WHAT CAN I SAY?


I have lately become aware that I babble. By that I mean, what relevant conversation can I have with my adult children and grandchildren? Even as I search for ways to make my mundane activities interesting to another, I realize that they don’t really care if I ate quiche for lunch or mopped the kitchen floor. Sometimes my tongue gets ahead of my brain. After asking about their day, and exclaiming as to its fun aspects or not, I’m not finding much of interest to disclose.

Old age, as I have written, is a special time of life in which we melt into our newly formed habits, repeating them day by day with comfort we lacked in our youthful existence. Those who have a particular interest such as sports or the market, may share it with others whose interest interact with their own. My interests however are not those which bear sharing: a new painting, a new book, what the dinner preparation might be, and of course, my singular passions which don’t bear repeating; politics and religion. I can hardly begin a deeply felt conversation with a 40 year old grandson by trashing President Trump or the Catholic church. I have noticed a definite uptick in conversations which end with “Oh gee Mom, I’ll call you back!”

I’m beginning to analyze my discourse to make sure it can’t be construed as complaint. I always hated that when it came from elders in my own family. After my mother’s passing I came across a small scrap of paper on which she had written: When I am gone, I hope they remember that I was fun.” And she was.

I think the memories we leave should be pleasant, or at least relevant. The key as we know, is your interest in the other. I think after I gather all their information I will just hang up before I begin to babble.

IT ISN’T EASY BEING OLD


Crow Print by Marvin Oliver

It’s a shame that just when you get comfortable being youngish, you suddenly find yourself being classified as “elderly”. You see strangers being referred to as elderly when in their 70’s. I suppose we are lucky that the longest period of our lives is called middle age. But the middle of what?

What makes us “old”? Since Dr. A, at the age of 91, is often seen out and about, either walking Charlie or sweeping leaves, he is often offered help; either to get up if he is pulling a weed, or loading a bag of compost into the car. Shaking his head, he wonders if they think he is old. I always use the line uttered by Hermine Gingold to Maurice Chevalier “Oh no, not you.”

The question is not so much how we look. Obviously the years take their toll in ways we would rather not think about. The story inside a beat-up second hand book is just as good as when the book was new. I a heard young man the age of forty something complain that he was getting “old”.

The First Wednesday group met last week and celebrated two more 90th birthdays. We were joined this time by two daughters, one granddaughter, and a little great-grandson. Generations in action. I began paying more attention to the questions my friends asked. One asked me if any of Dr. A’s old friends were left.The answer has been “no” for many years. Another asked if I were still cooking. The answer is “yes”, she was not. Another asked if my hearing was still good. She had just got hearing aids, and doesn’t like them. I have never heard of anyone who loved wearing them. They fall into the same category as false teeth; an unavoidable necessity.

Do all these things make us old? No, they are the exterior signs of lives well spent. If we are given the gift of age, it behooves us to do the best we can to get on with it. Dwelling on what we have lost is boring and non-productive.

Having said that, I visited the eye doctor again yesterday for a new glasses prescription. Something glamorous and sexy and makes me look 65 again would be nice. Before this can be achieved, you review the same old tests everyone takes to determine how much you can actually see. The result was neither more nor less than I expected, since my eyesight has been failing regrettably faster than I thought.

On the last visit, they showed me a few magnifying devices said to help failing eyesight. Yesterday there were a whole shelf full of lighted ones, a couple to wear on your head, though I couldn’t find the buttons meant to work like binoculars. Strange looking things which would scare the dog into thinking you came down from an unknown planet.

I have found that some things, like youth, cannot be recaptured; sight being one of them. We need to go with the flow as long as the river runs.

Back to my original question, “What makes us old?” It isn’t the loss of our looks, or the loss of our capabilities. It’s the loss of hope. The loss of interest in new things. The loss of someone or something to care about, or who cares for us. All those things are at the core of Life. If we lose them, yes, we are old, and it isn’t easy being old.
As a good friend called over his shoulder the other day while leaving the house, “Old age sucks!”

FIRST WEDNESDAYS


“Tres Mujeres” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My island of Alameda was lovely as always yesterday. It occurred to me that none of us has ever wished we had lived anywhere else. We “ladies who have been lunching since high school” meet on the first Wednesday of each month to do a little gossiping and get the update on life in general. We are all turning 90 so it’s really quite exciting. Mine won’t come until next year, so I am still “the baby”. What began as six old friends renewing their friendship has grown to nine or ten. Now and then someone else from our class of 1945 finds out how much fun we are having and wants to be a part of it. It is interesting that though everyone knew someone, none of us knew all the others in high school, so it is like meeting new friends all the time. The painting above might be about only Three Women, but we keep growing.

