• Nancy Mendelson

Be a Badass at Any Age

At 100 years old, Etta Napier is a badass!! I know this first hand because she let me have it on Sunday when we went to visit her at her daughter Kimberly’s magnificent farm, not far from where we live in Massachusetts… but more on that in a moment.

We were seated in the glorious screen house which used to host the most exquisite dinners when chef/proprietor Kim––a badass in her own right––ran her acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant, Just Right Farm. Now an equally glorious outdoor living room, Miss Etta, as I feel compelled to call her, was comfortably seated propped up by over-stuffed pillows, legs outstretched and ready to receive her visitors, with all the dignity and overall badassery of Maggie Smith's Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.


Kimberly had recently moved her mom up here––to live with her and her husband, Mark—from Kentucky, which is where I first met the formidable matriarch of the Napier family about 4 years ago at an event at her other daughter Barbara’s Snug Hollow Farm Bed and Breakfast––talk about a hospitality gene!!!

Although her eyesight, hearing, and mobility may have decreased, her spirit, feistiness, and captivating storytelling ability seem as strong as ever. Which brings me back to our visit on Sunday.


Miss Etta who, by the way, did not have an easy life growing up in rural Kentucky as #7 of twelve kids, was recounting how her father, a coal miner, had a still on their kitchen stove, and how they lived off the land. I was captivated by the picture she painted as she went into colorful detail about the challenges of her childhood. Then, after a good bit of talking, she dozed off, at which point Kim and I got into a completely random conversation about spies – don’t ask!


At one point, I mentioned someone I once worked for who I thought was a spy, and half-jokingly said, “He ruined my life.” Not missing a beat, Miss Etta’s eyes pop wide open, she takes my hand and pulls me toward her until we are nose to nose, and emphatically says, “Your life is not ruined! You’re sitting here, aren’t you!?”


The sheer power of the tone and tenor of her words made me feel like I’d been hit upside the head with an iron skillet. I was speechless as she continued, “I used to think my life was ruined after every setback or bad thing that happened…but here I am, going on 101 years old…so my life was not ruined, and neither was yours…so stop saying that!” And stop, I shall!!!

I used to think my life was ruined after every setback or bad thing that happened…but here I am, going on 101 years old…so my life was not ruined, and neither was yours…so stop saying that!

Reality checks, attitude adjustments, and wake-up calls all come when you least expect them, and Kimberly’s badass mom provided me with a trifecta! She reminded me just how resilient we humans can be… if we choose to be!