a sad shoe story

Magpie Tales features a weekly visual writing prompt, and this is my response to Magpie #16. Click here for more.


I sit on the floor and massage her bony feet, carefully avoiding the hammertoe and bunion that distort her right foot, although both bear assorted signs of 94 years of wear. How she once loved her stash of Ferragamo pumps — slim pointy toes, even slimmer curved heels. In high school, as the size of my feet caught up to hers, I would jam my feet into those Cinderella slippers, wondering if the price of pinch and pain was worth it. Decades have gone by since she chose to suffer for style and status, and those Ferragamos have long since gone to Goodwill. She has no choice now but to shuffle in soft slippers, her frivolous fling with vanity long forgotten. I sit cross-legged and barefoot on the floor and massage her hurting feet, delighting in my straight and polished toes and thankful that I had the good sense to choose otherwise.

the project of the pink hat

I don’t like to wear hats. It’s more than not wanting to get “hat head.” It’s more the fact that I must have the roundest face in the world and hats make my head look like a pumpkin.

So, I’m not exactly sure why I had the urge to crochet a hat out of strips of fabric. I think it’s because, like “the mountain,” the idea was there and so I had to master it.

The color didn’t matter, so when I found the end of a bolt of sheer pink cotton for $1.50 a yard, I figured why not.

I didn’t have a pattern, but I know how to crochet a circle, and I’ve made hats out of regular yarn before. Used to sell them, back when ideas seemed to automatically turn into energy.

So, I spent one day ripping fabric into 1.5 inch strips and another crocheting a hat that turned out to be too big. I threw it in washer and dryer on “hot,” thinking it would shrink, being cotton and all.

Nope. It stretched

So I undid all of that crocheting and and started over — smaller hook, fewer stitches.

And now I have this pink hat crocheted out of fabric strips, which doesn’t necessarily make my face look less like a pumpkin, but I guess I can wear it when we go to Maine for a late-June vacation. It’s always windy near the ocean, and maybe the big sunglasses will make me look like an aging celebrity. Betty White?

I napped all afternoon today, waking up intermittently during thunderstorms to ponder why I launch myself into pointless projects like the pink hat, why it matters to me that my face is round and sagging, why I am obsessed with my hair, why I don’t write much any more, why am I here?

But here I am, anyway, pink hat, big sunglasses, wattle, and all.

Here I am.

graying out, outing gray

Maybe I’m just more aware of it since I let my hair grow out gray, but I’m seeing more and more women in their 50s and 60s who are sporting various shades of naturally graying hair. The exceptions might be the women in Florida, who, my cousins who live there tell me, are all blonds.

The national census taken five years ago indicates that a little over 12% of Americans were older than 65 at the time. The census report also states that:

Projected percentage increase in the 65-and-over population between 2000 and 2050 [will be 147%]. By comparison, the population as a whole would have increased by only 49 percent over the same period.

Gray is in. Unfortunately, in some ways, gray is also the new Black, as we become more and more sensitive to the subtle ageism that permeates our culture. I don’t know anyone who has documented the negative and prejudicial attitudes about aging better than Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By.

But gray, nevertheless, is in. And, hopefully, the Gray Panthers, founded in 1970, will grow into an even greater force in the years to come.

Maggie Kuhn convened a group of five friends, all of whom were retiring from national religious and social work organizations. This first “Network” of friends gathered to look at the common problems faced by retirees — loss of income, loss of contact with associates and loss of one of our society’s most distinguishing social roles, one’s job. They also discovered a new kind of freedom in their retirement — the freedom to speak personally and passionately about what they believed in, such as their collective opposition to the Vietnam War.

Currently, the Gray Panthers are working to affect 8 major issues, with health care being the first on the list.

Gray is in. It’s in on the Internet as well. The Ageless Project lists almost 500 bloggers who are over 55, and every day, retirees who are comfortable using communication technologies because of their job experiences reach out into online social networks for diversion and stimulation,.

Too long has becoming gray (in the larger sense of growing older) been something to avoid at all costs, although the costs to those doing the avoiding are high — all of those hair coloring treatments and anti-aging creams, and even botox and plastic surgery.

How much healthier to be gray and proud of it and all of the experience and wisdom it implies.

Go Gray!

ways of aging

We are each a combination of nature and nurture, but it does seems as though how we look and feel as we get older is a lot more dependent on “nature” — on the genes we inherited that keep our bones strong, our brains sharp, and our skin not too badly wrinkled.

