Monday, October 25, 2010

Puckery Places

Not a self-portrait...

J called this morning to say she'd caught a glimpse of her bare arm ("It looked like chicken skin, all puckered and white!") and she was suddenly depressed. It put me in mind of my mother who, in her fifties, stopped wearing sleeveless blouses.

"Aren't you hot, Mama?" I asked her as I helped her weed the garden one July day while the sun beat down on us like a sledge hammer. She was wearing a shirt with loose sleeves that nearly reached her wrists.

"Yes," she'd said, "but I can't show my arms any more. Look," and she'd pulled back her sleeve and held up the offending appendage. The skin in the fold of her elbow was all crinkled and soft while the muscle she used to show off proudly looked as though it had slipped from its mooring to hang upside down from the underside of her upper arm. She pulled the sleeve back down. "They're not fit to look at anymore," she said with a sigh.

I told this to J and she laughed. "Not much of me is fit to look at anymore," she said before she hung up. I knew just what she meant. Not much of me is either. I've never considered myself really vain though I used to take pains to make sure my hair and clothes were fashionable. Lately though, I've taken to letting my hair grow out until it's long enough to donate before getting it styled and my clothes are geared more toward comfort than haute couture.

I've started to wear longer sleeves in the summer as well, and to make sure the only people who see me in a bathing suit already know and love me, wrinkles, sags, and all. My arms look like something left out in the rain too long and my upper legs are mapped like an atlas with small, broken veins. The skin on my face seems to have taken on a life of its own. There are new lines every week and I noticed this morning that my drooping upper lids may soon be meeting the puffy bags underneath, akin to the way my bosom will meet my belly when I sit if either sags another jot. How on earth did I get so out of shape, or worse, into this shape?

Partly it's a change in lifestyle, partly it's more food than exercise, and partly it's the pull of gravity on weakening skin and muscles. At this rate, the inexorable weight of our own bodies and gravity combined will cause both J and I simply to puddle onto the ground like discarded garments. Each time we catch our breath from laughing ourselves silly over some new insult of age, we promise each other to make a greater effort to get ourselves fit, or at least more fit. Neither of us is particularly sedentary - she is a farmer's wife and I chase second graders around all day - but I've recently begun to walk daily again as I did in my youth, and she has taken to lifting more and heavier things about the farm in an attempt to shed some of our excess weight. And I'm seriously considering cutting my hair short if it will take some of the weight off my puckered forehead and hence, my descending eyelids...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Member of the Clean Plate Club

When I lived with a fit and hearty fellow named Bob years ago, he would heap his dinner plate with meat, taking much smaller portions of potato and vegetable, sometimes eschewing them altogether in favor of hot cherry peppers or a hunk of unbuttered bread.
Dessert was not a word in his vocabulary. He lumped them all together under the generic word cake and said, “I don’t eat that stuff.”

I, on the other hand, consider dessert part of the meal, feeling that no repast is complete without a bit of something sweet. It’s an old habit instilled by my mother who felt the same way. She liked to quote Winnie-the-Pooh and finish off each meal with a “smackerel of something,” preferably some tasty morsel oozing sugar and chocolate.

Her father, my Pepere, was famous at family gatherings for his ability to make room for dessert. “Go ask your grandfather if he wants pie or cake,” my Memere would instruct as she cleared the dinner plates.

“Pepere, do you want pie or cake?” I would obediently inquire.

“Yes,” was his reply. “Two fingers of each,” and he would spread out his thumb and pinkie, creating a five inch span indicating the desired size of each piece. Over the years this sort of indulgence made him into a man of admirable girth.

I seem to be following close behind. For a long time I blamed the three Gs—Genetics, Gravity, and Gravy—for my increasing bulk; genetics (witness my grandfather, not to mention my Aunts Margaret and Rose or my Uncle Roland); gravity—after all, my weight began shifting downward with every birthday after forty, as did the muscles in my upper arms and the skin under my eyes and my chin. Now I’ve reluctantly had to admit that the blames lies in the gravy—and the bread and the butter and, woe is me, the desserts. Everything I eat seems destined to collect at my waistline or in the general vicinity of the waistline I remember having.

