Sunday, June 5, 2016

The other day my sister-in-law, E, and I were on the tag sale circuit. We'd just pulled out onto the road from the last sale on our list and were headed home, congratulating ourselves on our brilliant finds and assuring each other we were done for the day when a tag sale sign at the edge of the road dragged the steering wheel from my hands. E and I looked at each other and shrugged. "May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," I said as we clambered out of the car and set off at a trot toward several tables piled with unexamined treasures. 

Half an hour later, our hands full, we returned to the car. I'd rolled the front windows up while we drove so we could hear each other talk, but the rear windows were halfway down. As I opened the back door to set my purchases on the seat, the keys in my hand caught on a plastic bag. I disengaged them and tossed them into the front seat. As I did, I must have squeezed the button on the car door opener because I heard a beep. It didn't register though. I slammed the back door, reached for the front door handle and nearly wrenched my elbow. The door wouldn't open. Nor would the back door. I'd locked us out of the car. 

"Well, hellfire," I muttered. I tried reaching through the open back window to the front seat but my arm was not long enough to reach the keys. "I'll go see if someone here has a wire coat hangar," I told E. I'd no sooner turned my back on the car when the alarm went off. E looked sheepishly over the hood. 

"I reached in the open window and unlocked the back door," she said, tossing the keys over the hood of the car. Huh. I stood there for a second, feeling impossibly foolish. That had not occurred to me. I got over feeling foolish and began to feel distinctly unnerved. E is a year older than I but apparently she still possesses all her faculties. Why had I not thought to simply reach through the open window and unlock the back door? Was this a sign of early dementia?

As we were pulling out onto the road I remarked, "This reminds me of the Frenchman who locked his family in the car and it took him a week to figure how to get them out."

E turned to me, horrified. "I didn't hear about that!" she exclaimed. 

"It's a joke," I said, explaining that it was a slur on the French intellect. "None of them had thought to simply unlock the doors from the inside." 

"Oh," she said, not cracking a smile. I felt immeasurably reassured about my faculties.

I was relaying this misadventure to J, my friend in aging, who told me a story of her own to make me feel better. "Yesterday my son hurried in saying he needed a bag of ice so I pulled the bin out from under the automatic ice maker in my freezer, emptied the contents into a plastic bag, and set the bin down on the counter while I put a twist tie on the bag. We were in a rush so out the door we sped without a backward glance.

"Later that afternoon while I was making dinner I kept hearing a strange clunking sound, a sort of intermittent ka-thunk, ka-thunk. It continued through dinner and into the evening. During a TV commercial I got up to get some ice cream. I opened the freezer door and WHOOSH! I was inundated with ice cubes. They flew in all directions, there were so many of them. And there on the counter next to the fridge, right where I'd set it down, was the ice bin. I must have looked at it a dozen times but it never occurred to me to put it back in the freezer."

We looked at each other. "Who's going to take care of us?" she asked, only half in jest. 

The three of us can take heart, however, that things can always be worse. A mutual friend fell asleep in his chair one afternoon. When he awoke he looked at his watch and saw with alarm that he had only a minute or two before he was due at the nearby high school with the bus he drove. He wheeled into the drive and pulled up to his usual spot, surprised to see he was first in line. "Hmmm," he thought, checking his watch again, thinking perhaps he'd read the time incorrectly. Nope, only a minute or two late. He sat there pondering for a time before he noticed that not only were there no other buses in line, there were no cars in the parking lot. That was because it was Saturday and school was not in session. 

"I felt really foolish," he confessed, "but there's no way you can sneak home in a big yellow bus." He drove down the road scrunched down as far as possible behind the wheel, parked the bus in his yard, went back into the house, sat down in his chair, and pretended to himself that what had happened had not just happened. 

We're all obviously slipping down the hill toward dotage. But, I take heart from a report I read stating that there are currently over 9 million 80 year olds in the US. That gives E, J, and me about ten years to get our act together before we can use really old age to explain our actions.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why Is Nothing Ever Simple?

J and I were on our way to Home Depot, a 45 minute trip, to purchase a new, higher (chair-level) toilet and some new floor tile for the cottage bathroom. My brother had generously offered to put down the floor. "Might as well get the toilet in at the same time," he told me. "No point in putting it in and then pulling it up to tile the floor. I'll do it all in one go." Oh, to be a strong man and have the  confidence and know-how to do things in one go.

Not that women can't do both - just not this woman. I could, however, choose the toilet I wanted and the floor tile. So J and I set off in her pickup to do just that. When I climbed in, she tossed me a folded piece of material. "Spread this over your knees," she said. "The heater is working but the fan isn't, so it may get a little cold in here."

