Recently I overheard two women discussing how their lives turned out so differently from what they had imagined.
It got me to thinking about how that might be true for me too.
Only when I really thought about it, I could not claim my life was different from what I had pictured, because I realized that I had never really pictured it.
Oh, I had some vague daydreams about a job and a house and a family, but when I say “vague” – I mean this faint, shadowy idea that someday I might be an adult, and adult people did things like that.
Because, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t really see it.
I never really thought about my future. When I was a kid, I didn’t fantasize about being a grown up. I didn’t especially see an advantage to being an adult – except for the freedom to to wear makeup and not eat vegetables. It seemed to me that kids had a lot more fun. Grownup fun seemed to revolve watching kids have fun. I’d rather do the fun part myself.
And I didn’t think too much about having money of my own. Or transportation. I lived in the kind of town where I could walk just about anywhere. And I felt rich if I had a dime for a candy bar, or went to the movies once in a while.
I liked the thought of being in high school, and listened to the stories my sisters told when they got there, and of course envied that they got out of the horrendous parochial-school uniforms, but I didn’t visualize myself there, dreaming up stories about walking through the corridors or having lunch with my friends. I just eventually got there, and talked to some kids, and made it through.
I didn’t think much about college either. When it came time to apply, I looked through college catalogs in the guidance office, and then just applied to Nurses’ Training, mostly because my mother was a nurse and I thought (even in 1969, when I was rebelling against everything) that she was the coolest person I knew.
I didn’t like Nursing though. I quit – spontaneously – I just took a bus home one day, and told my parents I didn’t like it and could they give me a ride back to get my stuff.
I got a job at the Phone Company. It was really boring. So I figured I needed to go back to school. I went to my old high school and back to the same guidance office, and asked my old Guidance Counselor what to do. He said to apply to the state schools, and so I did. And so I went there.
I loved it. But I didn’t know what to major in. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. (This could be an inherited trait; my father used to say – even in his eighties – that he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up.) I still could not picture myself in the future. I sampled all the possible courses – I had Bookkeeping and well as Beekeeping, Drawing as well as Psychology. I ended up finally with a degree in English – because through it all, I loved to read and to write.
And after I finished school, I took a job. Any job. The first job I was offered. This wasn’t easy because: 1) The economy was terrible; and 2) I was an English major.
It was an office job – typing, filing, shuffling paper. But I liked it. And the Director of Finance saw that I was pretty smart and told me the company would send me back to school for an M.B.A.
So I did.
And then spent the next thirty-five years developing budgets and playing with numbers.
And it was okay. Good, actually.
Oh, and there was marriage. I knew (again in a vague-ish way) that it would be nice to get married. But I couldn’t visualize it. I never had a goal or a dream wedding. I never practiced writing Mrs. Nancy Anybody. Not when I was 10, not when I was 16, not when I was 36.
But I kept stumbling through the dating rituals. And eventually, almost 40, I found a guy I liked who liked me too. We were temperamentally very different but we seemed to suit each other just fine.
I married at forty. I didn’t have my dream wedding, because I didn’t have a dream. But I had a wonderful, sweet wedding that mimicked all the nice weddings I had been to in the past. I tried on two gowns (from the sale-sample rack) and bought the nicer one.
And we’re still married 25 years later. And we bought a house, and then built a house, and have had a slew of cats (I think the correct term – like pride of lions or school of fish – is an enigma of cats). And now a dog.
Did I plan any of this? Well, I must confess, you don’t build a house on whim. A huge amount of planning went into our home. But the pertinent question here is: Did I ever visualize myself living in the home as we planned it? No.
So I wonder – Why don’t I daydream? Why don’t construct elaborate scenarios of the future?
It isn’t lack of imagination. I can certainly create all kinds of elaborate stories. I wrote a whole NOVEL, for God’s sake. Ninety-two thousand words imagining complete lives for people who don’t even exist.
I think the answer is this:
I am superstitious.
This surprises me. On the surface, I never thought I was.
But now after all these years, I see that it is true.
I am afraid to envision a future. To create a hope of how my life will turn out, because it may not turn out that way. I have always been afraid to be disappointed.
