Tag Archive | aging

Flirting with Death–Growing Up Boomer

imagesRT5WAQE7If you grew up in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, it’s a miracle you’re alive. There’s a reason for the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In other words, raising your children with danger and bad medicine didn’t end with the discovery of seatbelts and penicillin.

I can hear my mother now: “If a little does a little good, a lot will do a lot of good.” This was her rationale for ignoring dosing instructions on over-the-counter medications. To her, a tablespoon was a serving spoon from the table. A teaspoon was the soup spoon. She cheerfully ladled out Pepto-Bismol to reverse my problem, then ladled out mineral oil to reverse the cure. I was almost grown before I knew medicine doses measured like salt and baking powder, not mashed potatoes.

My mother was a helicopter parent long before helicopters were invented. Maybe she was a spiro-gyro or hot air balloon parent. Worrying was a way of life for her, and we were first on her list. A sneeze or cough was enough to make her drag us off to the doctor, where we were guaranteed a penicillin shot. The miracle drug was dispensed for complaints big and small. After all, what’s the use of having a miracle drug, if you aren’t going to use it for everything? And if we were really sick, too sick to go downtown to the Medical Arts building to his office, the doctor would stop by our house on his way home, and he always had a supply of penicillin in his bag.

The bathroom medicine cabinet was full of over-the-counter remedies, too. Pepto-Bismol, iodine, mercurochrome, Little Black Pills, and Carter’s Little Liver Pills all played a role in keeping the family healthy. Bayer aspirin, and later Excedrin, were the cure-alls for headaches. Aspirin, hot tea, and dry toast was the treatment for cramps. Little Black Pills were for constipation, with Pepto for diarrhea. Cuts and abrasions called for iodine. Always. Period.

My parents would have fit right into the Stoics’ society. If there were no bones sticking out and no blood, you were fine. Suck it up and walk it off. Of course, first we had to annihilate the enemy of the Free World–germs. These little critters were a relatively new discovery when my parents were little, and their parents attacked them as if they were going after “Kaiser Bill.”

For a good part of my childhood, iodine was the poison du jour for medical germicide. Unfortunately, iodine felt like having lava poured into an open wound, probably because it had an alcohol base. Screaming because of the injury redoubled when I felt the cure.

There was a kinder, gentler antiseptic–mercurochrome. It didn’t burn nearly as badly, and much of the discomfort it caused could be eliminated by blowing on the wound until it dried. No one considered the fact that blowing germ-laden breath on an open wound was counter-productive. In addition, it didn’t seem to impress anyone negatively that the active ingredient was mercury. Yes, as in “permanent brain damage” mercury. Mercurochrome wasn’t banned as an over-the-counter product until 1998.

And speaking of mercury, we loved it when Mama dropped the thermometer while “shaking it down,”  shattering it on the tile bathroom floor. That provided a really cool, new toy to play with: mercury. We were fascinated by the way it “crawled” when it moved, and even more awed by how well it cleaned tarnish off dimes and nickels when we smeared it over the coins with our bare fingers.

Dental care was high on the list for “better living through chemistry.” When an Air Force dentist looked at my husband’s teeth and exclaimed, “Good grief, boy! You’ve got Cadillac teeth!” there was a brief moment of alarm, before Bryan realized this was a good thing. His hometown, Pasadena, Texas, was one of the first cities in the state to put fluoride in their drinking water. Consequently, cavities were rare, but their smiles looked like a “before” picture in a whitening gel commercial. The recipe needed a little fine tuning.

imagesQ4VRVBCKDDT trucks driving up and down the streets, spraying for mosquitoes, were also part of growing up in Pasadena. Bryan and his friends rode their bikes in the fog behind the trucks for fun.

If being endangered by your parents and health care professionals wasn’t enough, toymakers and Madison Avenue joined in, too. No cool kid would have dreamed of wearing a helmet when riding a bike. I remember my father saying, “Aw, she doesn’t have to wear one of those. Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, she can hardly see out from under it. That thing’s dangerous.” And why on earth would you need child-proof packaging on medications and drain cleaner? “Kids know better than to get into those.”