As a group of this age, no one has escaped the trials of Life. Yet smiles and good attitudes prevail always. You always hear about the elderly recapping their various ailments, but not these ladies. We all still think we could run a marathon, but we simply don’t choose to do so. Those people who still think old people have nothing to do but sit around are wrong. Most of us are still accomplishing, we just do it slower. If one doesn’t do it today, there is always tomorrow.

There are numerous jokes passed around, hoping to put a light touch to the matter of aging, however a good friend was leaving our house last week after a frustrating time when all three of us were having trouble remembering a name. As he walked down the path he turned his head and called out over his shoulder “Old age sucks!” Well yeah, sometimes it does, but as my doctor tells me our “bodies aren’t meant to last forever”.

I think the trick is to always keep something unfinished. It could be a book you are either reading or writing, a painting, outliving your dog; whatever. Maybe just wanting to stick around long enough to smell the roses.

We have two 90th birthdays to celebrate next First Wednesday and I don’t want to miss it.

MY TEA CUP RUNNETH OVER


There are all sorts of tea parties. There was the Boston kind which wasted a great deal of good English tea, but got the message over. Then the political kind, whose movement now sails under another name. Extraordinarily, this year I have attended two of the finer gatherings of ladies which have actually served tea.

I have been gifted each year to a special birthday treat by my two daughters. This year’s birthday celebrations culminated in a lovely high tea at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel.

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The Fairmont is one of the fine old historic hotels in San Francisco, and has been featured in many films and television shows. Nearly completed, but nearly destroyed in 1906, at the time of the great San Francisco earthquake, it was rebuilt by Julia Morgan, who was also famous for building William Randolph Hearst’s castle San Simeon, down the coast a bit.

The hotel was ready for occupancy by 1907 and business has been brisk ever since. One of its attractions is the Tonga Room, with its Hurricane Bar, a historic tiki bar. It features a bandstand on a barge which floats in a former swimming pool, a dining area built from parts of an old sailing ship, and artificial thunderstorms. In 2009, the owners announced plans to close the Tonga Room. In response, a group filed an application to make the Tonga Room an official San Francisco landmark. I’m happy to say that Dr. A and I, in our hey-day, sat under the thunderstorm a few times. Great fun.

The Venetian Room was where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1961. A statue of Tony Bennett was unveiled outside the Fairmont in August , 2016, in honor of his 90th birthday, the performance and the song’s history with San Francisco.

As if we three ladies weren’t giggling enough, we were joined by my granddaughter, who flew in from London, and a sneak attack from her brother. Oh yes, they also served tea.

WAITING ROOMS


‘INUIT MOTHER AND CHILD’ watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all in some sort of waiting room. Some with anticipation and some with trepidation. It depends upon where you are waiting; grocery store, post office, assisted living facility or doctor’s office. The grocery store is a toe tapper, while you wish the person in front of you would hurry up and count her change, and return the unwanted can of beans. The post office could go both ways; did you get a bill or a check? The people in the assisted living place, are waiting for God, and it could also go both ways. The doctor’s waiting room is far and away the most interesting.

Our hospital is getting older and seems smaller, and the number of patients has increased; drawn by the advent of Silicon Valley technology. For lack of space, various disciplines have been combined in spaces far to small to contain them. While waiting for my rheumatology doctor, I watched mothers and children waiting for pediatrics, There were also cardiology and oncology patients cooling their heels.

A beautiful young woman dressed with a jeweled head dress offered a seat which I gladly took. She was from India and her husband had come here to work for Google. She misses her parents and the fact that her daughter has never met them.

Two young fathers carrying their babies checked in and I remarked to myself that fathers never came to pediatricians appointments, let alone carrying their offspring. Another sign that times have changed. The day of the stay-at-home mom is over.

As refreshing as these fellow waiters were, a dark cloud arrived in the shape of a grumpy looking gentleman in his late 70’s dressed in baggy work pants and jacket, checked in with the young woman at the desk and obviously was disgruntled by having to give a co-pay. Mumbling all the way, he threw himself into the small chair with a scowl. He gave a challenging look toward the check in counter and groused: ” I pay enough as it is around here. Now you expect me to wait here?”

I was glad to go in to meet the cute young woman doctor who is always a pleasure. After chatting and acquainting her with any new problems, I told her about the current state of the waiting room, including a description of Mr. Grumpy. She laughed and said “I think he is my net patient.” I hope she was able to make his day a bit better.

