Grandma’s Poems


Among her amazing attributes my 90+ year old grandmother has an incredible memory for poems, she also posts them on her fridge (above is a pic of the current selection).

One of her recent favorites, which she recites with a wry smile, is a poem with the lines “when I’m old I shall wear purple”, which I’ve just figured out is titled Warning, by Jenny Joseph.


Thinking about these purple themes I’m reminded  of last summer. While visiting friends in Vermont we stumbled upon a concert and the singer cackled  “Start wearing purple”.

Of course Grandma doesn’t only read poems, she recently handed me a copy of Kandell’s In Search of Memory. Although I work with human participants and not animal subjects as Kandell does, one of the most striking passages tells of how in order study certain phenomenon one needs to select the appropriate subjects. For instance the crayfish and the squid have large axons and therefore are ideal for studying certain types of neural activity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, on a completely different scale, this relates to studying humans at certain points on a developmental trajectory. Specifically, how we  see development at key transitional points. One way to think about these transitions is in academic terms, the transition from middle to high school or from high school to college. I’m thinking that certain changes might only be noticeable at these major transitional points, when developmental processes are in some ways magnified.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

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