when I was 20

I am looking through my pages of poetry, some written when I was in grade school, but I’ll spare you those. I wrote this when I had just turned twenty and was home from college during a part of the summer. It’s not great poetry, but it’s a great thought, I think.

on the boatbwhen I am old
I will not care for
rock ‘n roll
slopping
and jazz
bongos drums
beat poetry and
Kafka
Kerouac
Jake Trussell and
lifeguards with
sea-burnished hair
and convertibles.
but now I am young
and I know that all of these
will one day be
the cushions
on the couch of memories
on which I will repose
when I am old.

The Slop was a dance from the fifties. I had to google Jake Trussell and I still don’t remember why he was important to me back then. But I still like rock ‘n roll. And convertibles. And I’m still known to ogle lifeguards.

I want to have fun with the trappings of aging.

I keep wondering if the biased attitude of the larger world against “old people” (can’t hear well, can’t see sell, can’t walk or count money fast) is because that’s the most obvious things they notice when we are out in public. And we often don’t look like getting old is much fun. (Granted, if you are in pain, it’s not.)

But what if you are like me and don’t mind getting old and want the world to see me as having fun while it lasts? What if the first things they notice about an older female is not that she’s old, but rather than she’s having fun with the trappings of getting old?

Well, you could do it by dressing like these stylish elders. If you live in New York City, or Paris, or London — and if you have occasion to dress more elaborately than the usual pants and sweater (or, if you’re like me, jeans and a t-shirt) — the notices you would get, no doubt, would be positive. But I’m not sure that small town living calls for that kind level of creative dressing. And what I’m more concerned with is turning our frailties into fun.

funkyglassesOK. So, I have to wear glasses. I go online, find a pair of funky oversized frames for $35 and have my prescription put in them. When I get noticed, it’s not because I’m old. It’s because I’m being old with a flair. And, instead of strangers glowering at me because I am in their way, they comment on my glasses when I look them in the eye and smile. (It’s also very important to look them in the eye and smile.)

Now, what I wish is that the folks who are experimenting with these glasses/hearing aids would actually mass-produce them and include some funky frames.

But for now, I have to wear hearing aids. So, to make wearing them a fashion statement, I just sent for a pair of these. If I decide I like them, I might order a set of hearing aid charms from the same entrepreneurial young woman who makes and sells them. (Hearing impaired little kids seem to love them. Check out these photos!)

Now, we are down to the shoes. As we get older, our feet often become a real problem from the wear and tear of all of those years supporting our weight. (And if you subjected yourself to high heeled pumps, then the problems are even worse.)

I have blogged before about my addiction to sneakers. The reason I am able to wear funky sneakers (even though I have a tendency toward plantar fasciitis and years of ballroom dancing in high heels have taken their toll) is that I invested in really good orthotics. You can fit orthotics into almost any shoes, but you have to try the shoes on with the orthotics in them (because you need a longer and wider size than usual, and not all shoes will work). The smart thing to do is to go to a specialist who makes orthotics for dancers and athletes. Almost very city has one. If the orthotics are prescribed, Medicare should pay for them (minus co-pay). I have been using the same ones for 25 years.

Fashionable_walking_canesFinally, we come to canes (which I don’t need — yet). But, for those who do, catalogs and drug stores carry all kinds of colorful ones. If you have to use one, flaunt it.

I’m wondering what other ways we might be able to encourage those impatient “others,” as we move through the public world, to actually “see” us elders as being more than just a necessary nuisance.

[Addendum: My friend Ronni Bennet at Time Goes By has written about wearing hats to put flair over thinning hair. I’m not a hat person, so I’m looking for other possibilities (other than a wig).]

my secular blue America

Every once in a while I post something of substance. Eight years ago I posted two pieces that, unfortunately, are just as relevant today. Two years ago, I re-posted them (with some parts missing as a result of changing blog designs).

Today, I link to those old posts in case someone winds up here by searching for terms like
“the roots of American democracy”
“Christian Puritans as persecutors”
“Founding Fathers on mixing government and religion”
“Iroquois Confederacy and our Constitution”

In reverse order (because that made more sense) those old posts are:

My Blue America: Our Secular America (Part 2)

Our Securlar America: The Truth is Out There (Part 1)

And so it goes.

a family tradition of “orphan ornaments”

My daughter just won an Amazon gift card for submitting this true story to some website that was having a contest. I thought it is worth posting here.

My father had a tradition every Christmas — he’d “rescue” a new “orphan ornament” from some store. He’d hunt for these strange, oddly made ones that looked like mistakes (like one riding a hobby horse, but the horse was actually impaled through the little wooden elf body) and otherwise would be rejected or left behind. Like the Island of Misfit Toys. He’d get one or a few and add them to the tree. I lost my father a few years back quite suddenly and unexpectedly — the orphan ornaments came home with me and we hang them with our own son, now ten, each year — in memory of “Pa”. We honor him, and a lesson (albeit maybe accidental) on acceptance, tolerance and reaching out a hand to those who might otherwise be overlooked. Even now, as we begin our search for a family dog at different rescues, our son gravitates towards those that are listed as “still waiting” or “overlooked” for some reason, wanting to give them what they need. It’s silly, it’s sweet, and it instilled in us a way of thinking that was probably unintentional as far as his reason for getting the ornaments, but that had an effect on us nonetheless.

life reaches

Some 25 years ago, a friend gave me a clipping from her Wandering Jew plant that she had grown from a clipping a friend had given her.

