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Dog Knows, Things Ain’t What They Used to Be: A Wandering Essay on Physical Fitness, Sex, & Wilted Produce

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

March, 2013

Things were better when I was younger…well, my things were, anyway!   –Maxine
(Maxine was created by John Wagner for Hallmark)

 

I was born with endurance and a great bottom half. From jump roping to pogo sticking to sibling kicking, my legs spelled power and possibility from an early age. Plus, they provided a great diversion from some of my weaker features. Dad always said my ears stuck out too far and that I had a bit of a chicken breast. Well, now that I’ve reached middle age, my arms are starting to resemble chicken wings. It looks like I’m getting the neck to match.

In elementary school, I was all about my banana bike. I got it the winter I turned 9. I was in heaven! But when the weather turned warm, and my younger sister learned to ride, Mom and Dad turned on me and granted my younger sister Gwen equal ownership.

Possession is nine tenths of the law, so I always made sure I got to the bike first. I’d peal out, legs treadling as if possessed, and leave Gwen flailing at the end of the driveway. I stayed away for as long as I dared. Sometimes I sneaked up to the shopping center to spend my pocket change on candy. I returned when the needle on my Spankometer indicated I was about to move from “Trouble” to “Big Trouble.” I often miscalculated. Between the Now & Laters and my Dad’s belt, I’m surprised I have a tooth left in my head and a hiney left to sit on.

I discovered another level of freedom at age 10 when we spent a few years in a good-sized German city. My bouncing stride propelled me to destinations of my choosing under my own steam and on my own terms. The city was very safe back then—both day and night. I needed no car. I needed no parents. I felt powerful knowing I could walk out my front door and take myself anywhere in the world. My adventures were limited only by my porte-monnaie and my own daring. Would it surprise you to learn that a good number of adventures involved eggs, tomatoes, toilet paper and my buddy Michaela? I ran faster, thank God. I hear she is doing hard time.

In 10th grade, I discovered cross country and track. Talk about a rush! I became a competitive athlete, and these very legs secured me lifelong friends, a million road trips, and two bachelors degrees. Ask me about my bunions another day.

If my physical activity was consistent, so were its fruits. Ripe, firm fruits, I might be persuaded to add–if I weren’t so humble.

One aunt liked taking me out to shop for clothing because, she said, my booty was SO. DARN. CUTE. Back in the days when I lived close enough to walk to our annual Renaissance Fair, a fellow I met there—a friend of a friend–raved about my tights-clad legs. Even my best friend, an athlete herself, coined a phrase to describe my awesome bottom. Happily, the passage of time and the dawning of political correctness prevent me from disclosing it here. My sister Gwen was content to call it my “buttflower” but, hey, what are sisters for?

Ok, ok. I admit that these occasions of bum worship occurred while I was in my teens and early twenties; however, I have it on good authority that even if I don’t exactly have “It,” I still have something. You noticed too? Oh, stop! You are making me blush!

So, the fruits have been predictable. The same can be said for the nuts. By this, I mean the males of our species, who feel compelled to demonstrate their machismo by ogling even those women whose AARP applications are stamped and sitting on the kitchen table.

I haven’t run in decades but they haven’t noticed. For years upon years, my walks have exposed me to the same primitive mating ritual. I used to find it frightening. Years later, I found it enraging. And then annoying. Now I just find it pathetic. My assets are holding up pretty well, butt….Get a life, guys! Get some glasses!

The ritual goes something like this:

(Car approaches from behind, slowing.)

HONK!

(Head cranes out window to take a closer look.)

NICE ASS!

This February, after much cajoling and an astonishingly professional and well-researched PowerPoint, our youngest daughter convinced us that so much undiluted time spent in the company of The Old People might get her down since both sisters are away at college. We caved and allowed her to adopt a rescue greyhound. Trident is striking! He is slender, white, and aristocratically graceful.

We had a break in the weather today. Trident and I, the two retired racers, set out on a long ramble down the bike path which runs alongside the highway.

And wouldn’t you know it…

(Car approaches from behind, slowing).

HONK!

(Head cranes out window to take a closer look.)

NICE…
.
.
.

(Wait for it….)
.
.
.

DOG!

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Hunger

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Some nights my eyes flutter open just as I am drifting off. Panic rises in my chest. I curl into my hollow, scooped-out belly. Tears quiver and shudder, silent in the darkness, born of feelings which slumber when I am awake.

