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At 81, she’s a boffo blogger (2007-04-14)

Millie Garfield is standing in a grocery store in Salem, Mass., with a container of Nescafe and a grin on her face while her son points a video camera. She’s in her late 70s in this shot, and she sports a horizontally striped-shirt with pastel colors. The camera flips on.

“OK, go ahead,” says her son, Steve Garfield.

“What should I say?” she asks.

“Tell them about the problem.”

Millie launches into a very detailed description of how hard it was to open her Nescafe. It was so hard that instead of having coffee that morning, she had to have tea.

Oh, the woes of growing old! And yet, Millie — now an 81-year-old who splits her time between Kings Point in Delray Beach and Swampscott, Mass. — takes it with such grace.

The world has been reading her since October 2003, when Steve got her blogging at www.mymomsblog.blogspot.com. Not long after, she started video blogging (also with her son’s help) in a series called I Can’t Open It. Ten episodes have featured her grappling with various containers, then brightening when her son opens them for her.

SHY? NOT ANY MORE

“At the age of 77, I started blogging,” she wrote in a recent posting. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would enrich my life the way it has. When I was a child, I was this shy little girl, and look at me now! I’ve been on TV, been written up in newspapers and made speeches!”

One of the world’s first 70-something bloggers (now 80-something), she’s something of an Internet phenomenon, drawing as many as 1,000 online visitors a week.

Millie wears her hair short and her lipstick pink. When she started blogging, she was listed for a time as the oldest blogger in the world. She’s now No. 11 on The Ageless Project’s website (jenett.org/ageless), a place devoted to showing the wide range of people blogging or building Web pages.

When Millie writes, she writes about dating in the 1950s, senior bus tours to the Hard Rock Casino and fears of afflictions like the shingles. Blogging has become such a big part of her life, it’s the first thing she does in the morning (skipping even the Nescafe). She regularly reads a dozen other blogs. And, when she brings her groceries home, she goes online before she puts her food away.

Even when she’s away from her computer, she’ll think, “Wow, this would make a good blog.” Over time, the act of blogging has come to change her whole perspective, her routine, the way she leads her life.

Perhaps we should blame her son. Steve Garfield (“29 and holding”) of Boston got her started when she asked what blogging was. Now they’ve started a new show called Millie’s Yiddish Class, where she teaches viewers how to pronounce simple words in Yiddish.

“She’s got like a mental block or a hang-up on how to do `copy and paste,’” says Steve, her technical guru, who adds the photographs on her page. “I show her, and she writes it down. She doesn’t kind of get that.”

Steve Garfield, though, is a bit ahead of the curve. In 2002, he was among the first video bloggers to start uploading material to the Web, and he now produces blogs and video blogs for a living.

A VERY VIP

Still, even he’s a bit taken aback by his mother’s success. Early adopters are rare in the senior world, and that landed Millie interviews with newspapers, television stations and AARP. She gave a speech at last year’s BlogHer conference for female bloggers and once got a call from The Ellen DeGeneres Show — Ellen was trying to learn to blog — but Millie couldn’t make it out to California to do the filming.

“I always told her she was funny,” Steve says, “but since she got the blog and started writing and people started responding to her, she’s thriving.”

It’s hard to believe that she was once shy. Brought up in Chelsea, Mass. — a city so small a car would have been a nuisance, she says — Millie was sheltered as a child. Her parents were so protective, they gave her only one roller skate, so that she would have less of a chance of falling down.

During Millie’s long marriage, her husband, Aaron, usually took the lead, even though he encouraged his wife to try new things. He was a technical writer for General Electric, and she was a bookkeeper at Dainty Dot Hosiery in Boston (although she would eventually land one of her favorite jobs: offering food samples at a grocery store).

When Millie’s husband died 13 years ago, she had to adjust to an entirely different life. She writes about the loss in one of her most powerful blog postings: My Trip From 61 to 85.

“It was during those days I realized how strong I had become. My husband had always encouraged me to do things for myself. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be driving today. So many husbands say to their wives, `Honey, I’ll take you wherever you want to go.’ They take care of all the financial matters and when ‘push comes to shove’ the wives are helpless. Not so in my case.”

TAKING RISKS

The shy girl from Chelsea had learned that you sometimes have to step out on a limb.

Millie blogs weekly. If she waits longer than that, she says, people start to worry about her.

Of late, she has been writing about a credit card company that discontinued her T.J. Maxx and Marshalls rewards (new rewards are on the way). She’s also been busy with concerts at King’s Point, movies and meals with her Florida friends.

“Even at 81, I’m still trying to learn to say, `No, I can’t make it,’” she writes.

She knows there are people watching over her in cyberspace. Regular readers visit her page from Japan, Hawaii and “countries she can’t pronounce.” She even met a fellow blogger, Claude (www.blogginginparis.com), when the Parisian came to the States on a vacation.

Blogging has changed her trajectory. In the back of her mind, she knows she’s leaving a record of her life that will be here long after she is.

“I realize that what I’m doing is something my son is going to have,” she says. “When I do the video blog, he’s going to see me alive. He can read me anytime. I’m leaving that legacy, if you want to call it a legacy.”

Source: www.MiamiHerald.com • Fred Marion, Palm Beach Post

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