A friend that I hadn’t seen in years recently asked, “Where’s that skinny little girl I used to play with?” and I had to admit I’d buried her under gallons of ice cream. Another high school chum who resurfaced after 45 years saw me at the doctor’s office one day. We eyed one another and finally blurted, “Gosh, you look familiar, but…” at the same time. We reminisced a bit and then he took my hand in his big paw (this man was at least 50 pounds heavier than when I’d last seen him in 10th grade chemistry lab) and said, Pao-line, you been livin’ large!”

Yeah. Thanks.

I drove home thinking about the dirty four letter D word, knowing that if I didn’t do something soon I’d need more than a diet to undo those decades of desserts. The three Gs are still exerting a powerful pull but I’m working on a new set of letters now, the Ws—Willpower, Walking, and Withholding. (Okay, when I see something sugary and oozing with chocolate, I add Weep).

photo credit:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Growing Older

Crepe used to mean paper in bright, streaming colors—  
transforming the gymnasium on prom night.
Now it means skin without suppleness,
wrinkles that don’t disappear,
old age creeping across my throat and the backs of my hands,
settling in the crooks of my elbows.

Sagging used to belong to the old summer camp mattress,
all its bumps and lumps gathered at the edges
leaving an uncomfortable droop in the middle.
Now it’s my middle that droops,
like the skin on my thighs
and the wobbly tops of my arms
and both sides of my chin.

Age spots used to be something my grandmother had
and then my mother.
Now my own hands are speckled like a hen’s egg,
like a pear left too long in the sun.

Gray used to be  
the color of storm clouds,
my father’s old army blanket,
the galvanized bucket in the pantry,
but not my hair,
not my very own hair which once looked
like wheat ripening in the sun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's A Scary Ride

 I've worn glasses for distance vision for years now but lately I've been holding printed material farther and farther from my face. Pretty soon my arms won't be long enough.

So, I took myself off to the optometrist and he prescribed new glasses for reading and adjusted lenses for distance vision. Because I live on a very limited income, I opted to have the new distance lenses fitted to my old frames. Of course, they were the only pair I owned so I had to leave them with the good doctor overnight. J drove me to the office to leave them yesterday and back again today to pick them up. I put them on and the floor came right up to within an inch of my face. I felt suddenly very short. "It will take a few days for your eyes to adjust," the good doctor said as I tipped about like a dashboard bobble-doll. "Call me in three or four days and let me know how it's going."

It was a scary ride home. I was glad J was driving.

Old age, we decided, might creep up but it's a fast creep and it starts early. Once you hit the top of the infamous Hill,  Age stands upright and begins to gallop. Neither J nor I have hit old age full on (I consider myself middle aged as I plan to live till 120), but the signs are there. Our joints creak and ache on and off. My hearing has diminished and we both have problems with our eyesight. We both sleep less. And less soundly. We've both gotten in the car and found ourselves wondering just where we were headed, or forget, when we've arrived, what we wanted (albeit momentarily and only occasionally). I told J it's as though my house cleaning strategy (find something in one room, take it to the room it belongs only to pick something up in that room and cart it elsewhere) has leaked into my every day living.

I have always made lists but occasionally now I forget to bring them with me. Grocery shopping has become a game of too many loaves of bread but no milk, three dozen eggs but no butter, two jugs of orange juice but no toilet paper, etc. I don't always forget the list and I can always make use of what I buy, but...

J reports that she leaves things behind. Her pocketbook doesn't always go home with her, or she loops it around her neck when she needs the ladies room and forgets it's there until the strap gets caught on the door handle. I sometimes make three trips from the house to the car to the house for things like glasses, keys, or water bottle.

