This is my essay that was just published in Poetic Sun.
This is my essay that was just published in Poetic Sun.
Remember when we were in grade school and our teachers would start off the year by having us write an essay titled: What I Did On My Summer Vacation? It seemed such a boring topic, but now I get it. The teacher got us writing and also telling about ourselves. He/she could learn a lot about their student from those short essays.
Maybe it seemed boring because in the old days, we didn’t do much. But in the summer of 2022, our vacation wasn’t boring. Like so many, we were making up for lost time. People traveled in droves to the far corners of the world: to Europe, to Iceland, to Africa and Asia. We traveled too, but on the west coast. For us, it was all about getting together with family and friends we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.
We started our trip in Seattle for our grandson Eli’s graduation from the University of Washington. We hadn’t been on a plane for almost a year. I’d been a seasoned traveler in 2019, but in June 2022, I’d forgotten a lot. Just walking in an airport seemed strange.
Once in Seattle, the weather reminded us why we had moved to California. As Eli drove us into the city from the airport, the down pour was so heavy I could barely see the lights of downtown. The rain continued into the following week, finally becoming a drizzle that frazzled my husband. The golf courses were so soaked that even when the deluge ended, no carts were allowed. No golf for Moe makes for a nerve wracked Cindy! That aside, the graduation was wonderful. And we got to meet Eli’s friends.
Seattle is very different than the city Moe and I grew up in. And Bellevue, the once sleepy suburb, is unrecognizable. On the one sunny day, we went to the University of Washington where we met. Mt. Rainier was out in all its glory. We walked around campus to Frosh Pond where Moe had first told me he was going to marry me. (I was eighteen and a freshman so I murmured something like, “that’s a nice thought,”). After having lunch at University Village, we took the nostalgia drive through the neighborhoods we grew up in. (Interestingly, these areas remain untouched by time.)
But as I said, the main agenda in Seattle was seeing family and friends. Our daughter lives in Bellevue, but she and the kids visit a lot. In contrast, we hadn’t seen Moe’s sister for four years! We spent Father’s Day with Moe’s cousins, their kids and grandkids and I got to spend time with my sister, my niece and her kids. Back in California, we had a family reunion with my side of the family, who we hadn’t seen since before Covid.
One rainy morning in Seattle, I had coffee with ten friends from high school. Half of them had gone to Stevens Elementary with me. I was the first one at Starbucks and started questioning myself about setting this up. What had I been thinking? I hadn’t seen these people for twenty-five years since our last reunion. I’d left Seattle thirty years ago. What would we have in common? What would we have to say to each other?
Three hours later, we were still talking. It was an interesting phenomenon: we were senior citizens now with many life experiences behind us, some of which we shared. But the childhood connection we’d had bonded us forever. Especially with the grade school kids. Part of who I am today is because of Sue Ann Kay, Judy Walseth, Sten Crissey and Sandra James. They sat beside me in class from 9 AM to 3:10 during my formative years. We absorbed the same school experiences, were in Brownies and Girl Scouts together, were student class officers together. Our family backgrounds were diverse, but our world view evolved in those classrooms.
I don’t remember how I used to end my “What I did on my Summer Vacation” essays years ago. This year, I can end by telling you how enriched I feel that I connected again with family and friends. My heart is full of gratitude.
I have a long history of having birthday parties in December. Very long. This year will be my 75th time. (I remember when I used to think 75 was old. But I thought 40 was old, then 50, etc. until I realized that at those ages, I was young-to-youngish. I do think that I was at the height of my powers in my 50’s. Now at 75, I won’t say I’m elderly, but I’m definitely older—See, I digress as older people are wont to do.)
My birthday is December 28. I was born at 11:59PM—on my first birth record, the nurse had written in December 29. Which we didn’t know until I was sixteen and was getting my driver’s license. It really doesn’t matter that much unless you are getting your astrological chart done—but really, who gets born a minute before midnight? No wonder I’m always late.