I need my mother.

I need to touch her and smell her. I need to drink her in for the day she no longer walks the earth.

I don’t understand the urgent messages which bypass my logic and shake my body. Maybe they are not meant to be understood, for to analyze them is to diminish their pull and mystery.

My flesh issues from hers. Our viscera are forever bound, transmitting dispatches almost too subtle to apprehend. Only in the gloaming of sleep can they find their mark.

I am a defenseless child, sniffling in the night: Mommy!

She is blinking back sleep when I arrive around 9 p.m. on Saturday for a two-day stay. I love her for primping, yet it distresses me to see her curling-ironed hair and powdered face. I want Mom au Natural, the mother of my youth, who appears once this old girl stops caring about appearances. I love her naked face and her straight, fly-away hair. I love her mom musk. It’s just a little bit stinky.

We hug, and we can’t let go. Who is clinging to whom? I feel her still-strong back under the thin padding of age, and I am reassured despite her stoop and slowing gait. I breathe into her neck, and I nuzzle her whiskers, which both scratch and soothe. I kiss her cheek, and I kiss her cheek again. I hug her, and I kiss her cheek once more. I cannot release her. Stay with me forever, Mommy!

My mother looks weary and fragile in the bright lights as she moves about the kitchen with intentional steps. Her efforts are redolent of Estee Lauder and longing. And meatloaf, of course. She has my dinner warmed and ready, just in case. Just in case her girl is hungry. Tit for tat. We are both starved.

I eat. Every bite is delicious. I am afraid of taking too many nibbles, of eating her all up. She must be protected, conserved.

I command: Tell me when you want breakfast, and I will make it. Whatever you want. I want to serve you for a change.

She wants to please me. She tolerates my efforts the same way she managed those 8 a.m. Mother’s Day breakfasts in bed. Soon she is up from the table and bustling. She can’t help herself. Her love is palpable. But more than love is involved in these appetites. My mother must feed me so that I can feed her.

She consumes me hesitantly at first, without appearing to do so. Her hunger is gentle and timid, and I can bear it.

Mom was gifted but under-educated, insightful but unaffirmed. She has become opinionated but difficult to confront. She lacks the confidence to mount overt challenges, preferring sidelong jabs instead. She remains independent but lonely. My mother is so proud of me, so pleased to see me, that she has to check herself. Over the next two days, we walk and talk. We eat and talk. She talks and talks and talks, my listening presence both validation and repast.

I listen raptly and study her intently, filling my larder with rations I hope will not have to last for the rest of my life.

I see her crazy eyebrow hairs, her still-beautiful face. I pore over her fingers, which are bent into unnatural shapes by the slow progress of arthritis. I know her secret and take her right hand, needing to touch her palm. The graft from her stomach is brown and baby soft where she reached up and grabbed her mother’s scalding coffee. It comforts me.

I spread my spiritual arms to luxuriate in presence and in memory. Cookies baked, stories told, brows smoothed, books read. Gwen and Mom and I squeezed into a wing chair, one girl nestled on either side, as she reads The Wind in the Willows. I see us at the dining table with our friends as she supervises the annual gingerbread house and cookie decorating event. I can think of no other mother who allowed such prodigious, glorious, mess making! I recall her guided adventures through the wilderness of the forbidden creek. I feel pride in the fact that she was always chosen second—after Mr. Plotnick–for neighborhood baseball. You should haves seen her at bat! I hear her outrageous howl as she watches British television. My father never failed to become apoplectic over her “raucous laughter,” and that was part of the fun. Our walks around the sprawling suburban block with our terrier, Bonnie, were not chores, but events.

I have the best Mom ever! In my softened state, I am a honey-filled sponge.

I stockpile as fast as I can. I jump at every crumb.

My mother is filling as well, although she lags behind me. I wonder if age is responsible. She has regained some of her energy and form and is in touch with her hunger. In fact, she is becoming plucky.

By Monday morning I note signs of my impending saturation.

My mother doesn’t listen. Not really. She loves me beyond measure. This I know. But she has difficulty listening. Viewpoints and choices outside her range of comfort do not register–or they do not register as valid, which is almost the same thing and likely worse.