It's like being in an old, rusty car with failing brakes only its your kidneys, your digestive system, your recall that are wearing out. All the sanding and patching and repainting in the world isn't going to make the car new again. J jokes that she's on the 20-year plan. Me, I'm holding out for 40. It may take me that long to adjust to my new glasses!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sometimes It's Not Funny

J and I titled this blog after our reaction to most of the ailments and experiences we've been encountering in our travels out of middle age and down the long, slippery slope of our dotage. We laugh when we fall and when we get up because falling catches us so by surprise and getting up requires such innovation. We laugh when one of us forgets to do something and again when we do remember and then find we can't do it. We laugh at each other's wrinkled knees and raggedy hair, our pudding-bag-tied-in-the-middle bodies and our baggy eyes.

But, there are things that seem to be happening with more frequency that are NOT funny. One of them is continuous pain. Over the years I've broken three toes and my collar bone, cracked the femur in my right leg, and suffered a hairline fracture in my tailbone. My body is a better weather forecaster than the folks on the Weather Channel, aching in several places whenever the atmospheric pressure changes.

Back pain has been a fairly constant companion over the last dozen years but lately it's been steadily flaring. I've tried various remedies - exercise, stretching, resting, and  medications that made me feel alternately like I could fly without wings or so sedated I could barely move. To keep my mind occupied with something besides the steady ache, I walk a couple of miles a day and do some Yoga poses first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I don't resemble anything like a supple cat or a downward facing dog but despite my awkwardness, the movements allow me movement. I have also begun using what J calls 'old lady aids' -a vibrating back saver for my computer chair, a memory foam cushion with a tailbone cutout, a magnetic wrap. I have a walking stick for helping me over uneven terrain when I go for hikes and I have a pair of spiked grips for my winter shoes so that I can maneuver over the ice without fearing one of those windmill falls that look ridiculous and end tragically.

It's hell getting old. If I had my druthers I'd have stalled at 30. That's where my mental image of myself lies. There I can still toss a 40 pound bale of hay, spend hours bent over weeds in the garden and an equal amount of time hiking or biking or meandering through meadows. I can get out of bed without groaning, get down on the floor and back up in one fluid motion, and stay up past 9 p.m. I can't stay there, though. I keep waking up at 64, wondering where my get up and go got up and went.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance...

"It's age-related," says J. when I tell her of the last few weeks of interrupted or non-existent sleep.

I'm not ready to concede. "I'd rather blame the cat and his insistence on draping all 11 pounds of himself across my feet so that turning from one side to the other wakes us both fully. I blame the economy - who can sleep when bills loom unpaid, when my income grows ever smaller and sorrier while prices climb as high as my eyebrows at the sight of them? And how about late night snacking? The lack of conscientious exercise? Reruns of MASH and Seinfeld? The ancestors that lurk just out of reach of the long arm of, necessitating hours of extra research? And people who insist on calling my telephone number after 9 p.m.?"

"It's age," sighs J. "Once you get to where we are, your body doesn't need as much sleep. It gets plenty of rest during the day. You walk more slowly, you sit down more, you nap a lot. Age."

"But," I sputter, "I'm on my feet almost all day!"

"Yeah, but when you sit down do you drop your head in your hands and take a three minute nap?"

I had to admit that happens now and then. Once last week, right in the middle of the day, I stopped into the ladies room for some relief. I sat, dropped my head in my hands and woke with a jerk a minute or two later. I felt like a jerk, though no one had seen me.

"But," I explain to J's knowing grin, "I didn't get much sleep the night before. Because of the cat. And the bills. And..." but the rest of what I was going to say was lost in her guffaw.

I have to admit, too, that late afternoon naps are something to which I've taken a distinct liking. I curl up on the sofa, pull a throw over my shoulders, adjust the cat on my feet, and slip into a pleasant hour of unconsciousness where nothing bothers me. The world I awaken to is always a better place.

Perhaps it is age. I used to rise with the sun and run and run until well after dark. I still get up before dawn but it gets dark here in the winter at 4:30, folks. To go to bed well after dark puts me between the sheets at about 7:45.

The only thing I can think for it is to stop aging. As soon as I figure out how to do that, you'll read it right here. Meanwhile, shhhhhh... I'm napping!