You might think having a birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve would be festive and fun. It’s not. First off, no one is really in the mood—they’re full of sugar plums and are saving up for New Year’s Eve’s champagne. So, my birthday is an imposition. I started feeling this way at any early age. I was about seven when I heard my mother in the kitchen. She was making tuna sandwiches for my party.
“We’re in retail,” she said to no one. “I don’t have time for this.” It was a refrain I was to hear year after year.
Often the weather is not good on my birthday. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been rained or snowed out. It happened in Seattle all the time, but I thought I’d be safe in California. Nope. One year, we had a wonderful party planned at an Italian restaurant. The only problem was that the 101 and the entrance to the restaurant were both flooded. Friends from Santa Barbara had to turn around, and you needed waders to get into Padri. Once in, it was a wonderful evening, despite the smell of wet wool.
Three years ago, the family went to Hawaii in December. Everyone likes to adventure so I planned a birthday trip to the top of Mauna Kea. I’d arranged for a guide and picnic lunches. My granddaughter and I even went to Target to buy jackets and gloves. We were set to go. I didn’t even think about the weather—it was Hawaii for goodness sake. Then the guide called me.
“What kind of sandwich would you like tomorrow?” I asked him.
“Sorry, but I’m calling with bad news,” he said. “They’ve had so much snow at the top, the road is closed.” At first I thought he was joking, but the joke again was on me.
We did go to a lovely restaurant that night, right on the beach. It was so cold that we had to wear coats, and the wind knocked down our water glasses across the table in a domino effect. We took the birthday cake to-go.
My 70th birthday was not entirely rained out. It was cold and drizzly in Montecito, but all 19 of us were staying at the Biltmore, which was cozy and warm. Our family is intrepid, and from Seattle, so we didn’t let the weather stop us. We even took our family walk and managed to have photographs taken outside.
My husband used to make fun of me because I was so sensitive about my birthday—I didn’t want a Christmas wrap or even red and green ribbon on my package.
“You’re the only one who thinks like that,” he’d say.
But one day, after standing in a long line waiting to renew my driver’s license, I found out I was not alone. I happened to be standing between two truckers, who knew each other. (I knew they were truckers because their big rigs were parked in the lot.)
“Hey, your birthday’s this time of year?” the really tall one asked the other.
“Yeah, mine’s on Christmas Eve. Nobody wants to do anything, but maybe go to church,” the other guy said. He looked like a short Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Mine’s on Christmas. I get one crummy gift that says, “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas” on it,” the tall one said.
“Me too!” the muscle builder said. “And it’s wrapped in paper with Santa Claus all over it.”
“Me, too,” I put in. They looked down at me as if I were a pesky fly looking for Pence’s white hair, but I wasn’t deterred. “One year when I was ten, my three aunts gave me a half-slip for Christmas and my birthday. I had to write a separate thank you note to each aunt!” I said.
“That’s awful,” Schwarzenegger Wanna-Be said. “What’s a half-slip?”
I explained this antique piece of clothing apparel, and we continued to commiserate with each other until we were called. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband.
Some gifts you never forget. On my 20th birthday, my husband gave me an engagement ring. On my 30th, he gave me in an instant hot. We’d been married ten years by then so you can see how our marriage was progressing. A few years ago, he did give me the largest iPad. My daughter called it a Homer Simpson gift—it seems Homer always gives Marge something he wants. Yep, the only time I ever touched that iPad was when I took it out of the box.
I don’t want you to think that all my birthdays were a disaster. Truly, most of them have been great. We’ve had many fun parties along the way. Six years ago, we were in New Zealand and helicoptered to a glacier. And family does seem to like to congregate in Hawaii at the end of December…if there’s not a pandemic.
So here I am about to celebrate my 75th. I feel much as I did when I was 65. Thanks to PRP and a stem cell in my knee, I can still walk three miles a day, do yoga and work out on ZOOM. I also continue to write and teach . I admit to being a couple of inches shorter and wider, and that my hearing is going downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. But overall, I feel terrific. Which is a gift.
