When life hands 84-year-old Georgia Owens lemons, she not only makes lemonade, she adds her own special shot of sweetness that makes you crave more — optimism.
I’ve discovered optimism is a common thread for successful third-act seniors, the thing that sets them apart from other people, no matter their age. Georgia’s story is one of perseverance and an “I can, you can, we can” attitude.
At first look, her life doesn’t seem unusual. She married, had three children, held jobs. Then, at 60, she was divorced, later losing everything she’d invested in a horse ranch. After getting back up and dusting herself off, she went back to being a bookkeeper with construction companies. One after another, the companies shut down during the housing bust.
Georgia found love again and has been with her husband, John, ever since. Declining health always changes things, but they’ve adapted.
What sets Georgia apart are her accomplishments during her third act. In the past 20 years, she’s created a method to memorize names at a time when many of us have a hard time with that life skill. At her Curves class, she memorized 191 women’s names. She can name every member of the Clements Garden Club, all of the football and baseball teams, and the 50 states. She says the possibilities are endless.
That led to her applying for and receiving a copyright for her method, and she now holds classes to demonstrate her skill and teach her students. Plus, she’s just been granted a copyright for a game she’s developed for smartphone users.
While in her 70s, she decided to learn ceramics. She entered her first three projects at the San Joaquin Fair, winning a first place for each, plus best in show, then fifth place at the California State Fair.
Her cozy home is filled with hand-made ceramics, decorated bricks, paintings, flower-painted bottles, even the inside of oyster shells. Nothing is safe from her talents.
In 2011, her husband asked what she wanted for Christmas, and Georgia said, “A half-karat diamond or a keyboard.”
So, at age 78, she started piano lessons and has learned about 40 songs, performed in recitals, and plays mostly by ear. She could play about 200 songs with her right hand before she started lessons but wanted to know how to add chords with her left.
She has kept diaries since high school and writes every day, enjoying looking through them. In them are the accounts of being made to take flying lessons and soloing four times, then quitting. She’d done it.
She learned to line dance at LOEL Senior Center, then danced with her group at assisted living facilities. And she learned to tool leather, another first place at the San Joaquin Fair. No dust settles on her.
Georgia is the very definition of twinkly-eyed. She’s spirited and thoughtful, and her desire to stay busy and always keep learning is evident in her actions.
When she was 81, she gave a speech at a piano recital to the students performing. Below is an excerpt:
“This message is for all you students. Any time you think you want to QUIT, be it piano, drums, violin, swimming, or whatever opportunity your parents give you, I want you to remember this old lady. I am old enough to be your grandmother, and am the grandmother of one of the students playing tonight. This is something for you adults to ponder as well. If there is something you have always wanted to do, but never got around to it, DO IT, and do it soon. It is not too late.
“My mother tried to teach me piano lessons, but I did not want to practice, and she gave up on me. I want you to hear from me, an old lady who wishes that I had listened to my mother when she would ask me to practice.
“I used to ride horses in horse shows and win, because I thought I could, and I DID. I always thought I could paint, and I CAN. I thought I could learn the computer, and I CAN. Then I felt maybe I could learn the piano, and I CAN.
“So please remember me when you think you might quit. I hope to make a difference in your life.”
Here’s what I took away from my time with Georgia: You are never too old to fulfill your dreams. Attitude is everything. And if something exists, it will always be a potential target for her paintbrush.
Susan Crosby is a Lodi author and member of the Lodi Senior Citizens Commission.