When I saw 22-year-old Amanda Gorman reading her poetry at the inauguration on Jan. 20, it brought back memories of my own early literary success. Not really. I did write some poetry back then, but it didn’t quite meet the standards necessary to read to 33 million people on national television—or even to a couple of supportive friends in my own living room.
Maybe it’s just as well. How do you top it when you do something that grand that young? I feel so bad for Amanda Gorman. Twenty-two and it’s downhill from here. Except it’s not. Her appearance at the inauguration was followed by book sales and a modeling contract. She was even invited to read at the Super Bowl, which one doesn’t normally associate with poetry readings.
I’m somewhat north of 22, and I still haven’t read poetry at a Super Bowl. Or even been to one. Or even watched one on television. I’m afraid I’ve got nothing to show for my life but my carbon footprint and a couple of speeding tickets.
It’s too late for me to achieve great things at 22—or 44. But forget the whiz kids of the world. I’m more inspired by the story of Grandma Moses.
You’ll recall Grandma Anna Mary Robertson Moses was the renowned American folk artist whose art career didn’t take off until she was 78 years old. I think of her as the patron saint of late bloomers.
I’m nothing like her, of course. For one thing, I’m not an artist. Nor am I a grandma, and I’d thank you not to call me one until I have grandchildren.
It’s probably not even accurate to call her a late bloomer. As a hardworking farm wife who raised five children, she was probably too busy planting to bloom any earlier.
Still, since I’ve missed my chance to be a child prodigy, I’ve set my sights on being a late bloomer. Grandma Moses reminds me that it’s never too late to try something new and be successful at it. And there are many others like her. In fact, while I was researching this column, I came across an article with the inspiring headline: “Celebrities Who Got Rich and Famous Late in Life.” Then I discovered that all the celebrities mentioned made it big in their 40s. I’m at a point where I don’t consider 40 to be “later in life.”
Fortunately, I found plenty of other examples of people who did big things long after they were eligible for their AARP discounts. Nelson Mandela become president of South Africa when he was 76. Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder published the first of her eight Little House Books when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76. Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 65 years old. I’m not interested in starting a fast food restaurant — or becoming the president of South Africa. But these stories inspire me so much that I’ve written my own poem in honor of late bloomers. You better read it here. I doubt I’ll be invited to read it at the next inauguration.
Ode to Late Bloomers
It’s easy to envy upstarts whose success has been reached
When you’re all washed up and still on the beach
But if you’re waiting to bloom and feeling ashamed
Remember trials often come with premature fame
There’s less danger of success going to our head
If it comes to us when we’re closer to dead
Plus, if flowers bloomed only in spring, one and all
How dull the garden would be by the fall.
When I finally bloom, I think you’ll agree
It won’t be because of my poetry