I spread the cloth over my knees, pulled my hat a little closer over my ears to ward off the chill, and off we went. Not five minutes into our drive I noticed the window in my door was icing over. I glanced over. J's was doing likewise. "I think..." I began when J leaned forward suddenly. "I can't see so well," she said, scraping hard with her fingernail at the ice forming on the windshield. She looked at me with a wry smile. "Maybe we better go back and swap the truck for the car."

Nothing wrong with the heater in the car. "We're later than we meant to be," J said as we sped off. "We may as well stop and have lunch first before we shop." Eating always sounds like a good idea to me. (It was because of my chubby little knees protesting during a two a.m. visit to the loo that we were getting a higher toilet to begin with.) We stopped at a popular buffet place near the Home Depot and ate a leisurely lunch while we discussed tile colors, the weather, the state of the world, and how our bodies were betraying us into buying things like raised toilets.

As we stood to leave, J put her hands in her pockets expecting to encounter her gloves. Instead she pulled out two large hen's eggs. I felt my eyebrows crawl up into my hair. "Have they been in your pockets all morning?" I asked, wondering how on earth they'd avoided being scrambled given the way J clambered in and out of the truck and tossed her coat carelessly down on the bench in the booth when we came in.

She looked at me. "They've been in my coat since yesterday when I took them out of the laying boxes!" I thought of all the things J does in a day - heaving forty pound bags of grain around, rough

housing with her dog, shoveling snow, bounding in and out of the truck a dozen times, hauling trash to the transfer station - those eggs had been jostled and jiggled and bounced around. The thought of what might have happened if they'd broken while still in her pockets made me giggle, then guffaw. We left the restaurant poking each other and laughing like two silly school girls on a lark. The eggs rode safely home in one of the car's cup holders.

The tile and toilet have since been successfully installed. And other than J locking herself out of her car Thursday and me locking myself out of the cottage Friday, our recent days have been relatively event-free.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back-Up Wreath

Yesterday at the Transfer Station J and I searched the shelves as usual for discarded treasures. Our local TS is a resourceful place. Adjacent to the the trash compactor are several shelves where residents can bring unwanted but still useful items for trade. The shelves are always full in the summer, especially after tag sales. The pickings in winter are much slimmer until right before Christmas. Before our arrival yesterday, someone had left three giant cardboard boxes full of Christmas decorations. I know there are people who, though they have no reservations about pawing through discount tables at Filene's, will shudder at the thought of looking through a box left at the TS. My sympathy goes out to them. Over the years I've found numerous discarded but still useful items at the TS including a glider chair, intact and without a stain or a loose screw; a Williams Sonoma popover pan; a Cuisinart; a camera never out of its box; assorted cutlery and enough pretty plates to feed 30 people at my daughter's pre-wedding dinner; vases of all sorts and sizes; a futon still in its shrink wrap, and… Christmas decorations.

My parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression which had a profound effect on the way they lived their lives once it was over. I was brought up with such slogans as make do or do without, waste not, want not, and use it up or wear it out. Nothing in our house was ever wasted or thrown away until every last vestige of usefulness was wrung from it and even then, many of the holdovers so necessary to survival in the 30s remained behind even after my parents passed away – the ball of string in the corner cupboard, the waxed paper bags that held kitchen garbage, the desk drawer full of rubber bands, the straightened and pressed wrapping paper, the rescued bows, the over-stuffed rag bag. I figure I could have gone two ways when I reached adulthood  – I chose the frugal way and it frames the way I now live my own life which, I suppose, explains my delight in our local TS.

J and I spent a happy half hour holding up one thing after another for approval. I make fudge at Christmas. This year each recipient will receive theirs in a charming china dish decorated with tasteful renderings of angels or penguins or carol singers on the outside. My grandchildren will love the Santa that lights up inside with a tiny candle; my daughter-in-law will enjoy the basket her gift will come packed in. I may not have saved more than $10 all told but it's $10 still in my pocket.

Often on the ride home, J and I discuss the pleasure we get in thinking about the money we've saved and how it gets harder and harder to part with our hard earned cash for something we know will, sooner or later, show up at the TS. Perhaps that is why, when I saw a perfectly good grapevine wreath in the shape of a heart, I snatched it up despite the fact that I already have a perfectly good grapevine wreath in the shape of a heart at home.

"This," I told J, waving it over my head, "will be my back-up wreath in case the one I have falls apart." And then we both gasped. Is this what it's come to, then? Are we on our way to hoarder-hood? I thought of the coat I'd snatched up last week even though I already have a perfectly serviceable coat. I thought of the Christmas decorations in my hands and the five boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic at home, leftovers from my childhood and my children's childhoods. I sighed. But, I did not put the wreath back. I brought it home and on the way we laughed at the thought of two old bats combing the TS for back-up treasures to the multitude of treasures we already have.

