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!”

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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.

BLIND AS A BAT AND TOOTHLESS TO BOOT


Wht the Hell
“What The Hell!” original multi-media figure by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

There is something viral about the Heathrow airport in London. For the third time the minute my feet found the restroom after landing, my teeth fell out.

I can’t read a word on the map without my reading glasses. I know we will find our hotel, if it’s the same place as it was. English hotels don’t seem to stray for a century or so. But finding a dentist to put my teeth in order was another question. Finding one to do it in a week was another problem.

I always felt comfortable being lost in Venice and in London. I knew I would run into water at some point in Venice, and the English have been trained since babyhood to be polite, and someone always shows up to help. Paris is another side of the coin. I once asked directions in my best high school French and received a snarl much as if I had tried to grab a bone from a starving dog.

Dr. Advice says he hates being lost, but we found him sitting happily nursing a beer with a group of artisans in a bodega in Guadalajara an hour or so beyond the agreed meeting time.

Teeth and eyesight become even more prized in later life, when you realize you can’t read the phone book, a map or a menu. I miss my relationship with the telephone directory. I used to believe you could find anything you were looking for in one. Now it contains everything but your can no longer see it.

When you are forced to call Directory Assistance you receive a disembodied recording from India asking for answers you can’t supply in one word.

The menu, the cookbook, and of course the map can only be read if written in large type–extremely LARGE TYPE. Mostly I’m sad about just plain reading. When I pass a bookshelf I need to stand on my head to decipher the titles. Reading is one of the main things I do and is entirely dependent upon the whereabouts of my glasses.

And I forgot to mention the pill bottle! Who can read that small print? They crowd all the information on one tiny little bottle and expect you to read it?

Three years ago when they finished excavating my mouth I discovered that you could survive by pulverizing all your food in a blender, but it isn’t nearly as much fun. Food vanishes. Not literally of course, but our concept of food as habit, as pleasure, as love.

Steak becomes a memory. You don’t smile because there is nothing to smile about. Your dentist becomes not only your best friend, but a constant companion. The waiter at a favorite restaurant supplies your lunch before you order. Soup and ice cream as usual? You nod while sadly watching your companions chomp away at their salads.

The same waiter is discreetly pleased when you next show up with glasses and teeth.