As for other gifts, I’ve asked my family and friends to donate to food banks or a charity. The vaccine will be another gift, but I’ll wait my turn. Which because I’m now 75, will be sooner rather than later. I think I’m 2 millionth in line.
I’m trying to be levelheaded about the COVID-19 virus, but I find myself of two minds. One of the minds says not to worry, that this too shall pass. And if I’m in good health and living a healthy life, I should be fine…even if I’m in my seventies and have lung issues.
“Oh,” the other mind points out. “You’re a perfect candidate, not only for contracting the virus, but dying from it.”
Great! I think and head to Target for more hand sanitizer.
I read an article by a man who had the virus and said it wasn’t that bad. That was the headline, at least, but as I continued to read about his 103 degree fever and two week hospital stay, I wasn’t reassured. Actually, I had a PTSD flashback because it reminded me of how I felt when I had malaria ten years ago. I had a 105 degree fever for many days–let me tell you it wasn’t good.
I decided to do a little more research on the effect of the corona virus because I wanted to be pro-active. One thing I read is that medications may become in short supply. That’s because many of our medications are made in China (who knew) where factories have been closed down and transportation cut back. So I decided to refill as many of our prescriptions as I could. That was easy. Hopefully there won’t be a problem, but I still have the medication for 3 months.
An issue that is already coming up is the hugging, kissing, shaking hands dilemma. I faced this two years ago when recovering from pneumonia. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was vulnerable to any infection and my lungs weren’t functioning well, as it was. I got good advice from people whose lungs were also not at 100%. One friend told me she bumps elbows with people instead of knuckles. Another told me to hold a glass of wine in one hand and an appetizer in the other at a cocktail party. “Then you shrug and say sorry when they zero in for a handshake,” she explained.
I think it’s important not to be Chicken Little. The sky is not falling. We’ll be okay. Meanwhile I hear my husband on the phone with his cousin. “Worst case scenario,” he chortles, “is our kids get their inheritance early.”
I’m going to start a new series on my blog entitled SENIOR CLASS. You have to be a senior, no pre-Medicares, thank you. SENIOR CLASS will be blogs that have the positives about being a senior. SENIOR CLASS will be blogs that have the negatives about being a senior.
This first one is negative….
I’m beginning to feel like the Golden Gate Bridge. The workers just finish one end and they need to start over at the beginning. With me, I just get one body part functioning when another goes on the fritz.
Last fall, I had hair fall-out. Not pretty, but at least the only pain was emotional. With the help of Nutrafol and the dermatologist’s Rogaine Plus treatment, my hair had a come back.
So I was doing pretty well…except for the 8 pounds I gained, calming myself with comfort food and drink.
When I realized the truth—that all my clothes had not shrunk in the dryer—I started working to get back in shape. I signed up for Weightwatchers on-line, keeping track of what I ate. That was good, but nerve wracking. There’s never enough points for my double martini.
What got me in trouble was the exercise component. I read an article that said interval training was the only way to go—that I should add running into my walk. Like the Girl Scout I’ve always been, I added the run, along with hills. I increased my steps to 13,000. And I started working out with a trainer.
All went well for about two weeks. My shoulders hurt from doing the plank, but it was bearable. Then I got plantar fasciitis. (Now, we’re talking painful!) I could barely walk to the bathroom. The podiatrist made me a brace, gave me a cortisone shot, prescribed Aleve and a physical therapist.
I got better. Feeling invincible, I went back to my routine. A week later, my left knee and hamstring started to hurt. I ignored the pain even though it woke me up at night. Watching me limp up the stairs, my husband started yelling at me that I needed an MRI and surgery.
I wanted to try alternative methods: rest, ice, physical therapy, chiropractor, acupuncture, meditation. When I went to the physical therapist, she kindly explained interval training for a senior. “Cindy,” she said, “your joints are in their seventies. Leave them alone. At your age, just getting mad at your husband can raise your heart rate enough.”