My brother had a chemistry set. He managed to make his room smell like dead fish for a month, but at least no one was killed. Early Gilbert Chemistry Sets included 56 chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate (a key ingredient in homemade bombs) and the poisonous and flammable potassium permanganate. The “Atomic” chemistry sets of the ’50s came with radioactive uranium ore. They got a little safer in the ’60s but weren’t really reined in until the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

imagesHT8EWSF6As if the sexy men and women puffing away in movies weren’t convincing enough, we were encouraged to smoke by actors dressed like doctors on television. No one had even heard of secondhand smoke. And remember candy cigarettes? I used to get them in my Christmas stocking.

Car seats and seatbelts were optional. imagesZYTDNG9FAnd lead-based paint, which causes brain and kidney damage, wasn’t outlawed until 1978. It was routinely used on cribs, among other things.

I don’t blame my parents. They only knew what they saw on TV and in the newspaper. I do blame the scientists and advertisers who knew these things were dangerous, even if they didn’t know the full extent. They ignored the fact that people were buying and using their poisons, and it really hasn’t changed much over the years. It seems like every day something is recalled or declared unsafe, something we did to our newborns is now considered deadly, and some medicine our parents gave us is now used to kill roaches.

There are seven billion people on the earth, and the population is growing. How can that be when we are doing our best to kill ourselves off? Maybe it’s the underdeveloped countries, whose people don’t have access to our medicines, cleaning products, and chemical-infused food, who are overpopulating. They better hope the don’t catch up to us. That could be a real health hazard.

Aging, American Style

Roger & Addie 2Roger & Addie 5

 

Roger & Addie 3

As someone approaching the Medicare Wonder Years, who anxiously awaits catalogs with the latest styles in knee braces, and who has a map of the Nile Delta etched in the skin at the corner of each eye, my recent trip to Georgetown to visit some older friends was profound. These friends, Addie and Roger Busfield, are just about ten or fifteen years older than my husband Bryan and I, and we’ve come to admire, respect, and  love them over the years.

Roger had a long career in theatre and teaching, and he wrote a textbook on writing plays that was translated into several languages.  It is still being used. Addie is a gifted artist, whose works can be seen on display in the Georgetown Public Library and on several friends’ book covers.  Both highly intelligent and interesting people, they mastered the art of being urbane and down-to-earth at the same time. Also, both of them are a hoot!

A few of their friends and Bryan and I joined them for a Dos Salsas food fest at the Wesleyan Nursing Home where Roger now lives. Ann Bell picked up Addie at Estrella Independent Living, and Joan Hall, Carol Menchu, Bryan, and I picked up fajita taco plates for all, Roger having requested that specifically. We ate, talked, ate, and talked some more, seven old friends around a large table, a great way to spend an afternoon.

It impressed me that with an age span of about 20 years around that table, we all were on the same page in life, give or take a page or two. I could easily see myself in five or ten years, an observation common to us all. The disadvantages of getting older are readily apparent, so I tried to think of advantages that will come–basically from here on out–as I approach the place on the highway of life where the pavement ends.

1. Pie will be reclassified as a vegetable, and no one will care if I eat my dessert first.

2. Having forgotten her name and phone number, I will no longer have to deal with my sister.

3. I will no longer care about getting to watch what I want on television; my favorite show will be Progressive commercials with Flo.

4. My grandkids will remain little forever. When they bring their children to visit me , I will assume they are all my grandchildren and be permanently delighted.

5. My mind will eventually migrate to a time and place I was happiest, probably the Sixties when the music was good, and all the deceased ones I’ve missed will come visit me at night–by invitation only.

6. I won’t own any clothes that aren’t comfortable, and I won’t notice whether they match. My dress-up shoes will be socks with non-skid patches on the bottoms.

7. My beloved Bryan will still be with me, although he will n0 longer care about sports and will have developed an interest in true crime programming.