Mom asks me about myself. I open my mouth, and my responses become convenient segues into her stories. Another time, I feel tender enough to risk the slow wade into grief over the sudden death of our beloved Demont, a friend and brother since college despite infrequent contact in recent years.

My mother makes the attempt to hear me. She does. She tunes in closely when I speak of his daughter. I lament: How will she pay for college now? Aha. The fact that Shereen was born out of wedlock signals to my mother that her suspicions about Demont, whom she had warmly welcomed into her home on several occasions, have been warranted all along.

Oh, look! Mom notices something interesting as we drive the rolling hills. Demont is forgotten. Mom points out the window and begins to narrate passing scenes. She repeats stories I already know. I don’t think she knows how I feel or what has taken place. And I don’t tell her.

In the past, I have gently confronted my mother about her religious and political tirades. I have told her how anxious and trapped I feel when she goes on and on, assuming I am on the same bandwagon or that I need to be instructed about The Ways of the World. My mother is often able to curb her diatribes, at least in the short term, though leakage inevitably occurs.

Last year, she asked me point blank: Do you think I am racially prejudiced? I gave a point-blank answer: Yes. A long walk-and-talk was required. She was Very Hurt and Misunderstood. I used all my counseling skills and let her pick my bones clean. I velveted my paws out of love but I did not recant. What I did do, and this is not necessarily admirable, was spin her around with words which left her unsure of my meaning so that she, none the wiser, took from our talk the apology she needed in order to reassure herself that she is a Good Person.

Arguing back doesn’t hold much promise for change. I am not one to bang my head against the wall repeatedly just to see if the wall is still hard. My mother is doing the best she knows how, and she does work at expanding her views. She has come much farther than her parents and brother. I’ll give her credit for her efforts. And some sighs as well: Has she not noticed that our children have begun to stay away?

By the time I pack my bag, I am close to fed up. Mom’s logic is emotional, squishy. She is sentimental. With dewy eyes, she must touch, squeeze, hug, pat, and rub to better draw out my juices. I have reverted to childhood defenses: I am hard and smooth and logical. I cannot not tolerate this slop.

I feel guilty accepting the half-peck of peaches, the tub of gummi worms, the two bars of Belgian chocolate, the three bags of dog treats, the four jars of jam, and the partridge in the pear tree. I know I am starting to have unkind thoughts. Damn her, anyway. I do not want to see her I’m-trying-to-be-brave smile and martyred gaze as I step into my car. I do not want to know that I am leaving her unsatisfied, the visit an hors d’oeuvre, a down payment. Love has become an intellectual phenomenon, and I need to get the hell out of here.

It’s been just over a week since my return. My stomach is starting to rumble.

On Becoming Invisible

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Sometime in 2013…

When I realized what was happening to me, I wanted to use elegant-sounding adjectives such as diaphanous or gossamer to describe the process or the outcome. Becoming diaphanous sounds so much more lovely than the reality of feeling myself disappear in dribs and drabs until I look like a moth-eaten cheesecloth or the elbow of my favorite sweater. I might even come to resemble the seat of my daughter’s Speedo after too many seasons of sun and chlorine.

This process had been stealthily underway for a few years before I stood up and took notice. Here, I am primarily referring to the fading and thinning, which is gradual and not, therefore, immediately noticeable. This gentle decline is unlikely to induce trauma.

I don’t care so much about the loss of color—skin lightening, lips fading from pink to beige, hair showing tendrils of white—or the miracle migration of hair from scalp to chin. The loss of skin tone is manageable. And so much for the loss of childbearing potential. I have three wonderful, healthy daughters, and I feel complete.

The loss of muscle has been a little harder to manage. I have always thought of myself as an athlete, a vigorous person, despite the fact that my exercise routine now generally consists of early-morning strolls through suburbia. This is par for the course, I tell myself, as is my diminished visual acuity and what may be the start of hearing loss. Oh, and who cares about that half inch of height? My daughters are thrilled to be taller than I am. They absolutely gloat. So let me be happy for them! It is well and good that they should wax as I wane.

No, I had expected all these developments. It was the disappearance of some of my actual substance that stopped me in my tracks. I went to look in the mirror, and whole chunks were not reflected back.

You know by now that my relationship to Germany, CityX, in particular, holds all kinds of powerful meanings for me. The years I spent there were critical in shaping my identity and my way of viewing life. Present during my formation and beyond, through the constant of our friendship, was Hanna.

