Marjorie McTaggart awakes every day to resume the dance of life.
The dancing is figurative today. When she was a younger woman, however, she and business associates danced across Latin America marketing ladies’ undergarments. There was the rumba in Cuba, the meringue in Santo Domingo, the cha-cha in Puerto Rico and the vals criollo in Peru.
That work was perhaps the most colorful in a series of careers that included airline passenger agent, teacher, career counselor, author and volunteer elder advocate, which she continues to this day.
McTaggart could spend her days mourning the passing of those adventurous days, belly-aching about the ailments that afflict her, and whining about the increasing limitations that come with aging. Instead she intentionally chooses cheer over gloom and follows the same sage advice she offers others in her first book, “Views from the Far Side of the Hill.”
In her book, she notes that negative thinking about aging has persisted through the centuries. “No wonder it’s difficult for many to believe that being older is OK — even wonderful,” she writes.
“The main message of my experiences and observations, and those of other seniors, is that seniorhood is a great time if life. Don’t let it frighten or immobilize you,” she continues. “While our youth culture tells us to fight getting older every step of the way, I say enjoy it, celebrate it, and even flaunt it. And keep on dancing — any way you can.”
Long, delightful dance
It indeed has been a long, largely delightful dance for McTaggart. Her life has taken her to 45 different places in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Canada and every one of these United States except Alaska.
The oldest of four siblings, she was born in rural Missouri and raised in Chicago. McTaggart became intrigued with Latin America listening to the tales of airline passengers when she worked as an agent.
She also got the flying bug herself and earned a pilot’s license. McTaggart tells folks that she remains a pilot today. “I pile it here. I pile it there,” she jests, pointing to the stacks of travel and reference books packing the cozy apartment of someone suffering from itchy feet and a passion for words.
Fluent in Spanish, she moved to the west coast of South America in 1949 and taught in an American school. During vacations she explored everywhere from the heights of the Andes to the Amazonian jungles.
When McTaggart returned to the U.S., her familiarity with South America earned her a job as the local representative for a major New York manufacturer of bras and girdles.
“My family received the news with mixed emotions,” McTaggart said. “My mother was nonplussed and broached the subject carefully: ‘Dear, what can I tell my friends?’ she asked.
“My smart-aleck answer was: ‘Tell them I’m in the meat-packing business,’” she responded.
“Armed with my own airline charge card, six suitcases and a typewriter, I headed south to places no man in this business had ventured,” McTaggart recalled. “In each country I was treated as visiting royalty. Local sales representatives met my planes and I was shown the best of each area. I literally danced my way through Latin America as we entertained buyers and promoted goodwill.”
As the “expert” from New York, McTaggart also was charged with teaching sales clerks about fabrics, selling techniques and resolving fitting problems for Latin American women who demanded perfection. Once in Panama “under the watchful eyes of two burly bodyguards,” she found herself measuring Isabel Martinez de Peron, who later would succeed her late husband as president of Argentina in 1974.
McTaggart returned to school for an advanced degree and taught Spanish language and culture at Colorado State University. When her contract was not renewed, she scraped by until landing a position as a vocational counselor with the state job service center, a job she held until her retirement in the 1980s.
But it’s hardly the standard retiring life. Since then she has served in numerous volunteer capacities including the Fort Collins Senior Advisory Board, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program advisory board, and the Fort Collins Senior Center building team, council and advisory board, to name only a few. McTaggart also was an instigator and co-founder of the Slightly Older Adult Players (SOAP) troupe. She now is working on a new volume about her years in Peru.
She has no patience with those who regard growing old as a weakness. “If you are a senior, or plan to become one, keep on doing what you like to do,” McTaggart exhorts. “Make it an adventure. It’s a fun time of life.”
And keep on dancing.