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Aging isn’t always so graceful

Sunday, February 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:58 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Winter is especially difficult for the elderly, and lately I’ve been feeling their pain. When I get up from a chair, something cracks or snaps. I now look down when I walk instead of straight ahead. My war wounds from my youth are coming back to life. When I was in ninth grade at Jeff Jr. (in this very town) someone dared me to jump over a half wall to the landing, which separated the stairs going down to the girls and boys locker rooms. I took the dare and missed the landing and fell to the bottom of the stairs, crushing my fourth thoracic vertebra. The doctor gave me an ugly brace that extended from my collarbone to my pelvis. I wore loose-fitting jumpers (which were NOT in style) for more than a year. And I remember the doctor saying that I would have a dowager hump when I was old. I just giggled. I was only 13; old was 40. Well, it seems lately my kids keep telling me to stand up straight. They say I’m bent over when I walk. GULP!

I recently started thinking about getting old. You don’t just wake up one morning and walk to the mirror and gasp, wondering who the person is staring back at you. It’s a gradual process. But, by golly, I’m showing definite signs.

When the kids were young we would rarely go out to dinner (with seven kids, you do the math), but when we did dine out it was never later than 6 p.m. The kids had homework, and they went to bed before 9 p.m. Now that we’re kid-free, we still go out by 6 p.m., not for the early-bird senior special, but because if we eat later the acid reflux will keep us up all night.

Just going out after dark has become a real pain in the neck; my body starts to shut down at dusk. Recently some of my grad students asked if I’d join them at the Blue Note. I told them I’d love to. I then asked them when we should meet. When they said 10 p.m., I almost fainted! If I make it to the 10 o’clock news, I write it in my journal.

When I was younger, “girl talk” was all about babies and who had the most difficult labor. Now all we talk about is “ectomies,” as in hysterectomy. And I used to never miss reading the birth announcements in the newspaper. Now I turn to the obits.

I used to religiously put on a moisturizer morning and night. Now I use a firming cream, which doesn’t work. I figure I could stand in a vat of the stuff and it wouldn’t stop the sagging.

I don’t enjoy shopping as much as I used to. I was once labeled a shopping marathon queen. I would be waiting by the door when the mall opened, never stop for lunch, head downtown and scour the shops and end the day buying groceries. Now I shop when I’ve run out of something or need another pair of black slacks. Way back when, I was labeled a “clothes horse.” Now I’m middle-aged mule. I used to love to get dressed up and I have archived the outfits as proof. Now dressing up means putting on a clean shirt and picking out just the right pair of black pants (see above).

Clothing styles come in cycles, and I figure I’m on the third cycle. I don’t want to wear shiny shirts or pointy-toed shoes. That’s a lie — I can no longer wear pointy-toed shoes.

And because I can’t wear them, I find myself lecturing to perfect strangers. I actually went up to a woman who was trying on a pair of 4-inch stilettos with pointed toes that could kill a cockroach crouching in a corner. I informed her that wearing the shoes would induce bunions, hammertoes and cause nerve damage. I don’t think she appreciated my candor. She bought the shoes.

I used to love to walk. Now I’m told I HAVE to walk if I don’t want soft bones, hardened arteries or high blood pressure. My doctor also told me to lift weights and laughed when I said I didn’t want to bulk up.

The spontaneity in life has lapsed. Where once my husband and I would throw a few things in a bag and go off for a long weekend, now we have to have a separate bag for all the pills and potions we take to stay alive.

In my youth, I couldn’t afford a nice piece of jewelry; now I have beautiful baubles. It’s ironic that when my hands were young and smooth I didn’t have the money to adorn them. But once they get gnarly and covered with age spots I have the cash to buy large rocks that attract attention to my aging.

I know I sound morbid and depressed. But this thought process began when one of my granddaughters asked me my age.

“Fifty-six,” I said proudly.

“Oh! That’s old, Grammy,” the 5-year-old replied. “When you die, can I have your heart necklace?”

If you have a comment or want to talk about the “good ole days,” please e-mail me at jdh@socket.net.


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