As I aged and became further and further removed from those early days, Hanna validated that I had, in fact, existed in that time and place and had lead the life I recalled. The power of this type of shared memory, a kind of witness bearing, is truly a living thing. I think of it almost as blood.

Into my 40’s, this humor kept me firm and supple. I have experienced this phenomenon with other friends as well. My friend Anne, for example, knows my whole life starting with the first day of ninth grade. While our talks always contain new thoughts and happenings, part of what makes the friendship life giving is our holding of each other’s memories. The holding of each other’s substance, I’d say. For only certain people can recall whole swaths of us in this sacred way, keeping us alive and real as the pressure of time bears harshly down upon us.

My oldest friend, Hanna, routinely held up the mirror to me and told me the story of myself. I did the same for her. “Look in the mirror, Jane, look! There you are!”

“Look, Jane!” Yes, young Jane, you are still in this world. Even now, you exist. You are walking to school in your blue Kickers and wearing your green windbreaker. I see your pigtails swinging as you lope into the schoolyard with your red leather Schulranzen (bookbag) on your back. You are planning to collect horse chestnuts on your way home. Oh, there you are, kicking Peter Bachmann in the shin (again!). And remember how happy you always feel in the botanical garden? You are forever wandering the pea-gravel paths and rowing in the lake….

It went on and on, often wordlessly. I saw my story recited in her eyes.

I was unprepared for the blow which severed our friendship. It came in the form of a letter and carried with it the agony of death. The bitterness of Hanna’s denunciation left no room for reconciliation. It was as though she had died at her own hand and left a note saying, “I just want you to know you did this to me.” Terrible, unbearable, waves of shock, grief, self doubt, anger. It is hard to put into words, and trying to do so can still overwhelm me.

In the aftermath of her rejection, I began to notice the deflation. Parts of me began to sag and hurt. More gray in the hair, more hair in the brush. Hanna had withdrawn her holding power and denied a part of my fabric. I am smaller now, diminished. The fading has accelerated, and whole pieces are missing when I look into the mirror.

To a point, the thinning and shrinking is an unavoidable part of growing older. I do wonder, however, if it isn’t easier when friends die naturally or when they gradually move out of one’s life. I imagine the parts of us they hold drift off gently with the ebbing of their presence. I wonder—is this less painful than when they reject us and yank out great clumps of us on their way out the door? When there is grabbing, there is a sort of violence from which one must work hard to recover. At least this is true for me.

The good I have believed about myself and the authenticity of my experience has been ejected from the mirror and thrown down to crack into sharp pieces. My assumptions about myself must be reevaluated, and this will be difficult. A distorted version of events has been cut with a quick jerk of the jigsaw and bolted to the mirror–to the very spot where my eye has always sought perspective. Where do I look for answers now?

I have a lot of work to determine what is true here. I search and try myself.

Oh, I am understanding the aging process better as a result. I understand why I must diminish and become smaller and paler. Fewer and fewer people will know who I was and even who I have become; and key parts of my being will slowly disappear from consciousness altogether. I expect that in time people might stop noticing me in stores, restaurants, professional circles. Perhaps I will become just one more little old lady. Unremarkable. Unremarked. Hardly worth the effort of conversation. Someone whose presence is allowed but not welcomed. Seeing this potential clearly, I know that fear and vulnerability could cause me to shrink myself down further still, until I have withdrawn into a living death.

While I do not intend to lift, tuck, dye, buff, paint or plump myself back into a spectre of youth, I don’t begrudge those who would. It is simply not my style. Rather than deny the truth of my decline, I believe I will choose to welcome it. Yes, I am deciding right this very moment. I can cry over my losses or rejoice at my divestment.

It becomes my choice, then, to send Hanna off with a gift. No one can rip from me what I would freely give. To my children, I give my once-firm breasts and belly. To Henry, I present the lips which seek his and the hands which have issued countless caresses. To Christopher and Jack, my coaches, I offer the legs and feet of my youth. It was worth the bunions and fractures to know you, to run so fast. Hanna, I give you those parts which you have attempted to snatch. I nullify your theft by my consent. I bless you, dear friend….

Please don’t interpret my words as passive or depressive.

Make no mistake, I do not intend to go softly.