How we take care of ourselves, of course, can make a difference. How we view ourselves or want others to view us also can make a difference.

A link in a comment left on Ronni Bennett’s post on The Appearance of Age got me thinking about how I have chosen to appear as I age.

The link takes you to this photo of a group of women over 50 who aspire to be models.

They all have enhanced their natural looks to give themselves a uniquely attractive aesthetic. My way of dealing with my aging face and body is to make a similar (although not as successful) effort. I still love clothes and shoes, I still get my hair cut by a professional, and I still wear makeup and style my hair if I’m going to be out in public. The way I look has always been important to me, and apparently I’m not changing in that way even as I approach the age of 70.

Ronni, on the other hand, has taken a more relaxed and less expensive approach. Her identity and self-image require less vanity than mine, and I envy her for that.

A cousin of mine sent me a link to the video, below, which gives a hearty glimpse of 88 year old Hazel McCallion, mayor of Mississauga, Ontario (a city without debt) for the past 31 years. Watching this video sure made me wish that I had had the brains and heart and courage to age as she has.

“Hurricane Hazel,” as she is affectionately known, still gets on the ice and pushes a hockey puck around. In the video, she gets to fulfill one of her dreams — to make a music video.

Now, that’s aging with style.

and now for something completely frivolous

Everyone seems to be talking and blogging and reporting on the most recent Wall Street scandal — the AIG multi-million dollar bonuses. No doubt about it, we all have plenty of reason to be majorly upset. Our country is riddled with thieves, and try as he might, who knows if even the president can stop them.

But enough about that.

I am looking in the mirror and wondering if I should be wearing what I’m wearing — which is just about what I wear every day, home or away: jeans, layered t-shirts, sneakers. I’m wondering what is considered “age-appropriate” dressing for someone almost 70. While this issue is of absolutely no importance in the “Big Picture,” it is one that seems to periodically rise into my “little picture” consciousness.

Even though I asked my daughter to take notice and tell me if she thinks that I’m dressing too young for my age, she hasn’t yet done so. But I’m still wondering.

The problem is that I have always loved clothes, used them more as costumes, depending on where I was going to wear them. I had my ballroom dance clothes (nothing too fancy; mostly swirly skirts and dressy but comfy and washable tops), my fashionable work clothes, and my funky other items like embellished jeans and jean jackets. Also, dozens of pairs of really cool shoes, none of which I can wear any more. And, of course, attention-getting jewelry, some of which I had made myself.

Well, I got rid of my work clothes and packed up my dance clothes. I gave away my embellished denim and my cool shoes. What’s left is rather boring and ordinary, and maybe that’s the issue. I am not used to looking ordinary, certainly not like an ordinary older woman. It’s disturbing to me that I am finding myself so awfully ordinary.

I know that clothes don’t make the woman. But they can sure perk me up.

I try to search around the Net for what striking older women are wearing and realize there are no models out there — except for older actresses. So I begin to search out photos of older actresses — the ones who don’t look all plastic.

Judi Dench is 74 and looks fabulous with her gray hair and colorful accessories.

Lauren Bacall
is 85 and dresses with classic simplicity.

Faye Dunaway
is a year young than I, and she has her own individual style. I love her long hair and wish I had the patience to grow mine. (Of course, hers could very well be hair extensions.)

In my searching for “age appropriate clothing,” I run across a few forum comments that suggest that older women look much better than younger women in eye-catching accessories. As I was watching the new tv show Castle the other night (I got hooked on Nathan Fillian in his Firefly and Serenity days) I couldn’t help notice Susan Sullivan‘s outfits. She wears
unique and colorful clothes and accessories and looks smashing in them
because they are not designed for 20-somethings.

When 80-year-old Doris Roberts played Marie Barone on Everyone Loves Raymond, she was dressed in black pants with a different printed shirt in every episode — sort of the typical and ordinary outfit for many older women who are not as slim as all of the others I mentioned above.

As herself, however, and dressed to the nines, Doris Roberts chooses fabrics and colors with flair and she looks positively stunning.

Well, my body type falls somewhere between Doris Roberts and the others I’ve mentioned.

So, what have I learned?

1. Slimmer women of any age look better in any kind of clothes.

2. If you’re not slim and older than 65 and you want to look striking, cover your arms, don’t wear anything too tight, and wear eye-catching accessories.

In another couple of weeks, I’m going back to my home town for my cousin’s daughter’s wedding, and there will be relatives there I haven’t seen in a while. I really want to feel good about the way I look. One of the things I’m going to do is go through some of the jewelry pieces that I made and see what might work. I might even make something new.

