Last year on this date, I wrote about a little girl who made me feel a little better about myself at a time I was hurt and vulnerable. (A Lesson In Shame)
So today, I thought it would be appropriate to write about another childhood friend.
When I was fifteen, my family moved across town.
Although we hadn’t even changed zip codes, it was still a big move for me. I would be switching to the rival cross-town high school. I figured I might know a kid or two once I got there, since I had been to a parochial elementary school with kids from all over town. But it was still a big change.
In a way, I was looking forward to it. I hadn’t exactly got off on the right foot as a freshman at my old school. For the really dumbest of reasons (I know that now). I had been on a couple of dates with a boy that everyone made fun of. And so they made fun of me too. Which was a shame. Looking back on it, I think he was a pretty nice kid. But I was awkward and immature and I cringed at the snickers. It may have been unkind of me, but I was just a dumb kid, and I felt humiliated. So I was glad to get a fresh start in my sophomore year.
It was summer when we moved. You’d think it would be easy to meet kids in the summer. Everyone home and the weather is nice. And that’s true for little kids. My brother was nine, and as soon as we moved in, he met every boy in the neighborhood, and was happily off and running and playing. (Or at least it appeared that way to me – he may have been terrified too. And if so, I’m sorry, little brother.)
And my sisters were in college. And they could drive. And their friends could drive. I’m not saying that they or any of their friends had cars and money of their own. But it certainly did seem easier for them, and not much a transition. Their independence and mobility made continuing their friendships that much easier. (Or at least it appeared that way to me – they may have been terrified too. And if so, I’m sorry, big sisters.)
But fifteen. I didn’t drive. My friends didn’t drive. We had working parents who had to leave us to our own devices in the summer. We had no money. There was no summer camp. There was no school for meeting friends. There was no school bus with gangs of hollering kids. It was very quiet. And neighborhood teenagers don’t exactly come knocking on your door to ask if Nancy can come out to play.
I felt there were either no teenagers in the neighborhood at all, or that they had some secret meeting place that I could not uncover. I also thought they might have somehow got the word that I was an idiot.
Still, the new neighborhood seemed nice. The house was lovely – I had my own room. And I had a chance to reinvent myself, once school started.
The weather was good that summer, and I was a bookworm. So I often sat on my front steps and read.
And so that’s what I did – just like I had done at my old house.
And not long after we moved in, a little girl walked by and stared at me.
And she walked past me a number of times.
And then she walked over to me.
“I’m Amy,” she said. “Do you want to play cards?”
Amy was a tall little girl, but still a little girl. But hey, I played cards with my little brother all the time. So I agreed.
And I grabbed a pack of cards and we sat on the steps and played.
It turned out that Amy was eleven years old. She chattered about everything and anything while we played. I learned all about her family and her school and the neighborhood. She told me about all the other kids – and it turned out that there were not a lot of teenagers in the neighborhood after all. One boy who lived just a few houses down – “Very cute but very conceited”, confided Amy. And a few others she saw around but didn’t really know. After all, she was eleven. What teenager would hang around with an eleven-year-old?
Me, that’s who. I hung around with an eleven-year-old.
All summer. We played cards and board games and we took walks. We listened to music. She had a great record collection for an eleven-year-old. And she was smart… really smart. I have to admit I was a little embarrassed sometimes to be seen with such a little kid – but really, who was there to see me? I was alone and lonely. Overwhelmingly I was just happy to have a friend.
School finally started. I did meet teenagers who lived near me. And I recognized a few faces from my old grammar school. And I made friends in my classes. Quite a few are still my friends more than fifty years later.
Amy went back to her grammar school too. And played with kids her own age.
But every once in a while, for the next year or two, we hung out. Mostly in the summer. I remember playing the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album over and over in Amy’s room when I was 16 and Amy was 12.
If Amy’s mother thought it was weird – or even unhealthy – for a teenager to hang out with her little girl, she never said a word. She and Amy’s dad and her whole family were never anything but kind and welcoming.