I will stubbornly affix myself to these pages so that I can look back and find myself when I feel unsure. And I’ll keep writing myself into new memories and new meanings. Just you wait and see. I ache at the loss of my past. I am unwilling to lose my future.

So I’m killing off the cheesecloth metaphor and sparing myself. I am made for better. That which remains of me after each act of giving will fold upon itself, concentrating my indivisible essence into an ever purer form.

I’m going to become my finest and truest self, a single filament as sinuous as silk and as strong as steel. And when I have divested myself so fully and stretched so thinly as to disappear altogether, I’ll just keep on going.

I am thankful for an eternal perspective.

This is part of The Story of Hanna. For the prior segment, please click here. For the next segment, please click here.

Hypothetically Speaking

Hypothetically Speaking

What would you say if I told you….

It had been an exhausting day.

I changed out of my work clothes and into my shorts and t-shirt so I could get dinner on the table and take care of some (euphemism alert!) deferred housework. I was an itchy mess so I removed my glasses and stopped to splash cool water on my puffy eyes. Ahhhhh. Our area had had its rainiest June in recorded history, and I am allergic to mold.

Henry rolled in, exhausted as well. He had a meeting in an hour and wanted to eat something before he headed back out.

“Go ahead and take a quick nap,” I reassured him. “I’m just heating up last night’s leftovers, and I’ll call you in a little while so we can eat together.”

He made himself comfortable in his favorite chair, and it was lights out.

I reheated the salmon, couscous, and asparagus and set the table for two. We were empty nesters this week, and things were quieter than usual. I’d let Henry rest a bit longer since his meeting was close by. What else could I do to make his night a little easier?

His Father’s Day coffee! Of course! Our daughter Bec had given him a bag of delicious beans: Banana Nut Cream. Their only drawback was his having to work for every cup. Our electric mill had broken down years ago. We had never replaced it, and Henry disliked grinding by hand. I knew he would want a mug of coffee after dinner to get him through his meeting.

I like hand grinding! I love the aroma and the contemplative, tactile experience. Since I had a few minutes, I got our old wooden grinder down from the shelf where we display it. I miscalculated a bit in trying to funnel the upturned bag of beans into the mill, and the next thing I knew, beans were spilling in every direction.

The dog! I had heard that coffee is toxic to dogs.

I invoked the five second rule, dropped to my hands and knees, and frantically swept the beans into a pile. These beans were too special to waste. A little dust wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I sat down and started grinding.

The old coffee mill is a thing of beauty as well as a reminder of all the good times I shared with my German friend, Hanna. Her grandfather had owned two of them. After his death many years ago, she had given the best one to me and kept the other for herself.

I checked the clock. I still had time before I had to wake Henry. There was something soothing about this process. I decided I’d surprise Henry by grinding the rest of the beans and securing them in an airtight container.

Done!

Henry, grateful for the extra moments of rest, gulped down his dinner, grabbed his mug of coffee, and bounded for the car. I ate in peace, savoring the homey smells and gathering momentum to tackle the housework.

I was already in the kitchen, so I might as well start there. I cleared and wiped the table, washed the dishes, and wiped the counters. Time to sweep the floor. Daylight was fading, and I hadn’t yet replaced the missing bulb above the table. Hmm…where had I left my glasses?

I retrieved them from my dresser and returned to sweep. Now that I could see better, I realized I had let things get a little grungier than usual.

Oh. I had missed a handful of coffee beans. I swept them into the dustpan and was just about to dump them into the trash when I realized that a few of the beans were…mummified June beetles.

What would you say if I told you….

I have decided to cut out coffee for a while. Henry agreed that I seemed a little agitated at breakfast. I am sure the coffee is to blame.

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Credit for coffee bean image here.

America’s Breadbasket

Mom's bread drawer May, 2015

If you want to solve world hunger, look no farther than my mother’s bread drawer. This is what it looked like after she and my stepfather hosted four of us for the weekend. I don’t think this photo could possibly do it justice. We must have looked underfed because Mom sent my stepfather out Saturday afternoon to buy dinner rolls.

In preparation for our brief visit, my mother had done a little shopping. In other words, there was enough food to feed every creature on Noah’s ark.

