The bumper sticker on Marilyn Canavan’s car says it all: “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History.”
I noticed the sticker on her fender Tuesday as she climbed into her car to head over to her Waterville doctor’s office.
She and her good friend, Betty Goulette, were on a mission.
Canavan, 80, and Goulette, 78, wanted to present their doctor with a framed poster sporting the smiling faces of, and inspiring quotes from, Harry Belafonte, Betty White, Tony Bennett and other elderly performers who prove that growing old is anything but a death sentence.
“We think there’s a lot of negative hype coming at older people right now and we’re not going to let that stop our fun,” Canavan said.
Friends for 40 years, she and Goulette are well known in the city. They have lived here all their lives, their kids grew up together and they’re into everything from politics to the performing arts.
On any given day, you’ll see them lunching downtown at Jorgensen’s Cafe or Selah Tea Cafe, seeing an independent film at Railroad Square Cinema or taking in a show at the Waterville Opera House.
Canavan, a former state representative and former director of the Maine Ethics Commission, and Goulette, a retired dental hygienist who headed up school dental programs, are anything but couch potatoes and introverts. They voice their opinions, loudly and persuasively, on all things to which they adhere. They do as they please, say what they think, giggle a lot and make no excuses for their behavior.
“We think it’s encouraging to folks out there to know there are positive things about growing old,” Canavan said.
On Tuesday they invited me to join them on their mission to give the poster to Roland Knausenberger, whose office is at Inland Medical Associates on Kennedy Memorial Drive.
One of the quotes on the poster is from Doris “Granny D” Haddock, a political activist who walked across the country in support of campaign finance reform before she died in 2010 at age 100: “Let us … happily use ourselves up in loving service to one another.”
Canavan explained that on a recent visit to Knausenberger’s office, she noticed a poster on the examining room door listing all the terrible things that can happen to you as you age.
“Thinning bones, loss of hearing, loss of vision, dimming minds, dementia. I’m sitting there shivering in my Johnny and I walk over and it’s a whole list of negative things,” she said.
She mentioned it to Knausenberger, who just smiled, she said.
“I said, you know that poster here has very little to say that’s positive about growing old. He smiled and resumed the examination. When I went to my next visit, I repeated my comment. Without saying anything, he reached over, grabbed the poster off the door, wadded it up and threw it in the wastebasket, and I felt a moment of elation.”
Quite pleased with herself, Canavan later shared the story with Goulette and together they conjured up the plan to deliver a new poster.
Canavan researched the quotes, Goulette found the performers’ photos and they took everything to Berry’s Stationers downtown and asked shop owner Michael Giroux to organize and frame it.
Canavan, Goulette, and their friend, Barbara Tracy, also 78 and a patient of Knausenberger, split the $84 cost for the project and all three surprised him with it Tuesday.
Goulette assured me beforehand that he would be a good sport about it. “He’s such a gentle soul. He’s kind,” she said. “He’s got some awards on the wall. He does some really neat stuff. He has four children and a really delightful wife.”
She and Canavan had earlier apprised his wife, acupuncturist Robin Bartholf, of the plan, who was there for the surprise.
After Knausenberger’s last patient of the day left, Bartholf escorted him into the waiting room, where the three women handed him the poster.
Visibly surprised — and blushing — he accepted it with gratitude.
“I’m impressed and flattered at the same time,” he said. “This is incredible.”
Knausenberger, of Litchfield, then complimented the three women, as much for who they are as for the gift they brought.
“When they come, they always brighten the room,” he said. “They come and they bring an energy and caring and sunshine. They are not complaining about the glass being half full — but always smiling and with a spring in their steps.”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.