SOCIETY PAGE


Newspapers are not what they used to be. They have a large amount of news, both real and fake, but all news is tightly contained in two or three pages with ads for viagra, refrigerators and cars taking up most of the space.

Not so long ago news was organized into days of the week, with the Sunday paper requiring an entire day to digest, Monday and Tuesday simply rehashing Sunday’s news. Then Wednesday’s paper contained a segment of 6 or 8 pages of cooking and recipes. You could plan the entire week’s menu from the Wednesday paper, clipping recipes which would be tucked away in folders for years to come.

Thursday, no matter if you read the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle or the Seattle Times, contained the Society news. Photographs of celebrities acquainted you with the styles of the day, and you felt part of the coming out parties, and every other event the posh attended. For every wanna-be woman especially, it gave a real meaning to Thursday at the breakfast table. It was a real service to the community.

In or about 1970, the local Atlanta, Georgia’s Thursday Society page covered the birthday party of Miss Sally Jo Hornbacker, who recently turned five years old. The day was sunny and sublime, and twenty small guests, dressed in fairy tale dresses in Easter egg colors, arrived at the local country club, each bearing a beautifully wrapped gift for the pretty little celebrant, herself gowned in an apricot taffeta dress designed by Emile de Mille, with three petticoats in contrasting shades. Sally Jo, the daughter of Judge and Mrs. Marvin Lebush Hornbacker of the Savannah LeBushes Hornbackers. Sally Jo’s ensemble was set off by small black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, and she carried a small beaded pocket book in robins egg blue. The guests, all daughters of the local gentry, were treated to a beautiful six layer cake decorated by the esteemed baker Michele Fontainbleu. Each child was gifted with a lovely gold bracelet upon leaving the part, and it wad deemed a great success.

Today is my birthday. I have achieved the admirable age of 89, which entitles me to not much more than 88 did, but I am probably the luckiest 89 year old living at this address. I somehow helped in creating a wonderful family with the help of a thoroughly admirable husband, who turned out to be the love of my life for the past 70 years. Together we have accumulated groups of very special friends.
You may ask “is that all there is?” and I would answer “What else could there possibly be?” HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

MONDAY, MONDAY


Remember the Mamas and Papas singing “Monday, Monday so good to me, Monday morning all I hoped it would be.” This worked out to be that kind of Monday morning. Bright sunshine, a door and window open day. a few selected trees showed the possibility of green growth.

Since Maty left suddenly, we are back to cleaning house once more. You never forget how. Dr.A is often looking for something to do, which isn’t easy once the gardening is taken care of by someone else, so he took over mopping and polishing miles of tile floor this morning. I tackled bathrooms. I told him that there is always something to do around the house. If I play this right I may have the only handsome 91 year old housekeeper in the neighborhood. People will be begging for his services.

Some younger people seem to think people older than themselves have nothing to do. The truth is that age has nothing to do with it. You still have a lot to do, but you do it slower.

Charlie has been given a blue pill to take for a month for an obscure internal problem. It is supposed to be given with his breakfast food, but I found it tucked neatly against the side of the bowl, so I began wrapping it in a dab of cream cheese. Like Mary Poppins said “Just a spoonful of sugar—“. This Morning Dr. A proudly said he had tried to give it to him in three different cheeses to no avail. However, I saw the remnants of the cheeses he turned his nose at. One was ricotta, another was sour cream, and the third was a half empty bag of mozzarella. Charlie is an intelligent dog and waited for the cream cheese.

I wrote a post some time ago about how long it takes to form a habit. It was interesting to read the other day that some experts still often say 21 days. The real answer is more complex.
I looked for an answer the same way most people do these days. I asked Google. Most of the top results referenced the same magic 21 days. These websites maintained that ‘research’ had found that if you repeated a behavior each day for 21 days you would have formed a brand new habit.
There wasn’t much discussion about what type of behavior it was or the circumstances you had to repeat it in, just the same figure of 21 days. Exercise, smoking, writing a diary or turning cartwheels; you name it 21 days is the answer. In addition, many authors recommend that it’s crucial to maintain a chain of 21 days without breaking it.

Thanks to recent research though, we have some idea of how long common habits really take to form. In a study carried out at University College in London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something that they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health related like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or running 15 minutes after dinner. Each of the 84 days of the study they logged into a website to report their findings. Acting without thinking or ‘automaticity’ is a central component of a habit.