Black wide legged pants, a black, light-weight, scoop-necked, 3/4 sleeved swing sweater with metallic threads, and a necklace made of amber and silver. And metallic flat shoes. That’s what I’m thinking.

I wish I had a face like Judi Dench and a body like Susan Sullivan (who is only two years younger than I). But we all have to work with what we’ve got.

a buncha backs

Back #1: It was just a matter of time, I guess. Several nights ago, as I tried to lift my mother’s legs back onto her bed, I felt as though someone shoved a knife into the right side of the lower spine. It was a long night for me, as I painfully made my way to a chair, only to find it hurt too much to try and sit. Lots of Excedrin Back and Body later, I’m relatively OK as long as I don’t twist sideways or make a sudden move. I have a long history of problems with the right side of my body, including developing “drop foot” on my way to Harvard’s first BloggerCon five years ago. And it’s been all downhill from there.
Back #2: Despite the above, I wrapped an Ace lumbar support belt around myself, put on the cruise control, and drove out to see my daughter and family, who, I knew, would give me some TLC — which I needed for more reasons than my out of whack back. Luckily, I had left my new quarterstaff there, and that surely came in handy for limping around the yard.
[Side note: Ronni Bennett has a section of her blog dedicated to the “Quarterstaff Revolution,” and I will be sending my photo to add to the growing collection.]
Back #3: Last week, I took a little trip back in time and finally got together with my college roommate and her husband, who live about a half-hour’s ride from here. Both she and her husband were good friends of mine all through college. She and I were the same size and coloring We shared a room and later an apartment right through grad school, and we also shared our wardrobes. She is still slim.. Our lives are about as opposite as possible these days, but the memories of all of the crazy college experiences we shared (including driving down to Daytona Beach for Spring break with three of our male classmates) are still ties that bind.
Back #4: Thanks to the Bush regime, this country is so democratically backward that we can only hope that the new president will have the strength and stamina to haul us back to where we belong. The latest indignity is PBS stalling about widely airing Torturing Democracy. It is, however, being aired by individual public stations, and you can watch it online.

a witch by a nose


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Halloween witch is that bump on her nose. Well, not only do I have one; I have three. I guess that makes me officially a witch.
The dermatologist says they are “fibromas,” which are benign kinds of tumors. Mine are under the skin, and so they are not really noticeable. I can have them “sliced off” (the doctor’s words), but insurances don’t pay for that because that’s considered a cosmetic procedure. He says it’s not a big deal to take them off, or out, or whatever they do to remove them. (But he’ll have to cut the skin, so how is that not a big deal??)
When I first got them (one ages ago, one six months ago, and one last month) I thought that they were sebaceous cysts, and so I put hot compresses on them and they eventually diminished in size, but they never went away.
At the moment, they don’t bother me, but I know they’re there. I can feel them.
I can’t worry about them now, however. In two days I’m leaving to head out to Massachusetts for my grandson’s sixth birthday, and I’m going to stay over at least three nights.
So it will be just my brother and mother. The hospice nurse suggested a change in my mother’s medication, so we’re going to try that. Her extreme anxiety is overwhelming her. And us too. I guess it’s her dementia getting worse. Between that and her increasing aches and pains, it makes it almost impossible to interact meaningfully with her. It’s like trying to take care of a sick toddler.
I often wish I really were a witch so I could get on my broom and fly away.

I had the last word

Who doesn’t like having the last word, and this time it was mine at the end of Ronni Bennett’s great essay on elderboggers, Put It In Writing, published today in the Wall Street Journal. You can’t get to the essay online, so Ronnie had to send it in an email to those of us she mentioned in case we don’t subscribe to the newspaper, which I don’t.
Interestingly enough, the Journal began the printed version of Ronni’s essay with a quote from my quote. So, here I am, the alpha and the omega.
On Ronni’s blog, Time Goes By, she mentions the essay and shows the great graphic that the newspaper included.
Ronni will be having occasional articles on aging and retirement for the Wall Street Journal from now on. Congratulations, Ronni.
And thanks for giving me the last word.

I blog to connect with the world outside myself
that I’m trying to make sense of.
I blog to keep up my spirit;
to stir the spirit of others;
to stir my blood, my brain and my beliefs.

ADDENDUM: I discovered that you can read the whole great article by going here and then clicking on the story title, “Put it in Writing.”