My own mother was kind about it – she knew I was lonely. She just cautioned me not to push Amy to grow up before her time.
Of course with that age difference, it wasn’t long before I was off to college while Amy was just starting high school. It was inevitable that eventually we lost touch.
Skip ahead a short 52 years.
I was looking at the Facebook page from my hometown, and there was a name that looked familiar.
I jumped right on and re-introduced myself.
And Amy was just as happy to re-meet me and be friends as she was when she was eleven.
All those sweet memories are revived.
She has moved away from Connecticut. But one of the pleasures of social media is that friendships are so easily resumed. And now that we are both in our sixties, well, it turns out there isn’t an age difference after all.
How lucky I was that Amy wanted to be my friend – just when I needed one.
I don’t handle criticism well.
I can pretend to shrug it off, but truthfully, it’s hard. It’s hard to have someone say you’re wrong. It’s harder for someone to say you’re dumb. And it is downright scary for someone to say vicious, even threatening, things about you.
Two years ago, I tweeted often about my political stance, which is decidedly liberal – and always has been. (But bear with me, if you are more conservative: this really isn’t a liberal or political post). I often engaged with other political tweeters, commenting frequently with like-minded posts and sometimes, not often, arguing with the other side.
And then – inevitably, I suppose – I was attacked. I got sucked into a conversation that I should have avoided, since it is highly partisan and emotional, and it escalated. I should probably say that I sucked myself into that conversation, since no one forced me to add my two cents.
But regardless, we went back and forth with heated arguments that of course would never convince the other side – our relative positions were cast in concrete. And then, a third party jumped in and threatened me. I’m not exaggerating – an outside voice came in and threatened my life. And said she would laugh when I was killed.
Looking back on this incident, I am not even sure it was a human being. Bots were and probably still are rampant, but this attack was really vicious.
I totally freaked out. I believe in my cause and I’ve attended a rally or two. I even marched against two wars.
But I have never felt threatened. I have never been threatened. I always felt safe to express my opinion. And felt that others could do the same, by the way.
But I found out that I am not brave. I am astounded at the political figures on both sides who shrug off attacks. I wanted to change my name and go into hiding.
And in a way, I did.
First, though, I reported the threat to Twitter, who responded that the threat was somehow mysteriously “within their guidelines.” (Update: I believe they have improved upon this ridiculously low standard. I recently reported someone who I thought was threatening someone else, and they agreed and suspended the offender.)
Then I went through all my posts back to the beginning and deleted EVERY tweet that was even slightly political.
And I changed my Twitter handle from my own name, which I was using since I wanted to promote my books, to Not Quite Old, just like here on this blog. Of course, I am still promoting my books both here and on Twitter, so it’s easy enough to find out my name, but that one tiny extra layer of security is reassuring.
And I started to post only nice or funny tweets. Sweet and kind, like I try to do here.
And I no longer rise to the temptation of commenting on political or issue-related posts. There are enough comments. They don’t need me.
And lately, as you know if you are a regular reader here, I’ve taken to writing sweet little snippets of advice, from my dog Theo.
I like it. It works. I feel good.
And the best promotion for my tweets, and my blog, and my books is to also comment as Theo on one of Twitter’s most popular sites, Thoughts of Dog. When I comment there, I tend to use the same strange grammar, punctuation, and invented words that the author of Thoughts of Dog uses. He gets tons of traffic, and many people like my silly quips, and come over to my Twitter site. And from there, sometimes to my blog and even my books. But if they don’t, there is no harm done. I’m having fun and so is the audience.
But here’s where we loop around to criticism again.
Recently, I wrote a cute, dumb comment on Thoughts of Dog, and some guy retweeted it, commenting “imagine writing something this inane and thinking it is good.”
It hit a nerve.
And I immediately rattled off, “I have 3.500 followers. Have you reached 200 yet?”
I mean, really?
