Enjoying the Sunset

       There are a lot of things about growing old that nobody ever prepares us for. Perhaps this is just as well, because we might want to forgo the experience altogether. For example, I had no idea my hair would grow thin. I have never been bushy-haired, but until I reached eighty, I had no worries about my scalp being adequately covered. It now requires some adroit combing on the part of my hairdresser and me, to keep little patches of pink from showing through my gray locks. This has caused me to develop a sympathetic feeling for such an unlikely person as Donald Trump. I am sure his hair-style is meant to camouflage his receding hair-line. Bizarre is better than bare, maybe.
     I had every intention of aging gracefully, but from just a purely physical standpoint, this is not feasible. Alas, even rising from a chair with an easy fluid motion is impossible to do when one’s knees have locked in a sitting position. The best one can hope for is to be able to push oneself upright without groaning. A positive-thinking friend of mine is of the opinion that giving voice to discomfort only serves to exacerbate the problem. Therefore, as Archie Bunker would have said, I “stifle myself.” I keep quiet about any twinges I feel. However, there is nothing I can do about the popping sounds my joints make.
     Once standing, the challenge is to keep from staggering or lurching about and bumping into things. I have become unbalanced. My equilibrium is something I once took for granted. Now, if I bend over suddenly, instead of stooping, (trying to spare my knees, you know) my body tends to want to flop further forward, like a weighted doll. So far, I haven’t fallen on my face, thank goodness, but I am learning to bend over slowly and cautiously.
     Then there is the matter of scrabbling. My organizational skills have evidently deteriorated, because I find it increasingly difficult to locate things in my purse. I tend to paw through the contents searching for my grocery list, or car keys or spare hankie. This is unsettling to my daughter who remembers that a dear, but dotty, relative was forever
rummaging distractedly through her purse or coat pockets for lost items and would sometimes haul everything out onto the nearest flat surface, the better to sort through it. For my daughter’s sake, I am making a serious effort not to scrabble.
     A friend with excellent posture sometimes briskly reminds me to “stand up straight.” She has even given me a recipe for how to do this: “Stand with your hands at your sides, then turn you hands palm forward and stick out your thumbs.” This works. I become a ramrod.  So now when I walk my dog, Nessie, I hook her leash around my arm and stride forth, palms out, thumbs extended. I am then perceived as a peculiar, but erect, old lady taking her exercise. Fortunately Nessie, a West Highland Terrier, is a very accepting kind of dog who doesn’t seem to mind appearing in public with me, no matter what I do.
     I have composed a kind of mantra for myself: Don’t groan, don’t scrabble, don’t slouch.
     Now at the end of the day, wearied by all the conscious effort it seems to require just to function and to maintain a presentable appearance, I relax on my deck with a glass of iced tea. I look out over my garden, which is exuberant with spring flowers. I think of my family, especially my son and daughter, who I not only love, but like very much. I consider the steadfast kindness of my friends and remember my adventure-filled life with a wonderful man. Suddenly, I feel I am almost floating. I am dazzled by the pure splendor of life itself. What a gift! I want to fall to my knees, creaky as they are, and, like Shakespeare’s lark, “sing hymns at heaven’s gate.” 
     Old age may not be graceful, I think to myself, but it is a time of grace. How marvelous it is to live in the present and be able to cherish what is past. Memory has softened sorrow and distilled joy. Colors are more vivid, the scent of honeysuckle is sweeter, love is easier to express, and more gratefully accepted. Poetry speaks with a clearer voice. The sunset hour is particularly beautiful.

Adapt or Perish

Hello friends, Sorry to have had no posts for a while. This is because I did not have my computer guru at  my side to lead me through the posting process. This is all still so new to  me that I feel unsafe doing it without reassurance that each move I make will not be my last. I truly am trying to get more computer savvy but this is an uphill struggle. I’m sure you are far more competent than I am;  I’m hoping you’re also patient .

Adapt or Perish

If technological advances had been left up to me, we might still be living in caves and digging our dinner out from under rocks with a pointed stick. When it comes to change, I am never on the cutting edge.

Fortunately, however, progress has always been in more innovative hands than mine. By the time I arrived on the scene in 1921, many civilized amenities were already in place. I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we lived in a snug brick house and the groceries were delivered to our back porch from the corner grocery store. The inventions my parents marveled over and took pride in possessing, the electric stove and washing machine, the victrola, the crystal radio, the vacuum cleaner, the telephone with the voice that said “Number Please,” were simply part of my surroundings. I took these conveniences for granted and used them adeptly, just as today’s children nonchalantly handle computers, VCR’s and DVD’s.

The technology we are born into is usually not a problem for us. It’s the innovations that are introduced later in life that cause the difficulties. I can remember my German grandfather being absolutely terrified of the telephone. This was the courageous man, mind you, who sailed from Europe to the United States with a pregnant wife and three small children to homestead in Nebraska. “By gollies, I don’t touch dot t’ing!” he declared when urged to talk into it to speak to his daughter in Omaha. I undoubtedly smiled in a superior way at the time, just as my grand-children covertly smiled at each other when I vowed that I would never touch a computer.