So I have stumbled through life without a plan – accepting what came. Delighting in it if it was good (which it mostly was) and shrugging off what was not so good as just another passing experience.
But now I am old. I am past my fear of disappointment. Past the worry of ruining my life.
I know now that I am strong enough to live poor, to manage adversity, to live alone if need be. To handle whatever may come. Because I have welcomed “whatever may come” for more than 65 years, with what I think is grace and balance.
So now I want to imagine.
I want to build a castle in the air.
To create for myself one remarkable crazy breath-taking daydream.
And have it come true.
(Here’s an oldie while I continue to work on a post that is refusing to come together….)
MY DAY OFF
You know what’s almost as much fun as doing what you love to do?
Doing what your spouse loves to do.
Doing what my husband likes to do is usually awful.
But once in a while I feel like I should.
It’s not like it was part of my marriage vows or anything. I didn’t stand at the altar and promise to crawl through used-car lots just ‘to see’, or spend five hours in Cabela’s, or watch ice trucking shows.
But on the other hand, there was a vow that someone snuck in there that said ‘For Better or Worse.’
My husband’s idea of fun things to do is definitely part of ‘Worse.’
A few weeks ago we made our annual pilgrimage to the New York International Auto Show.
The Javitz Center has 675,000 square feet. That’s a shitload of cars.
Some are concept cars; some are vintage. There are rare cars. There are minivans. There are gull wings and limos and pickup trucks. Every single one is unique to my husband. every single one is identical to me.
Of course there are some fascinating things to do.
Like sit in one.
People wait in line to sit in a car. My husband is one. And he encourages me to do so.
“Try it,” he says after he gets out of an SUV that looks exactly like ours (and like every other SUV I have ever seen).
So I get in.
And guess what?
It feels …
like I am sitting in A CAR!
One of the best parts of the NY Car show is the food!
Once you enter the show, there is Absolutely No Re-entry. (That’s in BIG LETTERS at every door, and they have about 25,000 doors.)
So you eat in the Food Court. The Food Court is not a court with a judge and jury, but it does have criminals. Like the people who write the signs that say “Fresh” and “Tasty” – or the people who price the water at $4.00.
But I find ways to amuse myself.
Mostly by listening (okay, half-listening) to my husband amuse himself.
Because what he likes best at the car shows is the opportunity to torment the sales reps.
(If I insult your favorite car here, please forgive me. I am just the (food) court reporter.)
To the Lincoln rep he said: “Over the last ten years you guys have eliminated every distinctive feature. Now it looks mostly like a Mopar shitbox.”
To the Toyota rep: “How are you doing with all those lawsuits?”
To the Ford truck rep, whose ‘concept’ truck has a ladder rack that pops up from the tailgate: “This was obviously designed by an idiot who never used a truck, since you can’t get anything out of the bed without taking the ladder off.” (He had a point on this one.)
To the Chevy rep (who was pretty): “You seem to know a little more about this vehicle than most of the morons who work for Chevy.”
To the Jeep rep, who offered my husband a chance to win $45,000 towards the purchase of a Jeep: “”Hmmm, $45,000 isn’t quite enough to make me want to drive a Jeep.”
Hubby was nice to the BMW guy. (Hubby loves Beemers.) They had a nice long conversation about the wonder of the Beemers, and I didn’t mind because Beemer-guy was very very extra cute.
But the best thing about the New York International Auto Show:
Oh yeah, I get MILEAGE!
He will owe me for MONTHS.
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 if 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.
Some men get this. Louis C.K., for example, said that he can’t believe the courage it must take for women to accept a first date. “Yes, I’ll go out with you. Alone. At Night…..I’ll get in your car.”
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?
Do you have a similar story? Please consider sharing it – share it here, or share it with your friends, on your own blog, on Facebook, with your family. Anywhere.
It’s time to speak up.
I’m thinking about my father this weekend. He would have been 94 on Saturday. He died 6 years ago and I miss him every day. But I remember him not with sorrow but with joy and laughter.
Here’s a post I wrote four years ago, in honor of his 90th.
Today would have been my father’s 90th birthday.
In honor of the occasion, I’d like to honor some of his favorite things.