So how long did it take to form a habit? Across the board it took 66 days until a habit was formed depending on what activity each tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to automaticity after about 20 days while people who tried to eat a piece of fruit with lunch each day too twice as long. The exercise was the trickiest, with 50 sit ups after morning coffee still not a habit after 84 days. Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast turned into a habit for one participant in 50 days.

This research seems to say that habits are slow to form and some might even take as long as a year. In my own case, things such as drinking water or exercising a certain time each day, while once being considered habits, are now occasional activities. However mysterious it may be; when we moved into this house 44 years ago, we had a light switch moved from one side of a door to another. This was accomplished in a matter of a few days during a remodel, however, I still reach for the original place to turn the light on. That habit had only taken a few days.

SWIMMING IN YOUR HEAD


Amy Tan, writer of such memorable works as “The Joy Luck Club” as well as so many other insightful books, once advised us to write what’s swimming in our head. The mind is never a complete blank, though the ability to transcribe the void can be difficult.

My mind is usually so crowded, it’s hard to separate the ridiculous from the sublime, which is why I occasionally walk into another room and wonder why I went there. I would feel bad about it, but my daughter says she does it too. There is too much information out there to remember it all. A friend excused the sensation by imagining a little man bustling about trying to organize a roomful of feral cats. Obviously it can’t be done, so why worry?

We entertained yesterday with a late lunch, and Charlie behaved himself grandly with friends who had known him from a tiny puppy. Only once did I hear someone say “Charlie, stop eating your bed”. Charlie, like many humans, seems to get energized when company arrives, and while some people are propelled into talking mode, Charlie, in an obvious effort to extend a welcome, drags out all the toys in the toybox to see if he can encourage someone to pay attention to him. It’s sad really.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. The people who make them in hopes of improving themselves, usually don’t need much improvement. The monthly lunch with my high school girl friends, has gained a couple more ladies, who decided to join us when they heard about it. We used to meet every 6 weeks or so, but as we get closer to decrepitude, it seems wise to meet more often. One friend has moved into a retirement home, and another cannot drive the distance required. A third who until a year ago, drove to Reno often to see family, no longer drives the freeway. In our case, the resolution to come together more often is imperative.

We make the decision to stop driving at different ages and for different reasons. One friend and neighbor will be 95 in a few weeks and is still driving, though no longer on the freeway. The traffic has become horrendous at any time of day, and accidents and road rage intimidate the most intrepid drivers. I gave up driving this past year when I realized my AMD had progressed to the point of danger. Now, several months later, I have limited vision, finding certain things simply disappear. I can’t believe it, but it’s another interesting part of growing older, and more people than we know suffer from the condition. It’s somewhat like the roomful of feral cats, so why worry?

I am reminded of a cousin, who is 99 this year, had a relationship with a gentleman friend a few years ago. When they were both widowed, they decided to marry, and planned a wedding aboard the USS Hornet, a wartime aircraft carrier moored in Alameda, which had some meaning for them. The gentleman’s adult children however, disapproved of the marriage, casting a pall on the affair which ended shortly thereafter, due to the prospective bride and groom living in different cities, and unable to drive any longer. The ability to drive in their case was crucial. It was obviously before Uber.

GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN


It’s strange, but after a certain age people start worrying about who will inherit all the detritus they have accumulated during their life. What they should worry about is who the heck wants it anyway? By the time you are ready to get rid of it, any likely recipients already have a houseful of their own stuff, and none of it is part of the same era as ours. The sad thing is that sometimes the small things which are so important to us get lost in the shuffle.

jansport

A case in point is my purse. It is a prototype from Jansport which I have carried everywhere exclusively for twenty years. I carry this purse to the grocery store, to the beach, on vacation, out to dinner; you name it and it has been there. This may not seem amazing to you, but what else fits that description? It is canvas and leather, with pockets holding my life, and though I have a number of expensive designer type handbags in my closet, I opt to use this purse my daughter gave me twenty years ago.

In 1969, while at the University of Washington, our daughter met Skip Yowell, a fun loving and exciting young fellow who with his cousin had started a small backpacking company a couple of years before. People in Washington state are noted for loving the outdoors and finding out what is over the top of all those mountains. Skip Yowell and his cousin Murray Pletz, had an idea that they could make a better backpack than what was being used. Murray’s girlfriend Jan, used her sewing machine to stitch the canvas, and Murray told her if she married him, they would name the company after her. So three hippie kids with a great idea became Jansport, and the company grew into one of the largest outdoor gear companies in the country. Jansport gear has made it to the top of Mount Everest and its sister behemoths for so long now they should put a retail outlet on the top of the mountain.