I haven’t decided if I’m joking. My mother has the best-fed critters around. She lives in the country, and I bet her neighbors love her. Especially the ones who hunt. The birds and squirrels are fed year ‘round, and the deer get corn in the winter. Her “pet” chipmunk eats Cheerios on the front porch. Have you ever seen a fat Greyhound? Me neither. We try to get to her before she gets to our dog. This is a hereditary condition, apparently, and I will have to manage my risk factors. My grandfather used to hand feed racoons from his back yard. His neighbors loved him too.

I try to tell my mother to take it easy. Another part of me loves that I still get to wake up to the smell of coffee and a Mom bustling around the kitchen.

I can offer to plan the food, shop and cook, and she will say yes, but somehow we always end up doing things her way. I don’t think she entirely trusts me. She still hovers over me while I cook.

There was a time when I experienced a certain Shadenfreude but I have good-naturedly surrendered it. I no longer try to coax–or corner–her into eating curries and Korean pancakes. The last really naughty thing I did was about two years ago during one of her visits to us. With a straight face, I asked her and my stepfather to join us for dinner at the Pakistani restaurant down the street. I just wanted to see what would happen. My mother once sent back a plate of pasta at Ruby Tuesday because it was too spicy.

On this weekend visit, I did bring a bag of quinoa thinking it might help me stay on my [insert expletives] low fat diet when everyone else was eating lasagna and hamburgers and the four containers of ice cream in her freezer. She wasn’t sure about that “quinola.” Mom concluded she needed to round out our dinner with rice. She stood over the stove concentrating on those Uncle Ben’s boiling bags, skimming the froth from the pot with a very serious expression. The rice would not have cooked if she had not done this.

I snapped this photo as we were cleaning up and heading out. Oh, we were cleaning up, all right. We scored two giant Ziploc bags of her famous chocolate chip cookies.

My mother knew I was having a laugh at her expense, and she was a good sport: she obligingly offered to rearrange the drawer to give me a better picture. I wonder what she would say if she knew I was going to talk about her on my blog. Oops, wait. She doesn’t know I have a blog. And don’t you tell her!

I’ll be taking a break from posting for a while. My children are coming into town, and I’ve got to go stock up on bread.

For other posts on Mom, click here and here.

Rip Van Winkle: The Upside

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

Winter, 2012

Now that my time machine has hurtled forward a few decades, ejected me onto my ass, and gone up in a thick cloud of black smoke; I am stuck at age 48. At least, until I become stuck at age 49. After which I will become stuck at age 50. And so on. Unto death. But things on Planet Middle Age aren’t as bad as I would have thought even two months ago. For example…let me share one puzzling outcome of my crash landing:

I am developing a genuine fondness for Old People.

Old People are endemic to my church, where the median age is about 70, and where, until recently, I have been a bona fide Young Adult. There are no children at my church, or if there are, they are in hiding. We had a nursery once but we closed it because no babies had turned up for the better part of a year. I’m not sure why I’m still attending. Admittedly, my Old People are the best Old People you can find anywhere; however, they are Old. Most of the other Young Adults have long since jumped ship, and the Old People are dying off at the rate of about one per week.

Each Sunday I watch from an emotionally safe distance as the Old People move about in a routine so well choreographed, it would put an NFL coach to shame—they in their Sunday finery and coiffed hair, and I in my skinny jeans and hoodies. I smell Coty face powder and Estee Lauder. I know that if I peek in the men’s closets, I’ll find pairs of white Reeboks reserved for their Saturday romance with the riding mower. Sometimes I think of the Old People as busy bees, cheerfully tending the hive, doing and saying what they always have, pitifully oblivious to their imminent demise. I don’t really want to know them. I especially don’t want to be them.

Things look a little different since the time machine crashed. Where to start?

For one thing, while I was having my protracted adolescence, my Old People finished raising their families, brought their professional lives to a close, and began to enjoy their retirement. This, of course, required significant advance planning. Most adolescents don’t plan too well, and neither did I. My husband tried to talk to me about things like savings and retirement but I didn’t listen very well. Do you know any teens who want to dwell on these topics? Me either.

Now as I watch the Old People take cruises and go south for the winter, I wonder how they do it. I’d love to go on a cruise. I’d like to remodel my kitchen, circa 1961, whose original cupboards boast a large brass medal: “Gold Medallion Home. Live Better Electrically.” At the end of the day, I thank God that I went back to school to become a counselor. As long as I can sit upright and nod my head, I can contribute to our upkeep. I don’t think I can afford to retire.