I’m not exactly screaming obscenities, and yet, it shows that I haven’t learned a whole lot.
I’m an ass. (and by the way, 3,500 followers is not exactly a big deal either.)
I can let criticism get under my skin. For no reason. Truly, the guy has under 200 followers. He wasn’t exactly dissing me to a mass audience. And even if he was – why did I have to take the bait?
Within fifteen minutes, I was sorry. (Probably 15 seconds, but I needed to get my blood pressure down first.)
I could have just deleted my tweet. But what does that say about me? That I can write something nasty and then just pretend that I didn’t?
So instead, I posted again. I said, “I’m sorry for my snide comment. It was mean and I am not a mean person. And so I apologize.”
The guy did not respond. But I felt better.
The next day I posted Theo’s Tip of the Day:
I know why I reacted. Especially now, after a few days have passed. The guy hit a nerve because I KNOW what I wrote was dumb and silly. I want to be respected as a serious writer and I am writing things like “i have to proteck the house from turkeys an hellocoppers.”
But I also know – now that a few days have passed – that being sweet and silly doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
These are stressful times. The news has us angry and fragile. That’s true from both sides of the aisle.
Sure, I am a serious writer. Sometimes.
But I know that if I can make someone smile once in a while, how bad could that be?
I’m not sorry about that.
This year has been stressful.
It seems no one can agree. And everyone not agreeing seems to have permission to be nasty about it. I wouldn’t say fuses are short. More like tempers have no fuse at all – they are just bursting into loud and flaming
assh explosions everywhere.
Two images I saw this week summed it up pretty well.
First, I was at a very nice authors’ event and when I went into the restroom, this is what I saw:
Here’s a closeup:
Yes, it is a screen built into the sink. You can advertise here.
I thought that mobile ads at the gas pump were too much. But now I can see ads as I wash my hands after peeing. I am a bit surprised they did not mount it right at eye height in the stall.
This is not good. I am trying very hard (and failing) to unplug from the media. It is all I can do to not bring my phone to the bathroom. I have gone back to the era of my childhood when I read the comet cans in the can. I can go (literally) for 30 seconds without looking at my phone. Do I really need screen time in the bathroom?
Here is the second image from this week:
Hilarious, yes. Scary? Definitely.
Like in the image, I do not even know where to begin to manage my stress.
I have mentioned before that a good, knowledgeable friend told me that the solution does not include sticking my head in the sand. As an intelligent, caring person, I cannot just ignore the terrible things that are happening in the world. I need to participate in the world, not withdraw from it.
I will quote again what she said – because we all (especially me) need to be reminded:
“You are a citizen of this world,” she said, “and you have a duty to live in the world and understand what is happening. And deal with it. Participate.
“But you also have a duty to be kind to yourself. Your health – both mental and physical – requires you to protect yourself so that you will be strong enough to participate.
“So, yes, pay attention to the world – but not EVERY MINUTE.
I need to pay attention to the world and also pay attention to me. I need to balance my stress with kindness. Kindness towards me.
I need pampering.
So do you.
I think pampering means paying attention.
Paying attention to the moment, the sensation, the immediate. The small detail, not the big picture.
I eat too fast. I pay no attention. I tell my dog as he’s scarfing down his kibble, “Savor!” But I hardly ever do. I have all but lost the satisfaction of the first crunch of the apple, the aroma of the pizza, the saltiness of the cracker, the slow dissolving of the chocolate. Can you eat peanuts one at a time? I find I have not even finished chewing before I am taking another. That poor peanut’s life is wasted because I did not even notice it.
But I am trying. Right this moment I am sipping tulsi tea. One tiny sip. It smells heavenly. the taste is exotic in my mouth. I am using a beautiful mug and it warms my hands. I am not drinking the tea to wash down a meal. The tea is an experience of its own. I respect it. I savor.
I shower too quickly. I pride myself on “in and out.” I soap up the shower scrubby and start at the top and quickly hit all my parts. Rinse off. Done.