My father’s earliest memories included going to the theater to see Tom Mix in a silent movie. To Dad, Tom Mix was a real cowboy. (He certainly had a real hat, don’t you think?) Now Roy Rogers may have had Trigger, the Lone Ranger had Silver, and Gene Autry had Champion, but did you know Tom Mix’s horse was called Tony? What the heck kind of horse name is Tony?
Silly puns: My Dad loved silly rhymes and puns. He liked to make up stupid names for people. Whenever he spoke of Tom Mix, for example, he always called him “Tom Mixin’ Cement”. Doesn’t make any sense, but he liked it. Or he’d see Wayne Newton on TV, and he’d say, “I used to know his brother, Fig.”
How often would he say that? Every time. How often did we groan? Every time.
And speaking of silly puns – none of us will ever forget his favorite song: “It had to be stew. Meat and beans wouldn’t do.”
Dad loved peanut butter. He especially liked cheap peanut butter. The type with oil floating on the top. In his last few years, he often needed nursing home care, and he hated the institutional food. My mother would bring him his favorite snack – raisin bread with peanut butter. Now you have to admit – that is a pretty good snack.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.:
A while back I wrote about my old crush on David McCallum. I owe that infatuation to my father. Dad liked TV, but he usually let us kids watch what we wanted. When I was thirteen, I was still stupidly stuck on “The Beverly Hillbillies”. But my father heard about this new show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” that was on NBC opposite the Hillbillies. I was upset that he wanted to change the channel. I cried (which usually worked) – but for once he insisted. “Let’s just try it,” he said. And I fell in love. And his grandfather’s name was Napoleon (truly), so Dad was delighted too.
Golf: My father liked all sports. According to my mother, he was a very good athlete as a young man, and I certainly believe it. But except for his bowling night that I vaguely recall back when I was little, I only remember him playing golf. He played well into his seventies, and I played with him a few times. He had an easy swing, and I remember him aiming to the left of the flag to compensate for his natural slice. Our local course was a short par 3. He never used a wood – he could hit the ball as far with his iron, slice or not. He may have played a mean game with this friends, but I doubt it. I think he was probably as relaxed and calm with them as he was with me.
We watched a lot of televised golf once his health started failing. (Actually, we always watched a lot of golf – I remember watching Arnold Palmer.) Dad had some moderate dementia in his last years, and he came to believe that Phil Mickelson was his golf buddy. “See that guy, Mickelson?” he’d ask me. “I used to play with him all the time.” I’d say, “Did you beat him?” And he’d smile.
My father loved clam chowder. But not the milky New England clam chowder. He liked Rhode Island clam chowder with a red clear broth that was an old family recipe. Or his recipe, maybe. My Dad didn’t do very much cooking, but he liked to make the clam chowder himself. He would spend the better part of the day creating his masterpiece. He was very particular about his chowder. He was not very particular about the state of the kitchen.
Family: Dad loved my mother and us kids and his whole family. His loved his parents and his aunts and uncles and his brother and his sisters. He loved his nephews and his niece. He loved his children’s spouses. He loved his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren.
On Father’s Day a few years ago, he had one too many martinis with my husband, and my brother-in-law practically had to carry both my father and my husband out of the restaurant. I drove home. Dad sat in the passenger seat and told me repeatedly that I was going in the wrong direction. “But I love you anyway,” he said. “Having you kids was the best thing I ever did.”
I think so too.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
I was mean yesterday.
Not mean like making someone cry, or repeating malicious gossip, or (worst of all) slapping the dog. Not mean mean.
Just a little mean. I was rude on the phone.
I heard from my doctor’s office that Medicare had my coverage screwed up. This was the first time I have used it since turning 65. And my claim was denied.
So I got on the phone with Medicare. That alone brings my blood pressure up. Not Medicare per se, or even the hold time, which was considerable. But the phone. I hate talking on the phone.
So after my required 13 minutes of hold time, listening to unpleasant music and promos for Medicare’s Facebook site (I wonder if they post pictures of kittens?), I finally got a real person and explained the issue.
While trying to explain, the dog of course was alternately barking his crazy head off and chewing up some recent mail.
But I managed to get the gist from the Medicare representative. She told me that in order to correct the coverage discrepancy she needed me to get one piece of information from my previous employer. And then call back.
