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Young at heart, young in looks - Ronda Rich

One morning, I received an e-mail from a reader who began by explaining that her 81-one-year-old mother was a devoted reader of this column and my books.

Her mother, she explained, felt obligated to follow all my advice. "She has been burdened with the obligation to wear matching underwear as you indicated that all women should," her daughter explained. "This week, she bought two three-pair packs of Vanity Fair underwear. When she got home, she said they slipped an aqua in that she didn't notice. She was very perturbed, because she's not sure how she is going to find an aqua colored bra, especially since she prefers Playtex 18-hour bras."

When I read that e-mail, I threw my hands into the air and cheered. God bless every woman who refuses to give up her femininity to that sneaky thief of age. These women are my heroes. They're whom I inspire to grow to be.

Mama was like that, too, searching high and low when she was 80 years old to find a red nightgown.

"Why do you need a red gown?" I asked as I trailed behind her through the lingerie section of a department store. "You're a widow."

She stopped suddenly, turned around on me and pointed that renowned little crooked forefinger of hers. "Little girl, I'll tell you one thing right now. I take pride in how I look, and you should be proud to have a mama like that. I'm not lettin' myself go to pot, even if your daddy is dead. Having a red night gown will make me feel good about myself, and I want one." Until the day she died, Mama wore pretty, lace-trimmed gowns every night. When I made a memory box of some of her personal effects that reminded me most powerfully of her, I chose a mint-green, prissy nightgown to include.

As a side note, do you have any idea how hard it is to find a red nightgown that is appropriate for an 80-year-old woman?

One night when I was in St. Simons, I joined Ann and Roy Hodnett for dinner. Miss Ann, at 85, looks like she's 60 and acts like she's 40. Both Miss Ann and Pop are delights to my heart, so kind, young and spirited are they. Pop, 90, drives a sleek, sexy sports car and junes (an old-fashioned word from the rural South) around with agility and sprightliness.

This particular night we dined together, Miss Ann was dressed young, in an appropriate way. She had on jeans, a nice tee shirt, a sleeveless red vest and a red newsboy cap perched jauntily on her head. Delicate, girlie earrings dangled from her ears. Boy, was she pretty. And inspiring. That's how I want to look if the good Lord leaves me here until I'm 85.

One Sunday morning, I went to pick Mama up for church. She was standing in front of her dresser with the enormous mirror, trying on earrings. Finally, she settled on a pair.

"Mama, will you come on?" I asked impatiently. "We're going to be late."

She ignored me. A common occurrence in our lives. "How do these ear bobs look?" She stopped in the middle of the living room floor. Without looking, I knew she was turning her head from side-to-side and tilting her head coquettishly.

"They look fine. Now, c'mon."

"Ronda Rich, I oughta pinch your head off," she groused. "You didn't even turn around and look at me." That began yet another lecture on how I should be proud that I had mama who had enough pride to care how she looked. Especially at 83 years old.

And you know what? She was right. So, here's to my eighties. May I wear ear bobs that dangle, underwear that matches, red nightgowns and a jaunty red newsboy cap.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.