This morning J called. She was making cookies. She'd hauled out her old Sun-Beam MixMaster and rifled about in the drawer where she had not one, but two sets of beaters. "I remember when my mother didn't hook the beaters in tight and when she turned on the machine, they twisted all together," she explained. "I saw those extra beaters one day at the TS and I thought, 'I might need these someday!' They're my back-up beaters, you see, just in case I make the same mistake my mother did."

I suddenly felt much better about the wreath. Next week I'll return the coat because I don't really need it and someone else will. But I know that someday my little heart-shaped wreath will fall apart - it's already second-hand. And then, you see, I'll have back-up.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I Won't Tell if You Don't

Unmentionables, my mother called them, introducing little me to the required undergarments never mentioned in polite society. Later the brassiere was added to the list of garments one did not mention in public, though one had better be wearing them and they had better be clean in case the proverbial bus struck. Good thing my mother can't read this.

J had a friend (I hope neither she nor my mother is reading this from that nebulous space all departed people inhabit, which is somewhere over my right shoulder). Anyhow, J had this friend who dressed rather hurriedly one morning in order to get to the the post office before it closed. She put on clean unmentionables but pulled on the same pair of slacks she'd worn the day before.

In the annex off the lobby where all the patrons' mail cubbies are stacked, J's friend unlocked her box and began sorting her mail. Another woman at the end of the annex was sorting through her own mail. J's friend looked up, ready to say hello, and at the same time felt something slip down the inside of her pant leg. She looked at the floor and there in a lovely puddle of blue nylon and lace were yesterday's unmentionables!

What to do? What to do? Should she stoop to pick them up? No, she hadn't brought her purse and there was no room in her pants pockets what with her keys and other sundries taking up space. Should she just ball them up and hide them in her hand? No, someone might see her doing that and think all manner of sinful things. No, better to just nudge them casually with her foot until they were in the corner. There. With any luck she would be gone before anyone else came in. And she was.

She told J about the incident and now J's told me (don't ask why were were discussing unmentionables in the first place. I can't remember). "What do you suppose the cleaning lady thought when she saw them there in the corner?" J asked me, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

I imagine she didn't mention it.

Of course, one good story deserves another and while we were on the subject, I told J about the time my husband and I took our young children for a walk along a high ridge that rose up behind the house where we lived. We often turned a Sunday walk into a green mission, bringing along a trash bag to collect trail debris. One son, the most adventurous, kept wandering off the track. He'd come back with some pine cones or a few interesting (to him) rocks. He wandered off again and returned with a lace thong dangling from his chubby little fingers. "Is this yours Mom?" he asked.

I was the only woman he'd ever seen in a pair of unmentionables in all his short five years so it seemed a natural question, but I was mortified. "It better not be," my husband joked as he took them from Son by the tips of his fingers and stuffed them in the trash bag.

I did, years and years later, lose a pair of unmentionables much the way J's friend did. I'd been asked out on a date, one of the first since my divorce, and as it was to be a picnic date, I hauled on the overalls I'd been wearing the day before. All went well until we got out of the car and began walking to the picnic site. I spied something white across the top of my shoe and stopped to pick it up. I should not have.

My date stared at what I held in my hand and his eyes grew round. "How did you do that?" he asked me. He said he'd seen Jennifer Beals slip out of her bra on Flash Dance but he didn't realize women could do that with panties, too. The ground should have opened up and swallowed me then and there but it didn't. I had to suffer through countless retellings of my "circus trick."

Fortunately I'm too old now and too thick in the thigh to be wearing unmentionables tiny enough to slip gently down a pants leg. I don't date anymore either, but I do shake out my trousers every night before bed just to be on the safe side.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Matilda Ledger, borrowed from Google images
J appeared at my door the other day. "Look at me and tell me what's wrong," she said without preamble. I looked. Then I laughed. Her sweater hung at odd angles, buttoned incorrectly by not one, but two buttons. The hem dipped toward her knees on one side and was hiked up to her waist on the other. "And I went to the bank this way," she sighed, dropping into a chair. "Not another soul in there so all three tellers, sweet young things, watched me traipse across the floor like this and me clueless."

"They'll know what it's like in oh, forty years or so," I consoled her. Then the two of us collapsed in another fit of giggles.

When we could breathe again, we agreed the slope toward old age was slipperier than we'd thought. So many things we've taken for granted, like being able to notice whether we were groomed and dressed properly or that we knew where our glasses and keys were or we were sure, when we set out, that we knew where we were going, have suddenly become things we must question.

"Just the other day, my car went one way while I was intending to go another," J confessed and I remembered the day a few months ago when I had been half way somewhere only to realize with a start that I couldn't remember, just for one eensy moment, where that was.

J and I are not old by today's standards though we've passed the middle-aged mark. She jokes often about being on the 20 year plan (but we've been claiming that for the past few years). We're both still active physically. We both garden and she does farm work, I ride my bicycle and hike, and we try to eat sensibly. Still, it's these little slips, these wrong buttonings, that give us pause.