Today I take a long slow shower. Yes, I use more hot water than I should. But, oh my, just for today. I stand under that shower head and feel the steamy spray on the top of my head, the back of my neck. The little rivers cascade down my arms. They splash onto the tiles. The soap smells like coconut. I savor.
I am reading a book for a friend’s book club. It’s a great book I read years before. So I can just skim through, and I am running out of time before the meeting. But I can read pretty quickly. I am a speed reader. I pride myself on this.
But I have a few credits on audible.com. So I download the book. I listen to someone else read to me. He reads so slowly. He reads about terrible events and still it relaxes me. And when he reads about lovely events, I think, take your time. I’m savoring this.
My dog whines to go out. He is a good boy and if I say, “Hurry up, we don’t have time,” he’ll stop immediately and do his business. No fooling around, no dawdling. He’s efficient.
Today I let him sniff every tree, search under every bush. He stops and puts his nose to the air and smells the breeze. He listens for the movement of a bird. I listen too. I bend and give him a hug. He is soft and warm. He smells slightly of popcorn. I savor him.
Back to my tea.
I savor the day.
OMG – Theo’s daily Twitter advice continues to grow more popular!
Two months ago, I said that Theo is more popular than I am.
He just took over my Twitter feed.
As of yesterday, my Twitter is no longer called Not Quite Old.
It is now officially
I am determined, however, to keep this blog my own. This is the place for Not Quite Old.
Writing about ME! Only. Me. Me. Me.
Except of course, that Theo will be my guest blogger.
Once in a while. Like today. As a genuine celebrity and Twitter sensation, he insists.
Here are a few of his recent tips:
Remember when you were a little kid and you’d meet some other kid in the playground or at school or in a store?
One of the first questions you always asked was, “How old are you?”
You were a little obsessed with age. You certainly didn’t want to play with a kid too much younger than you, because that would mean you were a little bit of a baby. And you didn’t want to play with someone older, both because they would not want to (see above) or if they insanely did want to, they would probably beat you at everything. Because an extra year in those days meant tons of extra experience.
As you got older, that age-obsession went away.
Okay, so it didn’t exactly.
It just got re-routed into a more subtle measurement: Success.
Is this guy making more money than you?
Is this woman already married and having children?
Does she still have the same hairdo as in high school? – and the male corollary: Does he have more hair than you?
And secretly – to yourself only – you added the qualifier:
And are they younger?
Maybe you didn’t go down that he-is-more-successful-even-though-he-is-younger-so-therefore-I-am-a-failure road very often.
But holy cow, I sure did.
I compared myself to others constantly. With the age qualifier added.
In my younger days, the age qualifier often helped. I didn’t mind (too much) if a person was more successful, had a better job, or made more money – as long as they were older than me. Because, well, they just had more time at it. Just like knowing that my older sister was bound to beat me at crazy eights.
It bugged me more when I saw women marrying and having children who were younger than me. They were supposed to wait their turn, thank you very much. How rude.
Then I got into the stage, in my thirties, where I also worried about age as it related to looks. Was she older than me and looked better? Was I older but looked younger? – which is what I always somehow decided.
I can remember the day – May of 1983. The local paper listed all the famous people having birthdays. And there he was:
The A-Team was a big hit on television, and Mr. T was the larger-than-life (literally) star.
and that day he was listed on the birthday page. (no internet back then). He was 31 years old.
I was 32.
I left my office and threw that newspaper on my best friend’s desk.
“Mr.T is younger than I am!!!” I hollered.
She became hysterical.
But not in the way that I was hysterical, of course.
But I couldn’t see the hilarity of my situation.
I was furious.
I did not want to be older than Mr. T.
It was all downhill from there.
I could no longer hide my age obsession.
I need to know how old everyone is.
As it relates to me.
When I watch old movies, I look for the character actor. Was that humorous old sidekick actually my age? Did you know, for example, that Hattie McDaniel was only 44 when she played Mammy in Gone With The Wind?
