Aging with Vinegar & Honey

Olive kitteridge

What does it say about me that I love the ornery, razor tongued Olive Kitteridge? I loved her in Elizabeth Strout’s engaging book by the same title and I love her as played by the superb Frances McDormand in the HBO series. Olive, lives in a gorgeous, small seaside town in Maine. The rocky, rough setting is the perfect backdrop for Olive who is kind of awful. No, wait: she’s really awful. She’s mean to her sweet husband, to her kid, to everybody. But I love her even as she makes me flinch. I don’t really know what to say about that except maybe she reminds me a tad of me — were I not to self-censure. And she definitely reminds me of how my own mother could be.

The other day ran into someone who worked with my mother in the real estate business more than 30 years ago. She said, “Cathy was a nice woman.” this former colleague said. I responded incredulously, “Really?” And she answered, “Well, you know…”

Don’t get me wrong, the woman clearly appreciated Cathy, probably got a kick out of her since she was smart as a whip, had integrity and wit and I know for a fact, shared the same leftist social consciousness as this former colleague. But nice? Not an adjective I would use to describe my mother. Nor myself.


But, I’m trying. I’ve learned to curb my tongue in order to keep jobs, avoid fisticuffs in the subway, road rage incidents on the highway and just because – life is better without meanness. Our’s is not a home of fights – we are mostly kind to each other and when we’re not, we call each other out on it and quickly make amends. I am proud of how kind and empathetic my daughter is and she always help keep my nasty, devil-side in check. And frankly, it’s just easier to go to sleep at night without the guilt and regret of some verbal dagger thoughtlessly delivered during the day.

Olive has a soft spot for the broken ones – the drug addicted mother and her son. And she grows, eventually recognizing – at least within herself, the mistakes she’s made, the time she’s squandered. And in the end, she learns to love a little better (though still in her prickly Olive way). Now that’s inspiring. As we age, it seems we just become more of what we are. Late-life transformations, even slight, are rare. So there’s the challenge to pay attention to who we are now, decide if that’s who we want to be, and if not — get on with the work of changing.

Have you read Olive Kitteridge or watched the HBO series? Do you hate or love her?

6 thoughts on “Aging with Vinegar & Honey”

  1. Had not read the book but thoroughly enjoyed the HBO production. Olive was certainly ornery but enjoyed McDormands’ portrayal thru which you could clearly see the turmoil her actions/words caused her beneath her cold exterior .

  2. I love this post…the wording is beautiful, and I enjoyed your thoughtful reflections on Olive, your mom, and on growth, wisdom, and softening as we age. I might be one of the few who did not like the book Olive Kitteridge. Read it a while ago, maybe should read it again, but as I recall, I found it grim – so many unhappy, troubled, and disagreeable characters. Pollyanna Lea – I want to love and admire my characters I guess…a little more joy in my pages! XXOO

  3. Like you I love book and movie Olive. We know she’s a bitch but we feel compelled by her just the same because somehow we know she’s good at heart. There are a few stories, like when she reaches out to the depressed mom and later her son, where we see into the good soul of Olive. She had challenges in her life which don’t excuse her ornery nature but do explain it a bit. I have an aunt whom I loved dearly but she was cantankerous her whole life. Ironically, after dementia set in and she lost the ability to speak, her hospice nurse (a human angel) told me she really cared for my aunt and it was obviously true. I asked her why. She replied, “I can see in her eyes she has a good soul.” I smiled and thought maybe the nurse wouldn’t have felt the same if she had every actually heard my aunt speak but maybe her eyes spoke more clearly than her voice ever could about who she really was.

  4. Like Lea, ultimately I found the book too dreary (loved the writing, though). On the other hand, your posts are full of humor, love, and the possibility of redemption. At the end of the day, I would prefer to read your writing!

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