Suddenly it struck me yesterday as I was wending my way around the bedroom—“wending” because I had to be careful to step around the overflowing suitcases flopped open on the floor…what with this siege of COVID (I write this mid-October, ’22), I still haven’t unpacked from our trip. (Two weeks ago an essential family gathering in New York turned up, we went for four days—as a consequence Bill caught COVID.) Anyway. Wending my way around the room so as not to trip and fall—you know at this point, consequences of a fall could be lethal, scary—for no good reason it suddenly struck me that this aging business has crept up on me. Its wholesale effects are a surprise. Big time.
Talk about a delayed reaction.
For example, it really hit me there are common ordinary always-easy things to do that we cannot now do—will probably never do again. I’m not talking about the obvious that I’ve accepted for some time, no riding a bicycle, roller skating, ice skating, maybe even horseback riding. Terrible. Traveling is the biggie now. I’ve already noted that. I thought traveling was also beyond us. But on our quickie in the east we saw granddaughter Maggie, who graduates from her master’s program at Yale next May, and when she pressed us to come for the celebration, I assured her without asking Bill that we’d be there—then Bill said, “Of course.” We’d gone to New York for a Memorial, we could go to New Haven for a Graduation. Just do it.
But then on the plane flying home I finally broke down and asked a stewardess to order us two wheelchairs upon arrival in San Francisco. The long schlep—and who knows why our plane always seems to be docked at the very tippy end of the airport—pulling our carry-on bags topped with our briefcase/satchel—is exhausting. And it’s all time-consuming. In fact, in San Francisco on our way to New York, I was trapped by a TSA inspector because of the metal in my knee, somehow the damn x-ray machine found other bits of metal on my body (funny, huh? not funny) and the lady in TSA uniform kept apologizing for patting me down in unseemly places, then checking my hands for the powder of God-knows-what, then having to wait while she put the powder-examination-paper in a machine to read the results, then she had to examine my shoes for more powder, put that paper in the machine to read the results, and GUESS WHAT? We lurched down the hallways of SFX to our gate only to discover the gate had closed 5 minutes earlier. We missed our plane.
I was saying that on the flight home, we abandoned our pride and asked to be met by wheelchairs—I was going to ask for just one, for my ninety-two year-old better half, but then I thought, Good grief, don’t be noble, Sylvia. Take one, too. Then I remembered that when my mother traveled at my age (and as I recall, she did rather a lot of it), she always ordered a wheelchair…zipped past TSA guys (apparently they don’t worry about metal in body parts if you’re in a wheelchair), zipped up to the gate, got on the plane first. Oh yes, that is the ONLY good thing about traveling when you’re old: you tell the person at the gate that you need to get on early, and they let you. They don’t even mind if you’re bringing a carry-on suitcase, a stuffed briefcase, AND a stuffed purse.
So about going to Maggie’s graduation, I said to my husband, “Darling! Let’s take the train! No cramped airplane!” I remembered when my friend MaryAnn Bonino first told me she wasn’t flying any more, always took the train across the country. I did it twice, can’t say enough for those trips. Bill agreed. I thought, “Let’s see Canada—they say the train across is extraordinary!” “Sure,” he says. I called the Canadian train company. We’d need a room with a bathroom—thanks to our plumbing concerns—and what would that cost? “The bedroom for three days costs—and there’s no refund, please remember—” I won’t tell you the amount. You’d lose whatever meal you just ate.
Okay, what would two first class coast-to-coast air tickets cost?
I’m not going to tell you that, either.
So very sad we won’t be at Maggie’s Yale graduation. Bummer.
So I was saying that it suddenly struck me that this aging business has made a difference in my life. Hadn’t really struck me until now. I truly have been sailing along, adjusting to the ifs, ands, and buts…but this last but got to me.
I’m bent over more than before. I keep reminding myself what our coach Hollis says, “Just pull your arms back, chest forward…” I do that. And I’m straighter. But I’m not upright quite.
I was talking about plumbing. Problems with sudden onset. Overflow. Got to be delicate here about an indelicate situation. I know it was a concern of my mother’s. At my age she was appearing publicly all over the world with her Old Rose gigs and bravely meeting people and sallying forth hoping against hope nothing untoward would happen. (Thank goodness nothing did.)
I remember when I was in India and Tanzania on Sierra Club trips—how many years ago? at least fifteen—and the first thing the leader taught his mature group was the expression, “Please may I check the tires?” That was what you said if you were out adventuring and you had to go to the bathroom. I was amused but even then got a close look at lots of tires.
I still have plenty of energy, for a wonder. That has been a gift from my mother—it’s got to be genetic. And I may have mentioned this, but WALKING EVERY DAY FOR 20-30 MINUTES IS THE KEY TO JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING GOOD THAT GOES ON IN ONE’S BODY: More energy. Better brain function. Sounder sleep.
I still am involved daily with other souls, which I read is essential for healthy aging—family, friends, dogs, cats, birds, fruit flies…
And there are brain challenges—I’ve recommended Wordle on my Facebook page, cannot say enough for it. Bill, grandson Cameron, and I play it every night after supper. Sometimes we’re stumped, and it takes us nearly an hour. The big thing with us is that Bill can’t read any more, so I sit with the back of an envelope and a favorite blue Staedtler pencil writing variants of words. Bill’ll say, “Tell me the consonants again?” “We have X V Q B T J R K” “No L?” “No.” “No S?” No. “R?” “Yes, we have R.” And Cameron, who grew up in Peru speaking Spanish but now is truly bi-lingual—and is among the planet’s brightest most enchanting children–wriggles around the room in his fourteen-year-old corpus teasing…“What about ‘death’?” He knows I’ll yell, “Stop that!” but he also comes up with amazing words for an 8th-grader. Finally last night I decided let’s get it over with, said, “OK, we’ll start with ‘DEATH.’” It bought us an ‘A’ and a ‘T.’ The young scholar was that pleased, and it was a good start because Grandpa guessed ‘CATCH’ on the third try. Bill and I are about equal with guesses that work—and that is fantastic for Bill because he does it all in his head. Anyway, brain games are excellent tonics when aging—actually for all ages.
I also play a daily game of Klondike and Freecell—and sometimes Jigzone in my study—Bill thinks I’m working. Well I am.
I confess the hardest part about the astonishments of being an old person is the niggling at the back of my consciousness about What’s Going to Happen? I’m about to issue invitations to all the children, grandchildren, plus great-grands and other grandparents within a couple of hundred miles to come to us for Christmas—I think I’ll ask for Christmas Eve because that’s more assured. Who knows that it won’t be our last together? My last. Bill’s last. It’s very sad that I have children hundreds of miles away that I won’t be able to see—haven’t seen for some time. “We can drive down to L.A.” I say to Bill. “No, that’s impossible. You haven’t the stamina.” But I do. I will see that I have. Even if we have to take three days to drive the six hours. I plan to do it in spring…I hope.
After all, our half-hour three-times-a-week work-outs at the Crossfit gym have given us so much in the way of strength, coordination, balance, muscle memory. I do wish we’d begun ten years ago.
Oh well. As my son David said after a difficult event, “At least I’m on the right side of the grass.” Love that.
And we are happy. Blessed. Grateful…fate did not place us in Ukraine…Pakistan…Somalia. We’re optimistic.
I said to Bill after reading this to him, “Every day is a gift.”
His response: “Every moment is a gift.”