Hang up, make another phone call to get a required date, and then make another phone call to give that date to Medicare.
And I said, “Well, that’s a pain in the ass.”
As if this was some horrible unacceptable huge terrible disgusting task.
And I bitched about it on Facebook too. (Although not on Medicare’s page… only to my own, always-sympathetic, friends. Friends who might actually have REAL problems.)
By the way, after I had made that unpleasant comment, the Medicare rep responded, “I’m sorry.”
I think 2016 may go down in history as “The Year of Nasty”. The year that it became acceptable to be mean. To let our basest, least civil instincts rule. To be proud of our nastiness. To stop trying to rise above our prejudices and petty hatreds. To stop trying to become better people.
We’ve been given permission to be mean. Some of us would like to elect someone who enjoys incivility: rudeness, contempt, blame, name-calling. Millions of Americans think that it is time to have a leader with these so-called tell-it-like-it-is traits.
Yesterday I caught myself being unnecessarily rude. And thinking it over, being rude is pretty much always unnecessary.
So today I resolved to do better.
I called Medicare. And I listened patiently to their Facebook promos as their five-minute hold became seven-and-a-half.
And I finally got a nice woman on the line.
“How can I help you today?” she said.
And I responded:
“Yesterday I called about a coverage issue, and I was rude to one of your co-workers. And I am sorry for that. You aren’t the person I talked to, but I’m sure that someone else like me owes you an apology too. So you can help me today by accepting my apology.”
It’s a start.
Late in the planting season, after the rest of the garden was in, my husband regretted that he had not planted any beans.
The raised beds were all full, but we had some whiskey barrels that we usually filled with herbs and flowers. We never planted beans in barrels before, but it was worth a try. So hubby bought a few packets of bean seeds and put them tenderly in the barrels. Literally, we let nature takes its course.
And sure enough, the beans started to grow.
The yellow beans got thick and bushy right away, but the green beans seemed to languish. They came up, but they were thin and sad.
It occurred to my husband that perhaps he had not planted bush beans, but pole beans.
So he built a little impromptu trellis, saying sweetly to the beans, “Here you go. Give this a try.”
And sure enough, the beans started to grow.
It was absolutely amazing the way they climbed that trellis.
In four days, the beans looked like this:
I was very impressed at the willpower of those little bean seeds to twist and hang on and climb as fast as they could.
And the green beans grew thick and happy and caught up with their yellow counterparts.
Then an even more amazing thing happened.
When the beans reached the top of the trellis, they didn’t stop.
But because they were in a pot, there was nowhere for the little buggers (I use that term endearingly… they had no bugs) to go.
Except one place.
About two feet away was a single basket of coleus, hanging from a shepherd’s hook in the lawn.
The only, only thing near the beans.
And the beans sent out a shoot.
The plant did not send out a bunch of shoots, trying randomly to hit something. It didn’t reach to the South to the sun.
It went North. It sent out one – and only one – tendril aimed directly at the coleus.
It hovered in mid-air for several days.
I didn’t encourage the little bugger, I didn’t say “You’re getting warm” or “Keep up the good work” or “One more foot” or anything.
But it grew and grew, balancing in the air, and then:
One morning the little curly filament had latched onto the edge of the basket.
And it climbed the basket chain. And the flowers came, and then the beans.
I have a close friend who can’t stand the overused word, “Awesome.”
But this bean plant is AWESOME.
How did it KNOW?
It has no eyes, no sense of smell, no compass.
But it grew to the one and only support nearby.
My bean has a brain.
And this makes me wonder.
Wonder why a bean can reach its goal, when a human being cannot.
I’ve given it a lot of thought over the past two weeks, and I think I have come up with the answer.
The bean had only one goal.
It wasn’t thinking about work, money, tweets, politics, dinner, shopping, dusting, pets, television, retirement, taxes, losing weight, solitaire, children, sex, shoes, weather, writing, hairstyles, bosses, healthcare, laundry, cars, facebook, parents, school, oil prices, social security, manicures, snacks, flossing, yoga, traffic, makeup, lawncare, or the afterlife.
So CONCENTRATE, people!
This week, I had my usual lunch with Mom, but with an added treat. Both sisters joined us and we all had a fabulous visit.
