Vincent Van Gogh, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker and an old wife When you reach the 208th day of the year it will be July 27. On this day in 1890, the painter Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He did this in one of the French wheat fields he frequently painted. He was thirtyseven years old and died two days later. His last words were, “The sadness will last forever.”
Also on this day, in 1946, the writer Gertrude Stein died in France while being operated on for stomach cancer. She was seventy-two. A year later, the American novelist Katherine Anne Porter, writing in Harper’s magazine, will call Stein’s work “the long
drone and mutter and stammer of her lifetime monologue” and refer to her “tepid, sluggish nature, really sluggish like something eating its way through a leaf.”
For the rest of us still living, even the sluggish ones, July 27 will be like all the other days, which is to say, a combination of breath and panic and glory. There is not much we can do about any of this. This is the day you realize you’ve become an old wife. It’s because your husband, Owen, has given you an electric can opener as a thirty-third anniversary gift. And because the celebration dinner is the two of you at the Dairy Queen—flame Throwers, Diet Cokes, a shared Oreo Blizzard— after which you ride home in silence sucking an orange Lifesaver. Okay. So be it.
But consider this: Being an old wife can be a cause for joy because you can now put your stamp on each day. From here on you’ll be able to add to the world’s store of tales, sayings and remedies. And there’s a good chance you’ll become valued, even prized because of this. You will soon learn that being an old wife changes all the pieces on the table.
The only problem is that being valued can mean you’re in danger. This is because old wives are becoming a scarce item. Maybe divorce or disinclination are the reasons, but there are fewer of you participating in the long-haul marriage. As a result, old wives have become a rarity. People have taken to running off with them. They’ve become a cultural product, valued like argon crystal or a horse coloured amber champagne. There is now this amazing phenomenon of old wives just quietly disappearing.
If Owen is worried about theft, tell him it’s unlikely you will be taken. As an old wife you’re a pretty standard model, small and blonde, and you’re not shy and have a big mouth. You also wiggle your finger a lot, like an old cat woman, and you know what that means. Cats can suck the breath from a baby. On August 22 we honour Dorothy Parker for her corrosive wit. Born in Long Beach, New Jersey, on this day in 1893, she came to prominence as