Picks and Pans Review: Gifts of Age

UPDATED 12/02/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/02/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

Text by Charlotte Painter; photography by Pamela Valois

This book is comprised of photographic portraits and brief text sketches of 32 women, none younger than 65, while the oldest is 102. Yet what is impressive about them is not their age, nor their ability to recall the past, nor even their wisdom, though there is plenty of that. Most striking is their vitality. These are not fascinating old women; they are fascinating women. It was the spunk of her 78-year-old landlady that inspired Valois, 41, a Berkeley, Calif. photographer, to start the book. Painter, in her mid-50s, a novelist, interviewed the women, observing, "In their hearts there is a lightness we might all emulate, and a grace." Some of the women are celebrated, such as author M.F.K. (Mary Frances Kennedy) Fisher, Joan Bridge Baez, singer Joan's mother, and chef extraordinaire Julia Child, who says, "A passionate interest in what you do is the secret of enjoying life, perhaps the secret of long life, whether it is helping old people or children or making cheese or growing earthworms." Then there are uncelebrated women like retired physician Kay Seidell (born in 1904), who notes that "Old age is ten years beyond your own chronological age," or California ranch woman Ada Perry, who died, at 102, after she was interviewed for this book. "My religion," she told Painter, "has brought me happiness and relief, and I've never had the desperate despair so many people seem to struggle with as they grow old. I am so thankful for ordinary things." Valois' photographs are models of clarity; Painter's words are as direct. They achieve the considerable feat of doing justice to the marvelous women they portray. (Chronicle Books, paper, $14.95)

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