I realized, at some point, that my Old People were once Young Adults. I also realized some of them were much smarter and educated than I am. It took a few awkward and (unintentionally) patronizing conversations to set me straight. Linda can do just about anything on the computer, and she’d be the first person I’d call if I ever needed to program my VCR. (Is this a good time for me to confess that I do not know how to use my TV and have begun to stuff used tissues up my sleeves?) Despite a possible Reebok habit, Lyle is as sharp as a tack in all things financial. And don’t mess with my boy Sean. He may wear sweater vests, but it takes huevos to be a courier downtown.

My Old People include retired professors, retired accountants, and retired nurses, just to name a few. Even more impressive: many of my Old People have raised children who actually turned out to be very nice Adults. (Can you see how hard I’m working not to put the words “retired” and “Mom” in the same sentence? I think we all know Moms never retire.)

Bottom line: I think I could do a lot worse than joining the Old People. Besides–consider the alternative.

This is the seventh installment of The Story of Hanna (see also tab of the same name). For the sixth installment click here. For the eighth installment click here.

These Hands

Carolyn's hands 1These are no-nonsense hands. Tomboy hands.

These hands have climbed trees, caught bugs, whittled sticks, picked scabs, and shot bumbershoots*.

These hands used to blow noses, dry tears, and wipe bottoms. They used to spank those same bottoms. Sometimes these hands pointed fingers. Sometimes they still do. These hands have thumbed noses but have refrained from wiping smirks off faces. They have also stopped addressing drivers in traffic. This is because the Woman has domesticated them and (mostly) trained them to speak Love instead of Middle Finger. It may be (may!) that one hand rebelled once (once!) against etiquette and drilled into a nostril at a traffic light. But I’m sure that is only a rumor. Seriously–who would do that?

These hands stroke skin and braid hair. Sometimes they rub backs. They crochet animal hats and knit circle scarves. They garden without gloves because dirt feels good. These hands can scrape every last molecule of goodness out of the Nutella jar.

These hands fold clothes, scrub bathrooms, and bag groceries. They slice, dice, chop, mince, and grate. Curry and stir fry are some of their favorites. Black beans and rice too. Hey, don’t forget the soups! The hands bake as well, the show offs: Cheese cake; warm, yeasty rolls with cinnamon, caramel, and pecans; apple pie. Recipes are treasures passed from hand to hand in a generational relay. The pair displays its heritage with every bite: knife in the left hand; fork in the right.

These hands lead a double life. Sometimes they have to act their age. They tell themselves to rest quietly and listen while Clients speak to the Woman about all manner of pains and worries. They bend and sculpt themselves into Openness, Care, and Wisdom. They arrange themselves in nonjudgmental positions upon bland, nonjudgmental slacks. The hands tap out progress notes and dial calls to psychiatrists. Sometimes, if they are really naughty, they pinch each other to keep from daydreaming or dozing off.

These hands speak. Are you surprised? The wrinkles and spots tell of running in the sunshine. When you cluck at their dry skin, each tells you off in turn: Nothing to see here! Mind your own business! The ring finger says: Fine. Band me. The nails are starting to tap nervously. They think: We’re going to be in trouble at that Southern wedding next month. They whine and beg: Can’t we just go commando?

The left hand is still a little sad. Maybe even nursing a grudge. Leftie and Rightie used to match until a harried nurse forced saline through an IV port, ignoring Leftie’s cries of pain. The nurse burst all those lovely, plump veins. Some hands think veins are ugly, but their prominence made Leftie feel strong and able. She grieved as they paraded their farewell: black, blue, purple, brown, green, yellow, gone. Rightie restored Leftie’s dignity by entrusting her with Urgent Ideas Which Cannot Wait. See the smudge near Leftie’s thumb? Rightie scrawls ideas there, and Leftie remembers them for her. Leftie also gets to store things on her wrist: pony tail holders and the rubber bands which hold together the Woman’s Tupperware so the juice from her mango slices doesn’t leak into her work bag. Of course neither hand holds bracelets. What a bother!

These hands have faces made for radio, and they tell it like it is.

These are my hands.

Carolyn's hands 2*We pulled the long stems from these weeds and twisted them around on themselves so that when we yanked, the flower heads flew off. We called them “bumbershoots” and had little battles with them.

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