I have moved this plant with me through a half-dozen moves since then, and it continues to grow in several pots around this house. It’s a survivor, thriving on minimum care. And periodically a tendril emerges (sometimes after years of compact dormancy) to reach for light and something to hold onto.

I think of it as having an “old soul” and a “young heart.”

Ronni Bennett, my elderblogger friend over at Time Goes By would disagree with my using the phrase “young heart. But I am partial to metaphors.

And my spring-reaching houseplant is an inspirational one for me.

a box of books

Every time I move, I get rid of a bunch of books by donating them to the local library. There’s a box of books, however, that I keep hauling around with me.

As I’m rummaging around in my stored stuff looking for memorabilia for my college reunion website, I unearth that old box.

One of the books it contains is actually two copies of the same book: a translation of the Tao Te Ching by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. It’s been years since I’ve looked through either of them. There is one section that I memorized because it is so meaningful to me. I open the book, and there it is:

EIGHT
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go keep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

Good advice.

too soon old, too late smart?

Under his white cassock, the good-looking young priest is wearing sneakers and jeans. I can see them peeking out from underneath the garment’s neat hem. The inside of the 110 year-old ornate church of my childhood is colder than this winter morning in the urban outside. The seat of the wooden pew is freezing my butt.

The church’s boiler has stopped working, and all through the service periodic clangings continue to irreverently punctuate the “words of the Lord.”

I am sitting in the exact spot in which I sat almost exactly a month ago. That was for my mother’s funeral service. This time it’s for my aunt’s (the wife of my father’s brother). They say that death comes in threes. I wonder if my 87 year-old aunt sitting to my left will be the third. I hope, instead, what will count is my dead desktop computer, which, at the moment is awaiting a possible resurrection on the repair desk of my most trusted geek. These are things over which I have no control.

I only go back to my home town for weddings and funerals, all of which include rituals celebrated in this spectacularly vaulted nave that is bordered by detailed mosaic depictions of the Stations of the Cross, above which large elaborate stained glass windows tell the rest of the story. The aesthetics of the church inspires awe, even without the faith that sustains it.

Neither my cousin nor I join in the line to receive Holy Communion. It has been decades since either one of us believed and practiced what we had been so carefully taught during our 13 years of Catholic schooling. When we sit around the table hours after her mother’s burial, my cousin and I and dredge up shared memories of some of our more innocent times — the May processions in which we tossed rose petals as we walked down the aisle (“one, two, three, this is for you, Baby Jesus…”) My mind slips away to the less innocent scenes from the movie “The Polish Wedding.”

We spend hours sitting around that table — my cousin and I and our remaining paternal aunt and uncle — sharing family stories and attitudes that had somehow eluded me during the 17 years I lived in the bosom of a clan that had, apparently, quickly separated into two camps — the “laws” and the “in-laws,” although which was which depended on whose perspective one adopted.

The story that surprises me most is one associated with the version my mother told of a seminal event in my life about which I once wrote a poem. In my mother’s version, her mother saved my young life; in the “in-law” version, my other grandmother believed that my mother was withholding medical treatment for me in favor of “leeches.” I see now that it became a stand-off between two matriarchs, and family relationships through the generations suffered as a result.

While it was my mother’s side of the family that I came to know best, it was an aunt on my father’s side who most impressed me, even though I only knew her for a very short while in my pre-teens.

Eleanor married my Uncle John, to the chagrin of my paternal grandmother. Eleanor was a free spirit, odd and artsy and strikingly beautiful. She had her kitchen ceiling painted red, she started to teach me how to sketch faces, and she sewed me a lavish ruffled robe that I wore until I could no longer button it across my chest. Suddenly (or so it seemed to me) she and my uncle were gone — moved out of state, out of touch.

And, in our post-funeral table conversation with my relatives from that side of the family, I learn just how strict my paternal grandmother was, refusing to accept her non-conformist daughter-in-law and leaving the couple with little alternative but to create a life for themselves apart from family expectations. I begin to understand the difficulties that my mother had in fulfilling her daughter-in-law role.

Eleanor and John had children — five, I think. I have never met them or been in touch with them. My cousin has but lost track of their lives long ago.

We have been a family burdened with expectations, and both my cousin and I acknowledge (with some private pride) that we opted not to meet a select number of them.

We are the matriarchs, now — much different in attitudes and expectations from our foremothers.

At least we hope so.

The Deathwatch Diary (Four)

Atheist though I am, I still marvel at the awesomeness of synchronicities.

All afternoon today, as I cried and blogged and cursed, and my brother argued, and my mother lay still and panting in her hospital bed, the fat gull flew and strutted around the roof outside my mother’s window, screeching, The sound was like fingernails on a blackboard. There was no ignoring it.
So, I googled “seagull totem” and found this, which I share here:

Spiritual Messengers

Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities.

They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world.

Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side.

Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems

and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

Better than any fortune cookie.

And then, went I went outside to get another book from my car, I found the item in the photo below in my book bag, and I hung it on the rack on my mother’s bed that is supposed to hold IV bags.

It’s the talking stick that I and my five women friends jointly and ritually made from a root, stones, feathers, ribbon, yarn, thread, spangles, and even a golf tee. Crone magic of a very special kind.

My daughter chants to set my mother’s spirit free. And I embrace roots and wings for my own spiritual sustenance.

Such everyday magic, these synchronicities.