How much younger than me was the heroine? Was I old enough to be her mother? Meg Ryan, for example, is ten years younger than me. Not so much. But when I saw You’ve Got Mail, and envied her hairdo and her simple but cute clothes, I wondered whether I was too old to pull that off.
Now I watch TV with Wikipedia open on my laptop.
How old is Vanna White? Should she start wearing pastel sweater sets?
How about Mark Harmon? Will he have a heart attack running up those stairs?
Should the NYPD have forced Lenny Briscoe to retire before the Law And Order ever started?
How is it that the guy playing Tom Selleck’s father is 78 years old and Selleck is 73?
How is it that none of the teenagers on Riverdale look like teenagers?
And Tea Leoni on Madam Secretary? I’m fifteen years older. Can I copy her shoes?
And most horrible of all – reruns of The Golden Girls. I’m older now than those actresses were then. Should I buy some flowy tops? Have fluffier hair?
And the point of all this:
What the hell does it matter?
Why do I care?
I’ve been trying to figure this out.
I don’t think I am unique – I am pretty sure there are plenty of other people with an age fixation. But I don’t think it’s universal either, since I see lots of people who truly don’t care what age anyone is. They relate on a different plane.
I think perhaps my obsessive focus on the continuum of age is rooted in the idea that I never really found my place in it.
I’ve always been a little unstuck in time. A little unsure. A little adrift.
I’ve felt too young. Or too old. The little kid that admired my older sisters and envied my baby brother. The baby-face flat-chested teen that the boys had no interest in. I bumped through years (and years) of college – one day childish and the next day older than the professors.
My work years were a mystifying but inexorable transition from the smart-alecky girl younger than her subordinates to the oldest person in every meeting, answering to younger and younger smart-alecks.
And now I am retired, and I still don’t know where I belong.
What do retired people look like? Should I go gray and buy sensible shoes?
Sometimes (often, to be honest) I feel more attractive now than thirty years ago. But am I delusional? Do I look like an old fool in my Zumba class?
I know it doesn’t matter. I should just please myself in what I do and how I look. The nice thing about being old is that you can truly disregard what anyone else thinks.
I know age doesn’t make much of a difference in how you feel. My mother at 94 says she feels like the same person inside that she was sixty years ago. The outside has changed, but she’s still her.
And I agree that she’s the same.
The problem with ME being the same – is that I am not sure who that is.
Except that it is someone older than Mr. T.
P.S. – Amazon is offering the Kindle version of my novel, LUCINDA’S SOLUTION.. for just $1.99 through October 6. Here’s the link.
I was speaking recently with a friend, and he said that he finds himself more fearful now that he is older.
He said, “I feel vulnerable. Now that I am old and not as strong as I used to be, I worry that someone could hurt me. That in a bad situation I might not be able to protect myself. It’s a terrible feeling to have to think about that.”
I was impressed that he could share that vulnerability with me.
But part of me wanted to laugh.
I didn’t, of course. He was thoughtful, sincere, open. So I was open with him as well.
“I understand how that feeling of vulnerability can be overwhelming. But think about this: IT IS WHAT GIRLS FEEL EVERY DAY. Girls – from the time they are small -understand vulnerability. We know that there are others who are bigger and stronger and can hurt us. We are aware – all the time – of the danger that may suddenly surround us. But we never let it stop us. Don’t let it stop you either.”
Here is my blog from two years ago. It seems timely once again.
Girls are brave.
Some men know this. I think many do not, because they cannot share the same reality. Most try.
Girls are brave.
We know from such an early age – before kindergarten probably – that in general:
- Boys are bigger.
- Boys are stronger.
- And a few – just a few, but an important few – are rougher and meaner.
We know these facts.
But yet we go on with our lives. We live day to day with the implicit – and sometimes explicit – vulnerability. And yet we put it aside and go on.