I was often the lucky recipient of a prototype Jansport had made that year, and that was how I came by my very special purse.

Now that you know the story, you can see why it is important to me to know who will treasure this bit of corporate history. Antique Roadshow may someday feature it to the amazement of its future owner.

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME GUY


I always knew that I had to write about Uncle Henry; one of those uncommon men who enter your life quietly and remind you that goodness abounds in unlikely places.

Uncle Henry married my mother’s sister, Aunt Corrine, in Saudi Arabia sometime in the 1950’s when both were working for Aramco. It was a fortunate union for both of them.

During the 1950’s I was involved with family and work, so I missed most of the good stuff as I like to call their life over there, but later, when they returned to their native soil after 30 years overseas, I caught up.

Henry Alisch was born in New Jersey to a German-American family, and whose cheerful Bavarian mother was often ill. Henry, much like his mother in personality, was her loving caregiver.

Late in the 1920’s when he finished high school, he and his best friend met a man who gave them his business card and offered them jobs in the movies if they wanted to come out to California.

Saying goodbye to family and New Jersey, they hopped a train and came to Hollywood to become movie stars. When they presented the business card to the person at the gate of the movie studio, they found that their benevolent “producer” no longer worked at the studio.

Friendless and out of cash, they quickly found jobs as bell boys at one of the hotels in downtown Beverly Hills, where they were paid 25 cents plus tips per bag to carry them up to the rooms. Both boys being good looking and personable, they amassed a small stash of extra cash.

Lindbergh had already made his flight across the ocean in the last decade, and the barnburners were on each corner offering flying lessons for $5.00 each to eager young men. Feeling brave and optimistic, Henry, or Hank as he began to be called, took a few lessons and got his pilot’s license.

The war had started in Canada, and Hank’s friend went off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Henry’s eyesight prevented him from joining up, but he spent four years in MATS, Military Air Transport Service, ferrying planes to Europe during the war. Being highly intelligent, he became an expert in airplane maintenance.

In 1946 the War was over and Henry saw an ad for Airplane Tech, top pay, overseas. Knowing he was qualified, and looking for new adventure, he stepped off the DC-3 and onto the hot tarmac in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia into 124 degree heat. Wishing him well as they picked up their suitcases and stepped onto the waiting airplane were two young men on their way back home.

Aramco, or American Arabian Oil Co. had a few planes, and Hank was in charge of their maintenance. Dhahran had an American community where he met a beautiful blonde secretary who had arrived in 1949. On a two year contract with Standard Oil of California; this was my Aunt Corrine.

For the next 30 years they lived an exciting life while traveling around Europe for work and pleasure. While Aramco had very few planes when Henry arrived, through the years that number greatly increased. They went often to the Rolls Royce factory in England, and to the Hague to KLM Royal Dutch Airline to check up on engines and parts for the Aramco planes.

During their travels, my Aunt, who had extraordinarily good taste, was able to collect first edition books in England, lovely Persian rugs, handmade furniture in Copenhagen, and china wherever she found it.

Children were only allowed to stay until they reached high school age, and my cousin went off to school in Cannes, France. Years later, while shopping a younger woman remarked on my gold bracelets. When I mentioned Saudi, she immediately said “Oh, Aramco!” I asked where she had gone to boarding school and she had been sent to London.

In 1953 Corrine and Henry’s son Kendall was born. Kendy was Henry’s first born child, and with Down Syndrome it was apparent that he needed help. Henry’s early skills as a caregiver kicked in and through the years he devoted much of his time lovingly trying to give Kendy a happy life. While my Aunt was frustrated much of the time, Henry never tired of taking care of Kendy before he went to live in a school in California.

Years later, after they had moved to Brookings, Oregon, Henry looked at his computer and saw a puzzling message from a long lost and nearly forgotten friend. “Hey, are you the same Hank Alisch who went out to California from New Jersey and learned to fly?” His boyhood friend had found him on the internet.

There are things a born caregiver knows that the rest of us don’t. They know if you need your pillow plumped, or a bite of out of season fruit, or whether you want to talk or just sit and stare at the empty TV. Henry Alisch knew all that, and when each of my parents became ill, they were living next door to Henry and Corrine in Brookings, Oregon, he was able to give them care which I could not while living in California. Later on, after their passing, my Aunt needed someone kind and loving to help her through the days, Henry Alisch was there. They both passed at the ages of 98 and 99. I’m glad I knew you Henry Alisch, you helped me through the pain of losing my parents and were a kind and altruistic friend.