Well, Grandpa learned to use the telephone, although he always bellowed into it, firm in his belief that vocal transmission depended solely on his lung power. And I am learning to use a computer, haltingly, prayerfully, always with an incomplete understanding of what I am doing. Both Grandpa and I reluctantly bowed to the law of survival: Adapt or perish.

I have to tell you, though, that adapting does not preclude looking back on olden time with a certain amount of wistfulness.

Am I about to say those were the good old days? Well, yes, I am— in a way. Would I like to go back to them? Well, no, I wouldn’t—not exactly.

What I actually want to do is stop the fast-forward button somebody has pressed. Our time-saving devices seem to have robbed us of the time for the personal touch in the transactions of daily life, for the leisurely face to face encounters that encourage the building of understanding and friendship. For me, these things are humanly necessary. I still like the idea of a live voice saying “Number Please.” That’s why, when I call a business or agency, I always wait through a long menu for the option of last resort—the button to push that connects me with a real person.

I realize that resisting the new and clinging to the old is considered a hallmark of old age. Yet sometimes we need to look at the cost of progress in terms of the impact it has on the quality of our life and consider how much we are controlling technology and how much technology is controlling us.

When my computer was “down” for a couple of days last month, I suddenly realized I was “up.” Why? I was released from the compulsion to check my e-mail and sort through the junk messages, to browse the internet, to slip in a few games of solitaire, to struggle again with my newly installed Word program. I recognized that I spend a lot of time every day peering into Windows instead of looking out of windows. My world had changed from round to flat—as flat as a computer screen. But do I want to part with my computer? I do not. It is a marvelous, magical tool and I cannot imagine life without it.

So how do we strike a balance?  I’ll tell you what—e-mail me when you have a free afternoon. We’ll have a cup of tea together in my garden. I’d so love to see you again to find out what’s been happening in your life. And I’d like to see the expression on your face when I tell you what’s happening in mine. Please don’t bring your cell phone.

Wyoming Easter

           Springtime in Wyoming was always a very iffy thing. Nevertheless after a few balmy days in a row, my mother and the crocuses usually came out together, beguiled once again into believing that winter was over. Despite years of discouraging meteorological data, my mother began laying plans for a “nice Easter.”  She never fully accepted that Mother Nature, while enchanting, also has a mean streak in her, and might decide to whip up gale force winds or a full scale blizzard for Easter Sunday.

            But no matter what the weather might be, Easter outfits were still of primary importance. My mother always had visions of how she wanted me to look. Generally speaking this was all right with me. I liked new clothes and shiny patent leather shoes and I had every expectation of fitting right in with all the other 8-year old girls in my Sunday school class. We might arrive at church in winter coats and galoshes, but we would have bows in our hair. Underneath the heavy coats we would be wearing the lace-trimmed dotted Swiss or flowered dimity dresses our mothers had made for us.

            However, a friend of the family unexpectedly sent me a dress. It came all the way from the Philippine Islands where she and her army officer husband were stationed. The dress was pure white, lavishly embroidered in bright blue around the neck and sleeves and hemline, and it had a tasseled draw-string at the waist. Mother, an expert needlewoman herself, was in raptures over the exquisite, complex embroidery, and declared that I was the most fortunate of little girls to have such a lovely dress. I was aghast. I had never seen anything remotely like it before—it looked foreign, and I felt peculiar in it. Young herd animal that I was, I wanted to look exactly like my friends.

            I knew there was absolutely no way to explain to mother that I hated the dress, and any show of petulance was impermissible. I had learned that in certain circumstances bowing to authority was my only feasible option.         

             Mother decided that the dress required a hat to complete its effect. This entailed a visit to Miss Cottingham’s Millinery Shoppe which was a hushed and carpeted place, somewhat like the funeral parlor I had once been in, a place for final arrangements.

           The hats were displayed on small stands atop tables. Mother flitted about like a hummingbird among flowers, while Miss Cottingham followed behind her with the rapt patience of a stalking cat. A white hat of “superior quality Milan straw” was placed upon my head. After negotiating a change of ribbon streamers to exactly match the blue in my dress, a transaction was completed.

           Easter morning dawned fair, sparkling and almost warm. Mother was ecstatic as our family set off on the walk to church. My older brother and I walked in front, followed by our parents. We looked like the ideal happy family, although this was only three-quarters true. I was miserable.

            My darkest misgivings proved warranted. When I entered the Sunday school room, all chattering ceased and my contemporaries eyed me in shocked silence. However my Sunday school teacher greeted me with utmost warmth. “Hello, dear, how nice you look. I’ll bet your pretty dress came from the Philippines.” She turned to the class and continued, “Remember how we’ve talked about the missionaries our church sends to the Philippine Islands, where people are often so poor they don’t have enough to eat? And yet, just imagine, they can find happiness in making beautiful things.” Our class really respected missionaries and some of us thought we might someday become missionaries ourselves. Suddenly I was seen in a whole new, quasi-glamorous light. I was after all clothed in an exotic garment made by people in a far-away place, brave people who needed our help.