For four weeks, I didn’t do any exercise, not even gentle yoga. Meanwhile, I tried making a deal with my Higher Power. “Okay,” I said. “I know I’ve over done it. I get it now. Please, if I can just get better, I won’t do it again.” I became the sedentary couch potato I was afraid of, but slowly the pain lessened.
I even took a short walk. When I came home, I washed my face and realized my right eye was painful. “Oh come on,” I said to the Universe, “what next?” The answer was a stye. Who knew a stye was so painful? And disgusting? Again I was prescribed Aleve along with an antibiotic eye drop.
Ten days later, my eye looks almost normal. My knee is better, too. I’m walking again and doing yoga. All the Aleve is giving me terrible indigestion, but that’s par for the course.
I don’t know why I find myself singing, “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” in my head.
So my hair is falling out. With my fine, sparse hair, I need this to happen like I need a new hole in my head.
In today’s world of taking photos all the time, I could go back and see when it started. My hair (for me) looked full and healthy in June at our grandson’s high school graduation. It looked fine when I had cataract surgery in July. It looked okay in August when my daughter and granddaughter visited. By September, the truth was becoming obvious.
I went to see the dermatologist about it.
“Oh yes, “ she said with relish. “Your hair is definitely falling out.”
You want your physician to have a positive take on things but I thought this was taking positivity a bit too far.
“I started using some products in August that were supposed to give my hair more volume and body. Maybe they were too harsh,” I suggested.
The doc shook her head. “No, it’s not caused by damage. Your hair is shedding at the roots. “
Oh great, I thought. I just threw away sixty bucks of product for nothing.
“It’s called Telogen Effluvium.,” she continued as if she didn’t see the distress on my face.
“What causes it? Does it last forever? Am I going to be completely bald?”
I actually only asked the first two these questions, even if the third was uppermost on my scalp.
“Stress is the major cause,” she said. “Are you under any stress?”
“I’ve been under terrible stress since November 8, 2016 and it hasn’t gotten better as time goes by,” I said. “When they started taking babies away from their parents who were trying to get asylum, even my always low blood pressure went up.”
She looked at me as if I were speaking a different language. “Pardon me?” she said.
“Never mind,” I said. “Yes, I’ve had several stressful months. My husband has been sick.”
“Have you changed any medications?”
I nodded. “Several.”
“How’s your thyroid?”
The conversation continued this way for a while. I left the office with something called “Women’s Alopecia Solution” and an information pamphlet.
When I told my husband the diagnosis, he said, “What stress?”
I’m telling you, my main stress producer said this with a straight face.
“Let me count the ways,” I said.
There’s nothing like hair loss to make me want to create change. I’m actually doing things to reduce my stress. Number one, I don’t watch television or read the news. I’m meditating a bit and slowing down. And I try not to think about the thinning that’s reduced my bangs to a teensy bang.
“Worrying about losing your hair is only going to stress you out,” my husband had advised. That seemed true.
As I clean the hair droppings out of the sink, I try not to freak. The good news is that at least I know I’m not just paranoid and delusional.
But oh for the good ol’ days when I was only a hypochondriac.
You’ve seen those pictures of beautiful blonds with flowing locks streaming behind them as they drive along the ocean in a convertible? They look so glamorous and like they’d be the life of any party. . .
I’ve never been a convertible kind of girl. I don’t have the hair for it. Nor have I ever been the carefree type. These undeniable truths came back to me the other day when we were driving to the doctor’s office.
My husband, who has a cough that frightens small children and dogs, decided we should take the 1965 Mercedes convertible to UCLA. Even though I had just spent a half hour trying to coax some volume into my hair, I got into the car without protest. It had been his dad’s car and he loves it.
How bad could it be?
Within six blocks I knew. First, since the seat belts are older than my kids, I couldn’t get mine to work. (Do you think the blonds with flowing hair care about seat belts? Nah!) There I was, without the protection of a roof, sitting next to a driver who doesn’t think following traffic rules is necessary. I started praying.