We usually space out our visits on different days, so my mother can have lots of company, but being together this week was a treat for Mom too. She always mentions to me the pleasure she gets by seeing how we all love each other.
(We also had the youngest great grandson, not quite two, so we even had someone to lavish all our attention on – making it a special delight.)
It occurred to me that my sisters and I have had crazily different conversations of the 65 years I have been a part of the family.
From mastering the tricycle, to homework, to boyfriend strategy, to work dilemmas – we have had every conversation three sisters could have. And now we discuss retirement and Medicare options.
And during our Medicare conversation, it hit me.
My mother is one of us too.
We are all senior citizens – with pension checks, Medicare cards, and the search for comfortable shoes.
So now the generations have merged. My mother is still our mother, but time has also made her our contemporary.
We are all old together.
But my mother has been in the ‘Old’ business quite a bit longer than my sisters and I have.
And I’ve learned a lot about aging well from her.
Most importantly, I learned this:
Getting old is about Balance.
And yes, superficially Balance means just staying on your feet without falling over – and that is the fundamental trick to Old Age.
But I also see that how my mother succeeds in her nineties is by another kind of Balance.
She balances two undeniable aspects of Old Age:
- Accepting your limitations.
- Pushing past them.
And understanding where that line is – where the Balance is – is where you find the joy in being old.
I see my mom – every day –
Finding the balance between caring about appearance and enjoying the freedom of not fussing.
Mom still wants to look nice, with neat hair and makeup, and fashionable and pretty clothes. But then she says:
“This is the best I can do for today, and I look good, or at least good enough.”
“No one cares anymore what I look like anyway. Sometimes that’s depressing and sometimes that’s really nice.”
“If I don’t have any food stains on my clothes, I’m well-dressed.”
On the other hand, a few weeks ago my sister took Mom to a shoe store that specializes in orthopedic shoes, as my mother’s arthritis has played havoc with the shape of her toes. Mom tried on a few pair, and then said to the salesperson:
“I’m not ready yet to wear shoes this ugly. Maybe next year.”
Finding the balance between staying active and recognizing physical constraints.
Sometimes we (mostly my sister – thank you, Chris) take her grocery shopping and sometimes she gives us a list. Sometimes she goes to Claudia’s for Sunday dinner, and sometimes she just asks them to bring her the leftovers. And sometimes I help with the laundry, and sometimes she just throws the towels down the cellar stairs to take care of it later.
“I can push the cart around the supermarket because it’s almost like a walker, but I don’t think I’ll go to the other end of the store today for milk.”
“I have decided not to drive anymore. I hate always needing a ride, but I know my reflexes are way too slow, and I could never hit the brakes fast enough in an emergency.”
“Don’t call me before ten. I need several hours just to get my parts moving.”
“I don’t mind going to the doctor and having that pain checked out. But I am not promising I’ll do anything about it.”
Finding the balance between being an active member of society and just letting go.
“I am definitely voting this year. But I may need an absentee ballot.”
“I am the oldest person in my retirees’ group. So I don’t go to the luncheon every time, but once in a while I say yes.”
“I need to cash this ridiculously small dividend check. If I don’t cash it, the company may think I’m dead, and stop paying me.”
“I know what’s going virus on the internet. They show it on the Today show.”
Finding the balance between worrying and laughter.
“With all this time alone, there is no end to the stuff I worry about. I have to continually tell myself to just stop it and go to sleep. Things will be better in the morning.”
“It doesn’t matter that I can’t reach up to the top shelf – I just keep stuff in the oven – I don’t use the oven anymore anyway. If you’re looking for the cookies, just look in there.”
“I try to clean the house a little every day – but you know something? When your vision is not so good, it doesn’t really matter, because you can’t see the dirt anyway.”
And most important:
Finding the balance between simplifying life and indulging oneself.
In the grocery store last week, my mother put the cookies that I like in her basket. But before we checked out, she had me run back to the cookie aisle and put them back. And get the ones SHE likes instead. Good for her.
And she enjoys scratch-off lottery tickets. She buys 6 a week. One each for Chris and her. And one each for Claudia and her. And one each for me and her. If we win a little, we buy more tickets. If it’s a medium win, whoever has the winning ticket keeps the cash. And although it has never happened, she always promises,
“If it’s a big win, we split the money!”