8. My dogs will return from Pet Paradise to visit me but will no longer poop on the floor.

9. My face will have a permanently pleasant expression, carefully cultivated over the years, so people will be nice to me and want to talk to me.

10. I will not “find God,” (not having mislaid Him, as far as I can tell) or be more religious than I was earlier in life when all my screws were countersunk, when I knew exactly what I was doing, and what the cosmic consequences were likely to be. I will not expect amnesty because I am old. Instead, I will count on His having a sense of humor.

I hope I can age as gracefully as Roger and Addie have. I hope my friends will want to throw a shindig for me at the nursing home. I hope I will still be able to make them laugh.

I would also like to get  my order in now for a Dos Salsas Enchilada Plate.  I will tell you where to bring it when I make my final blog entry.

 

London, Paris, Las Vegas…Johnson City?

QuiltI’m not admitting I’ve sold out to aging, but Bryan and I had an unusually fun weekend recently doing something I never thought I’d do. For my birthday, we drove to Johnson City to attend a fundraiser for their library.

I became aware of this function the weekend before when I attended a writers’ workshop at the library. There I met Leslie, one of the library ladies when she’s not selling ice to Eskimos. We talked while I waited for my folk to arrive, and she pointed out a gorgeous hand-made quilt they were raffling, several cellophane-wrapped baskets of goodies to be auctioned, and she mentioned the spaghetti dinner, Bingo, and silent auction the  following weekend. I bought some raffle tickets, because I really wanted that quilt, and went on to my workshop.

Bryan did the driving that morning, and we arrived early enough to eat breakfast at the Hill Country Cupboard, a Johnson City must. They advertise their chicken fried steaks – Nearly 3 Dozen Sold – but their breakfasts are really excellent, not the artery-clogging fare we expected. He dropped me off at the library before backtracking to Pedernales State Park to do some hiking.

Showing back up at the appointed time, he entertained himself looking at all the things I had checked out earlier. Leslie asked if he was Janet’s husband. I’m not sure why, since the whole class consisted of women about my age, and he said yes and introduced himself. She proceeded to tell him everything we had discussed earlier, filling him in on the fundraiser, and he was paying for two tickets to the spaghetti dinner when I met up with him.

Fast forward to the next weekend. We drove to Johnson City, found the Methodist Church where they were holding the fundraiser, and were welcomed by some really nice church ladies that looked exactly like the church ladies we both remembered from our childhoods. Dinner was tasty and organized as only church ladies and drill sergeants can.

Soon it was time for Bingo. The last time I played that game we covered the numbers with pinto beans. These cards, with their little sliding number covers, were strictly uptown. Bryan won a Bingo game and received a gift certificate for a local, highly-recommended barbecue joint, so we’ll be going back to Johnson City again real soon. I won nothing, including the quilt, but that was a close one. I had a moment of excitement when they drew and announced the winner was another Janet from Austin, but not me. Bryan also put in the winning bid on a watch at the silent auction, one of the few he didn’t already own. He couldn’t have been happier if he were twins! As he says, you can never have too many watches.

While driving back on Hill Country backroads as dark as the inside of a black cow, we talked about how much fun we’d had. We visited with some really nice people, ate good food, gambled, and played Bingo, all without having to set foot out of our home range. We also didn’t have to set foot in Vegas, something I try to avoid. I may be getting older, but I wouldn’t trade our Hill Country odyssey for a chi-chi dinner in a Houston uber-restaurant, which we used to enjoy so much in our younger days. We wore comfortable clothes, sensible shoes, and garnered many a story to pass on over the next few weeks–AND–it was for a wonderful cause, helping the Johnson City Library pay on their beautiful new building.

So if you get tired of Green Pastures, the Driskill Hotel, or even Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, consider spending your time and money in Johnson City, Texas. It’s definitely a place worth writing (home) about.

