I’m now 70 and I wish I could walk as much as you do, but medicine keeps me down. You have inspired me to write and I’m enjoying it. Happy birthday.

  20. Happy Birthday, Judy! I have been a great reader of your books! You had my mom in one of your books. My mom was Betty R. and she and Noble W. (a relative of yours) were together for many years! I have been to many of your book signings. Hope you had a fantastic birthday. I agree with you about being in the seventies because I am one of them and also a Ballard Golden Beaver.

  21. Hope you had a great day. Wanted to come see you in Tombstone but not able to walk that much anymore. I may not be aging well —-will be 74 next month—but I cannot stand to hear the word “elderly” when applied to people. Isn’t Elder actually a berry??? ???

  22. Happy Birthday!
    You inspired me to start the 10,000-step program. I actually make it to 10,000 steps most days, but I set a record with 25,000 steps during a recent visit to Las Vegas.
    I hope you’ll come back to Prescott Valley for a book signing.

  23. Congratulations on your parade appearance – smashing car! And happy birthday, too – years ago a friend and I were heading across the street to lunch and she commented that if we were run down by an errant car the headline would say “Elderly Woman and Companion Killed” – I was a bit surprised to think of her as elderly – maybe mid-70s at the time? Fortunately there was no need for the headline as we got to the curb without event! FINALLY congratulations on maintaining your fitness program – an example to us all.


  24. This is a great topic: elderly! It has annoyed me for years. Last year, as I was sorting through some papers, and some medical files of my mother’s, there was a letter from one physican to another after a referral – and referred to my mom as *this elderly lady* – I calculated, and she had been 68 at the time. If she had known that, she would have had a few words. And just a few weeks ago, I was reading a news story online that was *elderly woman hit by car* – she was 70. The site has a *report errors* opportunity on all its stories (which I have used a few times), so I decided this was it – so sent in a few words about how age is a relative thing, and included a link to a writing site that had a comment on elderly (which I cannot find now) and suggested they change the content – and suggested that if, for example, Cher, was performing locally, would they call her an elderly entertainer? She is 71. I think they got the idea, as when I checked back later, the story had been adjusted – and improved!

  25. Happy birthday to you. I’m 70 this year and feel like I am back in my 50’s. Love your books as it’s all familiar living here in Benson.

  26. Three or four years ago in the middle of the night, I had a bad reaction to a pneumonia shot I’d received 12 hours earlier. My husband called 911 and paramedics showed up. They made the decision to transport me to the local hospital for treatment and loaded me into the ambulance. I was doing okay until I heard the paramedic talking to the hospital over the radio. He said, “We’re transporting an elderly woman . . . ” At the time, I was 74. I almost rose up and started fighting.

  27. I’ve sent birthday wishes so won’t say Happy Birthday again, but wanted to thank you for keeping us updated on your weight loss progress. “They” say people over a certain age can’t lose weight. Bill and you have certainly proved them wrong. It must be wonderful to be in such good health. I know it isn’t easy. Keep on doing what you are doing. It’s working.

  28. Well here we are, husband Don and I, stuck in a 75 and 74 year old body – with the mind of a 29 and 27 year old. We are still making grand plans for the future. Don says not just thinking, but working on the future. Thank you for reminding us all that “elderly” is just a state of mind.

  29. I was thrilled when my son called me to say you were in the parade. He was too with his JROTC unit. I had plane reservations to be there for Helldorado but my doctor said shouldn’t travel for a while. I will go to AZ for Christmas this year. I will also be in the Seattle area in June 2018 for a grandson’s high school graduation. I hope to match my travels with a tour as I have done in the past. Thanks for writing!!!

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