Everyday things. We don’t even think about them. But underneath the surface, we know that any moment can be dangerous.
We all – boys and girls both – are vulnerable as children. Bigger kids can hurt us. We know this for sure. And although adults overwhelmingly would give their lives to protect children, we are warned again and again about the adults who could do us harm.
But boys (for the most part) can outgrow their vulnerability.
Girls keep it for life.
Women know that in general:
- Men are bigger.
- Men are stronger.
- And a few – just a few, but an important few – are rougher and meaner.
Yet we go on.
We walk alone to our cars at night.
We ride buses and subways and trains and taxis, and allow people to see where we are going, to see our habits and our schedules.
We shop with purses that can be grabbed. We carry too much – our arms are full. We try on clothes in dressing rooms with curtains that don’t quite exactly close.
We rent apartments and buy houses, and call repairmen and let them in.
We work overtime in half-deserted offices, dark corridors, shadowy stairwells.
We travel for business and pleasure. We walk through airports. We check into hotels. We ride elevators.
We drive alone – knowing that if we are broken down on the side of the road, the person who stops may not be stopping to help.
We get lost. We ask strangers which way to go.
Ordinary things. Not dangerous things. Except maybe. Sometimes.
Yet we go on.
We go on because we know that the odds are in our favor. That most men will love us and treat us with kindness and respect. And perhaps will be there for us in our most vulnerable moments. Help us when the minuscule fraction of mean and rough men might do us harm.
And we try our best to be strong enough to take care of ourselves.
But we know. It could happen.
Sexual assault is real. It doesn’t have to result in physical injury to injure us.
Here is my story. It’s a small story. Nothing really – not compared to what others experience.
I was nineteen. I had been visiting friends in Hartford, Connecticut, and was waiting for the bus that would bring me the twenty miles back home to Bristol.
It was a warm June day, 1970, and I was a teenager. Yes, I was wearing a miniskirt. Perhaps to some that makes it my fault.
It was the middle of the afternoon. The bus stop was crowded with people waiting for their various buses on busy Main Street.
A man approached me. He leaned into me, and I backed up. He continued his intimidation, and I continued to back up, until I was pressed against the wall of the building behind me.
He put his hands on me. Pressing my shoulders to the wall with his thumbs near my breasts. His face was inches from mine as he leered. I was motionless with fear. Many long seconds of fear. (or was it just a few?)
The bus arrived and I slapped his hands away and ran to the curb.
When I boarded the bus, I told the driver that a man had “bothered” me (the euphemism of the time, and that I was afraid he would get on the bus. The driver had me sit right behind him, assured me that he would not let this guy touch me again. He told me to point the creep out if he tried to board the bus. Thankfully, the creep did not board.
And it was over. Just a small, short, unpleasant experience. Not much. Nothing, really.
But here’s the thing.
This was a crowded bus stop. The sidewalk was full of people. These people saw this happen. They watched. I saw them watch.
If one person had said, “Hey, stop that,” it might have ended before he touched me. But no one said anything.
And back on the bus, safe but shaken, a man in a business suit approached me and asked if I was all right. He had been there.
I asked, “Why are you asking now? Why didn’t you say something at the time?”
He answered, “I thought perhaps he was your boyfriend and you were just having a fight.”
I realize that this episode was not a big deal. It did not affect my life in any significant way. Women have experienced much, much worse.
But I did learn a few things:
That women are always vulnerable, not just when we are alone.
That some people, like that kind bus driver, will help if they can. But other people may not step in and help us. They may look the other way when a woman is in danger.
And I think most discouraging of all – that some people may feel that if a woman is in a relationship, that gives the man a right to touch her like that.
We are vulnerable.
And yet we go on.
Because we are brave.
Because it’s nothing. Right?
Recently I wrote that I love my things, but my things don’t love me back. (The Things I Love)
And I do love my stuff. But I often find myself minimizing my stuff. You know, pretending that I don’t care about it or that I only bought it because it was on sale – the kind of thing you say because you don’t want to seem to be too boastful about all your stuff.