And more on treating yourself kindly:
“What I like best on TV is the romantic movies on Lifetime. I’ve seen them all a dozen times, but it doesn’t really matter, because I never can remember them anyway.”
“I haven’t got much for entertainment anymore, but I like when you show me the family pictures on Facebook from your phone.” (So I scroll through during every visit and she sees all the photos.)
“When your dad was alive, we always used to have a drink and some crackers and cheese while we watched late night TV. And I still do. I get in my pajamas and turn out the lights, and I have a little plate I make ahead of time with crackers and cheese, and a glass of wine. And to tell you the truth… sometimes it isn’t wine.”
And then she whispers,
I love that we are now contemporaries as Senior Citizens.
She is the old lady I want to be.
It was totally not my fault.
My sweet great aunties bear all the blame.
I was fifteen years old when my parents moved crosstown and I changed high schools. It was just under 2 miles from our new house to the school, so by a distance of about one block I did not qualify for the school bus. A public bus made the rounds though, and picked up everyone in our neighborhood for a small monthly fee.
Getting home was a bit more difficult. The city bus left the high school immediately after school got out at 2PM. So if you wanted to stay for a club or event, you were on your own. The two mile walk wasn’t too bad in good weather, so often I walked.
But there was another alternative. My father’s aunts – the sisters of my grandmother – lived not too far from the high school. And I could walk over there and my mother would pick me up when she left work at 3:30.
So once or twice a week I did that. I walked over to my aunts’ little house.
Lillian and Lora were the sweetest ladies in the world. And they were always happy to see me. And they would give me a cookie and a ginger ale.
But they did not allow conversation.
Not at that time of day.
I’d knock on the kitchen door, and Aunt Lil would let me in and she’d say,
“Hurry up. Come in quick. The STORIES are on.”
Yes, Aunt Lillian and Aunt Lora were addicted to the Soaps.
All 4-foot-nine of her (including her 4-foot-nine bosom) would hustle back to the living room, so as not to miss a word. The cookie would have to wait for a commercial.
I usually caught the end of Days Of Our Lives and a good part of Another World. The aunts informed me that they used to watch the stories on CBS but had switched over to NBC recently in protest to some terrible storyline, which was too upsetting to talk about. (I believe a contract dispute resulted in the untimely death of their favorite character). But now they thought Another World was absolutely the best of “The Stories” on “The TV” – as they always referred to it.
My aunts especially loved Another World’s triangle of Alice and Steve and Rachel. The best thing about Soaps is the clear-cut lines between good and evil. Alice was an angel. Rachel was a conniving bitch. My aunties loved them both. (By the way, Steve was a pompous ass – but my aunties didn’t share that opinion.)
I thought it was all rather silly. But then..
Well, you know.
On those days when I was on time for the bus, and got home about 2:20 – well, I might just happen to turn on Days Of Our Lives – just to, you know, not be so bored at Aunt Lil’s.
And if we had a fresh bag of potato chips, I just might forget to turn the TV off and catch a bit of Another World before my mother came home from work. Mom did not (and still does not) approve of The Stories.
Then I went off to College. I had a little 12-inch black-and-white set that sometimes allowed me to tune into a grainy version of something that I could almost see and sometimes hear. And although the girls in the dorm often watched on the big set in the common room, it was too embarrassing to be seen watching Soaps. (And besides, they liked The Guiding Light – object of my aunties’ wrath.)
So I gave it up.
But …well…. you know.
I finished school eventually (really eventually… I stayed as long as possible). And once in a while, I’d tune in to the stories on a sick day. A five-year absence is nothing in soap opera time. Mostly the characters were having the same conversation.
Then in the early 80s two remarkable things happened.
- Luke and Laura.
The Luke and Laura romance on General Hospital made soap operas cool. And I even switched for a year or two, so I’d have the right cred at the office.
And my God… VCRs! Videotape with a timer was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes to the soap opera world.
Did you know you could watch a whole week’s worth of Days Of Our Lives in about 75 minutes? Not only because you could fast-forward through every commercial, but also because you could skip all the storylines about boring old people and focus in on just your favorites. And even with your favorite characters, you could save about eleven minutes a week by fast-forwarding through all the long lingering looks.