Then I felt the sun beating down on me. And I hadn’t put on sunscreen! I put my hand up, trying to block the rays. Which made it difficult to guard my hair.
“Isn’t this fun?” my husband asked between coughs.
“Really fun,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
On the way home, I figured out my seat belt, but the sun was even hotter. And the fumes from cars and motorcycles started me coughing.
“You don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself,” my husband said.
“Oh, no, it’s great!” I tried creating a smile to match my words. I didn’t want to be a killjoy.
Today my husband had a better companion in his convertible. He and our granddaughter took the Mercedes to the mall to buy her school shoes.
They came back all smiles! That’s what grandchildren are for: to make us happy!
Everything that happens to me lately, I blame on becoming older. Like I thought something was wrong with my ability to hear. I was listening to Morning Joe on Stitcher and it seemed everyone was talking extremely fast. I could barely understand what Mika was saying. It took me a couple of weeks, but it suddenly occurred to me to check the speed control: Sure enough, it had moved to 1.5 speed. A quick flick and I was back to normal speed. What a relief!
I’ve also been having trouble sleeping—the bane of Golden Agers. I was feeling quite anxious and blamed it not only on my life-long anxiety, but on my frustration with navigating this week through today’s health care system. I was just trying to get answers about test results and it wasn’t happening. Was I just too old to do it? I’d given up on getting a diagnosis—that seemed an impossibility for the UCLA system. They’d brought me to my knees just trying to get a human being to talk to me. I couldn’t even make an appointment in one office until the physician’s liaison got back to me. What is a physician’s liaison anyway?
“What is your husband’s diagnosis?” the receptionist asked.
I looked at the phone in disgust. “I don’t know his diagnosis!!! That’s why I’m calling to make an appointment!! That’s what we want to know!! I was an English major—no medical training here!! I’m not sure what the blood test is saying but when I look it up on the Internet, their interpretation is not comforting. And I’m pretty sure that the symptoms I’m now exhibiting as I talk to you, are indicative of high blood pressure and an oncoming stroke!!!!”
I only actually said some of the above and I didn’t shout, but nothing phased the receptionist anyway.
“Is there someone there that can give me a hint if this is a serious situation?” I finally begged her.
“No, but the liaison will call you back with 48 hours,” she said. “Is this the best number to reach you?”
I could feel something throbbing in my head as I tried to slam down my iPhone.
Seeing that phoning was not working, I tried writing another email to our primary care doctor. Just let me know what we’re dealing with, I wanted to write. I like the idea of a health care portal and that you can write your doctor a question. I really really like it when they write back. But these portals shouldn’t release test results to lay people who don’t know how to interpret them. Then you go on-line and the answers you find are always the worst case scenario. I’m tired of being scared out of my wits.
Meanwhile, I didn’t get any answers back and had trouble sleeping that night. The next day the physician’s liaison did get back to me. She talked in a hearty way, but would give me no information either.
“Okay. I’m guessing you’d like the next available appointment,” she said.
“Not really,” I said. “I want the next ASAP appointment.”
“Pardon me?” she said.
“I want the soonest available appointment,” I explained.
“Oh, sure. I can understand that.”
What did that mean, I wondered.
We got in two days later. We could have gotten in the next day but my husband was playing in a golf tournament and wouldn’t cancel. First things first! (Did I mention that while I was working my way into being a stroke victim, he was playing golf?)
I had no idea what the doctor would be like when we met her or him. She is FABULOUS!! She quickly explained that the alarming blood test told nothing by itself. She explained that more tests were needed. She explained what could be happening. She explained that there was nothing to worry about. It would probably turn out to be nothing. “I’ll tell you if you have to worry,” she said.
Of course she had no idea that she was talking to me, the poster girl for Worry Wort in the dictionary. I worry if I’m not feeling worried.