And something happened a couple of days ago that left me thinking about loving my possessions.
We went to one of our numerous county fairs. It was incredibly hot for September and the fair was crowded. And since it was the last day, most of the events were over. My husband and I were trying not to eat too much junk. Given all of that, we were not exactly having a good time. I was cranky and sweaty, miserable and complaining mightily to my equally miserable husband. I mean, for God’s Sake, even the Apple Fritters tasted horrible. So there I was, visibly gaining weight by the second right through my sweat on food that didn’t even taste good!
I stopped off at the restroom. Now restrooms at the county fairs can be nasty places, although this one wasn’t too too awful. They have an attendant making sure that people flush and clean up and not make a mess because for some reason, people are disgusting at the fair. (Perhaps because they are hot and as cranky as heck?)
Well, I managed not to have a melt-down in the hot restroom and as I was washing my hands, I watched a young girl and her mother. I would guess this girl was maybe eleven or so – not a little child but not a teenager either. That awkward age. I love that awkward age, by the way – those kids are unbelievably interesting, if anyone ever bothers to listen to them.
Anyhow, this young girl was changing her shirt, right in the center of the restroom. Because she had bought a little top and wanted to wear it immediately.
And here is what she said – on that miserable steaming day in that putrid bathroom:
“Oh my God, Mom. It’s perfect! I love it! I LOVE it!!!!
This was a black racerback tank top with a heart or rainbow or some other trivial design.
And the girl was right.
It was perfect.
BECAUSE she loved it.
I went out and rejoined my husband and he bought me a gajillion-calorie frozen cappuccino.
And I felt a lot better.
I went home and gave a little extra love to some of the things I love: my shower, my aromatic shampoo, my hairdryer, my makeup, my pantry, my air conditioning, my comfortable flipflops.
And I put on a black racerback tank top.
Today, for my daily tip from Theo on Twitter, I posted:
Years ago I went out to San Diego to attend a wedding.
I had never been to California before.
I think now – at the place I am in my life right now – I would fit in quite well.
But thirty-five years ago, it was quite a shock.
Because I met people who were enjoying themselves.
I couldn’t fathom it.
I met four women who lived together in a rather small apartment. Each worked part-time: waitressing, office work, cleaning houses.
I met a guy and his wife who were caddying at a golf course.
We all went to a Padres game (the first Major League baseball game I ever saw, and I saw a grand slam home run, by the way). All these folks came with us to the game. It was a weekday afternoon. No one I met said, “Sorry, I have to work.”
We went to Tijuana for a little shopping. We went to the beach. We went to the zoo.
No one said, “Sorry, I have to work.”
These folks didn’t have much. They were – in my mind – one shaky step ahead of bankruptcy. They all seemed to work just enough to avoid eviction. They owned a couple of changes of clothes. One or two had a car – an old car. It was a life lived in flipflops and sunglasses.
I have to admit – I was appalled.
I was working my ass off in Connecticut at a fifty-plus hour/week job. I had just finished graduate school while working full time. I had recently been promoted and working towards the next one. I had a decent apartment, no roommate, a late-model car, a closet full of clothes and shoes. I had purchased a dress for that California wedding, but wasn’t sure how dressy the wedding would be, so I bought a second dress – just in case.
One day on this trip, just before the wedding, I was making conversation with the husband of the husband/wife caddy team while he prepared a memorable and deliciously simple dinner, and I remarked at how many people worked only part-time.
“Is the job market really soft out here?” I asked.
“Not really, ” said the husband. “It’s the weather.”
“Yeah. It’s just about perfect here every day. If you worked all the time, you couldn’t enjoy it.”
“But if it’s perfect every day, you could work more and you would still be pretty sure of having beautiful weather when you got a day off.”
“Ah,” he said. “But why not enjoy it more?”
How lazy was that!
How would he ever get a car?