For as Long as Ye Both Can Stand It

Bryan and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. As veterans of divorce wars, we never take these milestones for granted. Sometime around our wedding date we enjoy a getaway, usually to the Gulf Coast. It’s my chance to see things you don’t find in Central Texas, and it’s Bryan’s chance to indulge his omnipresent craving for seafood. Since I don’t eat it, I never learned to cook it. His only chance to take the fishy edge off is an occasional dinner with our daughter, who learned to like seafood in spite of my genes.

Right after Christmas, Bryan starts asking what I want for our anniversary. Coming so soon after that gift-giving bacchanale, I seldom have any ideas left, and the situation is complicated by the fact our anniversary, Valentine’s Day, and my birthday fall uncomfortably close together. This year I decided to consult the experts. I checked the Hallmark website to find out what the official gift is for a 30th anniversary, like consulting Hoyle before shooting someone over a game of Texas Hold ‘Em gone bad.

First I learned we are dangerously close to the end of the list. After the 15th anniversary, the list no longer has individual years, rather they count by fives. I also discovered there are TWO lists, one traditional and one modern. For example, the traditional 30th anniversary gift is pearls; the modern gift is diamonds. That’s inflation for you.

I already have  enough jewelry, so I decided to make my own list, starting with the 30th anniversary just to cut to the chase. Based on my own personal experience and considering I had two knee surgeries in the past six weeks, I assigned Ace bandages as the traditional gift; for the modern gift, anesthetic. I got both earlier this month, and they fit perfectly.

So what will be appropriate five years from now, on our 35th anniversary? And if (not likely but possible) we’re still milling about on our 50th? Five years from now, I don’t see any drastic changes in our lives, except Bryan will be really old. For a traditional gift, maybe a monogrammed magnifying glass; from the modern list, an Acorn Chairlift that attaches to the car door.

On our 50th anniversary, Bryan will be pushing 90; I’ll be pulling 80. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest we completely ignore the future technology and go traditional. I think Bryan and I should get matching tattoos, a little Shar Pei dog (a good choice at that age) inside a heart—with a pacemaker. I can hardly wait. Vive la amour!

 

Aging Ain’t for Wimps

Getting ready for yet another knee surgery, I find myself pondering this whole getting older gig. There was a time when women grew old gracefully by remembering to lace up their corsets before going out of the house and keeping their periwinkle blue hair color touched up. Now, as part of the Age of the Active Senior, I’m expected to partake in activities formerly associated with Boot Camp.

I was part of that in-between generation, the one that started with the Old Morality and ended up with Charlie Sheen. I started out thinking athletics was no occupation for a lady, and I’m growing old in the No Pain, No Gain Era. All in all, aging today is not for wimps. That sweet, little old grandmother has been replaced by Grambo, an aging Amazon intent on toning her core, even though it’s located three inches lower than it was in her prime.

You’ll recognize her when you see her. She’s the old lady who pours her Shar Pei-like body into a bathing suit for senior water aerobics. She blasts past you power-walking laps inside the mall.  You hear her gaining on you as you climb Enchanted Rock, the scraping of her walker echoing around you.

Why is there no male counterpart for Grambos? There are a couple of reasons for this. First, women usually live longer than men, and nothing makes you want to live healthy like realizing you finally get to watch what you want on television. Also, I think men and women have a different aging processes. Women fall victim to gravity early on. Men age later than women, but then their bones dissolve, causing them to crumple up and eventually disappear.

We women secretly wait our whole lives for our golden years, because it means getting to say whatever we want, wear whatever strikes our fancy, and stop cooking three meals a day. (When your day includes four naps and going to bed for the night at 6:30, it’s hard to fit in more than one meal and a couple of snacks.) Men waste old age in a state of ever-increasing grumpiness. Women, however, even the sweet ones, become feisty, intent on making their marks on the world before they check out.

In the great Super Bowl of Life, the “Weaker Sex” wins. We get the gold in the Aging Olympics, with men taking the silver, bronze, or possibly the aluminum foil. Everyone has to age eventually, so those of you who aren’t there yet should heed my warning: Girls, woman up! Boys, get in touch with your feminine side and hang on! Aging ain’t for wimps; it takes guts to get old.