So, to get back to my first point about blaming everything on getting older, this frustration and non-worrying is why I thought I could barely sleep last night. But I was wrong. It was more about the bombing of Syria. I know this because when I woke up and before I opened my eyes, I thought, we’re still here, we’re still alive. I hadn’t even known my psyche had gone to Nuclear Winter.
It was a beautiful Easter/Passover morning. I set out on my walk without a plan in my head. I had no where I had to be until later in the day. Every plate and platter were put away, every pot was clean (well, there still was a little chicken soup left in one), and I no longer felt I’d been run over by a truck.
As I walked, I saw that the long winter’s sleep was done. Trees were budding all over the place! Primroses were nodding hello in the breeze. Calla lilies were in bloom.
When I walked by the lake I saw the many geese who’ve decided being American 24/7, 365/365 is a better plan than fighting the lines through Customs at the Canadian border. They aren’t the neatest of neighbors and can be quite aggressive at times…but not as aggressive as the coyotes who like to stretch their legs over the same grassy area.
As I rounded the curve, I spied an unusual sight: a goose who walked with a swagger. Most geese waddle. This guy had a long blade of grass hanging out of the side of his mouth. His cocky smirk reminded me of the silverback gorilla my brother had run into once in Rwanda.
After I’d walked a couple blocks, I got more curious and headed back to see if I could find my fine feathered friend. He, of course, wasn’t among the group on the lawn. He was much too superior for that. Maybe he was at the lake, I thought.
At first I wondered if maybe he was the one in the middle of the lake honking his head off warning the gaggle of impending doom. Or one of the two on the lake making plans for an assignation.
But, no, it seemed to me he was more the type to strut around looking for babes! And sure enough, I found him. Puffed out and looking good (except for the pieces of grass stuck in his beak.)
He kept walking around showing off but when I left, he was still alone. Just goes to show that all girls are smarter these days and as my mother always said, “Pride goes before a fall.”
I got nostalgic yesterday for all the previous yesterdays when I could sleep through the night without worrying about was happening on the East Coast. I got nostalgic for the days when I didn’t need to know the names of people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. I got nostalgic for the days when I believed our government was led by men and women with integrity and knowledge of national and international affairs. I wanted to go back to the days when I thought no President would tell a lie.
Then I got just plain nostalgic for that age of innocence when I was growing up. It turned into a Remember When morning and thinking of things in the past.
Let’s start with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread. Really, they were so delicious and went down so smoothly with a glass of milk. And we thought we were eating something healthy: the peanut butter was protein and the jelly was fruit. I just realized something weird — no one had a peanut allergy back then.
Sadly, another thing that is probably in my past is prime rib. It used to be my favorite — my mother made a big one every Sunday night and we fought over the crispy fat. Now when I look at this photo, I feel a bit nauseous. Darn! And it tasted so good.
Embroidery is a craft of the past. Probably a hundred years ago, my grandmother embroidered these napkins made out of flour sacking. My grandparents were immigrants who had nothing when they came to the United States in 1900. But my grandmother had skill and perseverance so she made things beautiful. I’ll never throw them away.
She is still my inspiration. She was the most amazing baker the world has ever seen. She never measured — well, she did use a half of an egg shell occasionally. This photo really captures her spirit.
Spring is such a hopeful season filled with abundant energy. Winter fights with Spring, creating mischievous weather that has us layering on and off. The other day, as I put my jacket back on after just removing it five minutes before, I heard the distant drone of a propeller in the sky. When I looked up at the single engine plane, it took me back to my childhood days in Seattle. More feelings of nostalgia.
Then there is the nostalgia for what you once could have worn, but no longer can. Like this gorgeous shoe — boot. I’m drooling as I look at it but I know there’d be no reason for me to even try it on. Too high of a heel for me and it would look ridiculous at the bottom of my babyboomer legs.
Above is this tee shirt, which is more appropriate for me at my age. I remember getting a plaque with Getting Old is not for Sissies for my mom and dad on their 50th anniversary. Oh, we kids thought it was so funny…and we thought it would never happen to us.
Guess who isn’t laughing now.