To counter her look of despair, I confessed to J, rather sheepishly, that when I'd unwrapped the present she'd given me for Christmas a few days back, I'd tasted it. She sat up straight and then fell back, guffawing, her hand over her mouth. What I'd thought, in my glasses-less state, was a piece of divinity was actually a chunk of hand-made soap.

So it goes. Arm in arm, slipping and propping each other up and laughing hysterically at our failings, J and I are heading off down the hill. Along with the rest of you.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ah, well...

J and I had a rather enlightening conversation yesterday. She's a widow and I've been post-divorce single far longer than I was married. Since we're of a certain age, we spend a lot of time discussing the strange and odd things our bodies are doing as they deteriorate without our mind's consent. Our conversation this time wound round to the fact that neither of us would be able to enter into an intimate fling at this stage in the game, not because our once taut skin is now wrinkled like an elephant's knees or our once healthy hair shows signs of being chewed by mice in the night or because we might cause permanent physical damage with the swinging bat wings on our upper arms. No, the demise of our night life hinges on the fact that our night life has taken on rituals sure to stymie even the most determined man.

It used to be that we splashed some water on our faces, slipped into something more comfortable, and jumped into bed. Those days are gone forever. As gradually as the wrinkles appeared on our cheeks, so the little bedtime routines grew from slapdash to must do. Now, just getting up out of the chair and into the bathroom takes planning and ablutions include special non-drying, colloidal soaps and emollient rich lotions. There's the anti-aging night cream, the delicate skin eye treatment cream, the spot eradicating hand cream. There's flossing and brushing and rinsing, eye drops, ear drops, anti-ache foot potions that smell like an herb garden run amok and capsaicin cream for aching joints.

Then there's the whole climb-into-bed routine that includes finding just the right sleepwear - old people nightclothes that won't bind or pinch or cling or wedge. Looking sexy has taken a waaaay back seat to being able to turn over under the covers without exposing too much flesh or being tangled, strapped, caught or strangled. The very act of turning over requires strategy because now one's knee pillow must follow along, the head pillow arrangement for the left shoulder does not match the pillow arrangement for the right shoulder, and the whole bed becomes a war zone of arms and elbows and knees as we struggle to alleviate aching hips. There'd be no room for even the most intrepid fellow even if he was willing to put up with the smelly lotions, the shifting pillows, and the fanatic need for absolute dark. 

This must be why one's libido diminishes with age. Imagine having the energy for a spot of hot and bother after all that preparation. Imagine the light of day (or a bedside lamp) shining on what now looks best in pitch black (and the safety of one's imagination). I know, I know, I'm leaving out love and the comfortableness of a long-term relationship and J admits that if her husband was still alive, he'd be fine with all that. But someone new? A stranger, no matter how wrinkled and smelly himself? He'd have to be blind, deaf, and willing to sleep in his own house at night.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creamed and Steamed

borrowed from

 A brightly lit changing room is not an older woman's friend. Neither is the mirror. I'm edging toward dim light in a number of ways!

J and I went on a minor shopping spree the other day. Youngest daughter is getting married at the end of June. J has a lovely skirt she is willing to lend but it needs just the right top - something lightweight and shimmery, not sleeveless, but summery. It has to be the right color (the skirt is two layers of voile in shades of cocoa, cream, and peacock blue), and the right length. Too short and I look like a pot-bellied pig, too long and I look like a dressed up Doric column.

I checked out a gazillion tops, give or take. If one was the right color it was the wrong style. If it fell nicely it was the wrong color. If it fit it was too expensive, if it was the right fabric it was the wrong size. I looked at ruffled blouses with plunging necklines, skimpy blouses with floppy fabric flowers strategically stitched, spaghetti-strapped camisoles under drapey sweaters, pullovers with three quarter sleeves that made me look like a chef applying for a 5 star hotel job, and short bolero type tops that left my second stomach fully exposed.

All that pulling on, buttoning up, and taking off under glaring fluorescent lights in front of a clown booth mirror resulted in a severe case of brooding. On the way home and blouseless (now that sounds just wrong but it wasn't), I moaned to J that I used to look like a string bean. "Now I looked like a cauliflower," I said, patting my mid-section. "A steamed, creamed cauliflower at that." She didn't laugh. Neither did I.

Over the years, along with the wisdom, I've acquired bumps and sags and bags and spots. I've been stretched and bent, pulled and pummeled, dragged and drugged and it shows. J agreed that she, too, had once resembled a potato stick but now was headed for the Idaho baker side of the plate. I averred as how I would really much rather resemble a slender stalk of asparagus but that it seemed a futile goal at this point. "Maybe we should switch to fruits," J suggested. "You could be a poached pear and I could pass for a steamed peach."

Well, okay. I look pretty good in green.