How would he ever have a nicer apartment?
And what about the latest clothes?
And the satisfaction of a great job and money in the bank?
Where was his ambition?
Why was he living hand-to-mouth, day-to-day?
Why was he not planning for the future?
Why couldn’t he see the big picture?
What a fool he was.
But thirty-five years later –
Now I know.
Because I see the big picture.
He really was living day to day.
He really did have an ambition.
To live day to day.
To live each day.
What a fool I was.
Years ago, when I was just starting my working career, I rented a tiny apartment from a very nice older couple.
These folks, Mr. and Mrs. Manchester, were really old. I mean, they must have been the age that my husband and I are now. But of course, that made them very old indeed to me at the time.
They had a lovely old house with a detached two-car garage in their backyard. Years before, the husband had built a studio apartment over the garage for his own mother, where she had lived for many years. After she passed away, the apartment stayed empty for quite some time, and eventually, they decided to rent it out.
They rented it completely furnished with all the old woman’s things – which was perfect for a young person like me who had nothing. There were furniture, pots and pans and dishes, a vacuum cleaner and an ironing board and iron (I love to iron, by the way… I really do.) The tiny kitchen had a two burner stove and a bar-sized refrigerator. But that was perfect for me, since I ate mostly canned ravioli and hotdogs.
I had a very-low paying but promising job that had taken me eighteen months to find. As an English major, my office skills were sparse, but I knew the alphabet. I could file and type. And the small nonprofit I worked for did not have a big staff, so they were happy to get someone with good brains, who’d work for peanuts. And it wasn’t long before they encouraged me to acquire some business skills – by paying my tuition for an MBA.
In the meantime though, I had plenty of nothin’ and was happy to have a pot for my ravioli and an iron, even if it meant I had to wash my hair in the old claw foot tub.
And my landlords were generous and kind and smart. They left me veggies from their garden in the summer and cleaned the snow and ice off my car in the winter.
I often stayed for a cup of tea with the missus when I stopped by on the first of the month to pay my rent.
Their house wasn’t fancy but it had a warm well-used kitchen, good furniture (including a baby grand piano) and some interesting art in all the rooms.
One day over tea, I notice some beautiful plates on display in the dining room.
“Those are really lovely,” I said.
Mrs. Manchester aid, “Thank you. They are very old family heirlooms. They are precious to me.” She added, “Do you see that the one on the right has been broken and glued back together?”
“I see that now,” I said.
“My grandchildren broke that piece three years ago. Knocked it off the wall.”
“What a shame.”
She laughed. “If my own kids had done it I would have strangled them. But when it’s your grandchildren, you say, ‘Oh, that’s okay, sweethearts.’ And you get out the glue.”
“I guess so,” I answered doubtfully.
“I thought my heart would break,” she said. “But it didn’t.”
Years later, I surprised myself by becoming rather a business success. I eventually got myself a beautiful condo and lovely expensive furniture, including some antiques. I acquired fine dishes and crystal and a few good pieces of art.
Of course, I had to clean the snow off my car myself, so there’s that.
Also eventually, my adorable sister had a bunch of adorable kids, and my nephews and niece became an important, loving part of my world.
Mostly I visited – and babysat – at their place, which was childproofed in every inch of every room, of course.
My place was a bit more fragile.
But I loved having the family over. When I wasn’t working like a maniac of course… which was most of the time.
So there’s that.
And one day when my family had come to visit, the kids were playing in my spare bedroom and there was considerable noise emanating from that direction.
My brother-in-law frowned. He said, “I worry about all your beautiful things when we come here. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t visit until the kids are out of college.”
And I thought of Mrs. Manchester and laughed – like she laughed when she told me the story of her family heirlooms.
“Oh no!” I said. “You – and the kids – can come anytime. You are always welcome here.”
“But what if they break something precious?” he asked.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I love my things. I really do. But you know… my things don’t love me back.”
My heirlooms. Only one set loves me back.