          As our family, now 100% happy, emerged from the church, my hat was snatched from my head by a sudden powerful gust of wind, seemingly coming from nowhere. Streamers flying behind it, the hat whirled upward, then gyrated erratically downward, to impale itself on the bare branch of a lilac bush. When my brother retrieved it, the hat was found to have sustained only a minor puncture wound—-due no doubt to its being a “Milan straw of superior quality.”

         Mother Nature had, however, reminded us that she was still in charge and could have made things a whole lot worse if she had really wanted to.

It’s All In Your Head

The brain has odd grooves

And strange curlicues

Where peculiar ideas may form

Quite askew from the usual norm.

Plus there are numerous links

With queer little kinks

Which are bound to affect

How anyone thinks.

And

Amidst the buzzing and whirring

Of neurons conferring

And the circuits that spark

While others stay dark,

You may discover that you

Have misplaced your IQ

And alas you may find

You have lost your mind, too.

Purchasing Power

    Now that I’ve crossed the threshold of my eighth decade, I carry a kind of mental actuarial table with me when I go shopping. When I’m considering any major purchase, this table automatically causes me to question, “Are you really going to live long enough to justify this kind of expenditure?”

     This is not as morbid as it may sound. What is happening is that my practical side, developed as a child of the Depression when every penny was weighed at least twice before being spent, is manifesting itself.

     It also bears upon the always present guilt question of whether I’m  squandering my children’s inheritance, and the more worrisome question of do I have enough money to last me for the rest of my life without becoming a burden to my afore- mentioned children?

     My daughter and son show no signs of greed, and they consistently urge me to “Go for it, Mom,” but I worry anyway, because it’s my duty.

     Considering all this, if I decide for sound economic reasons, to replace my old electric range, which has required several visits by technicians and two expensive replacement of parts, all costing more than doctors’ house calls and major surgeries used to, then I’m confronted with another dilemma. Do I buy the top of the line, with its virtual lifetime guarantee, or do I settle for the cheaper utility model with a one-year warranty? I have to ponder whether my dear departed mother’s advice to “always buy the very best you can afford—it always wears better”—is applicable in this situation.

     Candidly speaking, I notice the ice is thinning underfoot. There has been decimation among the ranks of my friends and acquaintances, and I realize that life is more and more a day-to-day proposition. But, on the other hand, although my mirror image has quite a few spots and wrinkles, I was given high marks at my last physical examination six months ago…”for woman your age.”

     I fantasize having my picture in the paper someday with a headline: “Centenarian Still Producing Gourmet Meals.” I will, of course, be standing in front of the deluxe model stove, which has served so well over the years. Perhaps a lifetime warranty is warranted, so to speak.

     Furthermore, I also suddenly remember reading somewhere that the late J. Paul Getty’s advice about buying real estate was to purchase the best piece of property one could possibly afford in the absolutely best neighborhood. I realize that electric ranges and real estate are two different things, and that I’m in apples-versus-oranges territory, but quality and long-term return on investment are what we’re discussing here. My mother and J. Paul Getty both had the kind of financial acumen one must respect.

     The personable young salesman in the appliance store has no possible way of understanding that the white-haired lady, who is squinting at the price tags on each and every range in the showroom, is simultaneously waging an inner moral and philosophical battle, while bravely trying to look mortality in the eye.

     He gives no indication of thinking of me as an indecisive ditherer. He is the soul of patience and good humor as he demonstrates the features of each range. He shrewdly deduces that the one with the electronic display panel, comparable to the instrument panel of a large commercial airliner, is not suitable for this particular customer.

     With the air of a solicitous grandson, he confides that the model with Greatly Reduced for Quick Clearance sticker on it is really “just a piece of junk” He politely hustles me past it to the sleek, elegantly simple, high end model across the aisle.

     Of course, you know what happens.

     “I’m sure you’ll be happy you bought this range,” the young salesman says. “It will give you many years of fine service.” I am thinking it had jolly- well better last 18 years to fit in with my plans for my centennial picture in the paper.

     “It always pays to buy quality,” he says approvingly. He seems to be exactly in tune with my mother and J. Paul Getty. He should go far.

Speed Bump

Birthdays

Accumulate

The years accelerate

Suddenly I find I’m doing

Eighty!

I Have This to Say About That

I have noticed that when you reach a certain age (80+!), people are apt to look at you in a startled way if you say something intelligent or even witty. You’ve been stereotyped as a befuddled old dear who is still unaccountably doddering about in public. At some social gatherings, you may be either totally ignored, or else fussed over by a patronizing altruist who feels duty bound to compliment you on being “alert.”

Although I show signs of wear, I’m not a mental wreck, and I still have a few opinions I wish to express. So listen up!