And I continued to watched Days and Another World occasionally for more than 20 years. Finally, I had to admit that I had seen every star-crossed lover, dastardly villain, and incurable illness in every possible combination. And so many cases of amnesia and total facial plastic surgery that it was a miracle that any character ever knew who the other guy was.
And so, at about age 35, I gave up The Stories.
Besides, no one could ever give me a better story than 1981-82’s Day of Our Lives story of Tony and Renee.
Here (in my opinion) is the best soap storyline of all time:
Renee DuMonde comes to Salem to be with her sister, Lee. Over the course of a weird serial strangler plot (in which Days was able to kill off a lot of their less popular characters) Renee falls in love with young Tony DiMera, son of crime boss Stefano DiMera.
Lee tells her sister Renee over and over again to stay away from Tony and the DiMera family, but Renee was so in love. And Tony asks her to marry him.
Lee is distraught and runs away, but leaves a note for Renee, spilling her terrible secret.
Lee is not Renee’s sister after all. She is Renee’s mother. And Renee’s father – horror of horrors – is Stefano DiMera.
Tony is Renee’s brother! She cannot marry him.
She breaks it off, without explanation. Tony will not give up. After many, many episodes of “Why? Why? Why?” – Renee tells Tony the truth. They are brother and sister and they must part forever.
Renee, heartbroken and trying to get past her almost-incest, agrees to marry some other dude (who I don’t remember, but I think he was your standard obnoxious prick).
On the day of Renee and Prick’s wedding, Tony can hardly bear the pain. He ends up at the mental institutional where his own mother has been locked up for years. I think perhaps he had to track her down, because I remember being surprised he had a mother.
Anyway, Tony goes to the asylum and his mother tells him that his father Stefano had her committed years ago to punish her. She is not crazy, but locked up out of vengeance.
“But I had the last laugh,” says Tony’s mother. “I have my own revenge. Because I had a lover all that time ago. And Stefano is a fool. He is NOT your father!” (and she laughs maniacally)
Wait, wait! If Stefano is not Tony’s father, then he is not Renee’s brother. They are not related! He can marry her!
He races back (I remember a lot of running like Godzilla was right behind him, and sweat and dirt, but not sure how much of that is my own embellishment)… Tony runs to the church where Renee is marrying Dickface!
It’s too late!
Thanks, Aunt Lil and Aunt Lora. It was definitely worth 25 years of heavy organ music to watch such a super bad romance.
In April, I retired.
Six weeks later, I un-retired.
Well, not really. Here’s what happened.
I worked for the last ten years as the Controller of a large(ish) mail-order and online business. It was a terrific job, especially after fifteen years at an exciting but extremely stressful gigantic media organization.
For ten years, I had interesting work, but not crazy-stressful. I had a small nice staff in Accounting, and all my co-workers were cooperative and smart and friendly.
But at 65, I was ready to retire. I wanted to spend more time on writing and other creative pursuits. I was just plain ready.
So a very capable replacement was found, and I was finally – after a year’s notice – on my way to my next self-invention.
When I left, the staff accountant was expecting. It’s a tiny Accounting staff – a Controller, an accountant, and an accounting clerk. So maternity leave for one-third of the organization is tough to cover.
Instead of trying to train a temp in a short amount of time -which certainly can be done, but it can be hit or miss – the new Controller called and asked me if I would be interested in covering for the accountant for ten weeks or so, while she was on leave.
And because I liked the organization, and I liked the accountant and the new Controller, I said yes. They just needed me a couple of days a week, since they didn’t expect me to take on a lot of projects – just cover the bases and hold the fort (a mixed metaphor of sports and cowboys, but I like both).
So, just as I was getting used to being home, I went back.
And I am so glad I did.
Because I learned something really, really important.
I no longer have to be in charge.
You see, one thing I loved about being a manager is this: I loved being listened to. For me, the third daughter in a very smart family, I have always felt just a little unimportant. Oh, not that my parents ever, ever treated me that way. It was just my own insecurities. I felt slightly invisible.
I was smart enough, but not brilliant. I was attractive, but not beautiful. I was nice, but not adorable. To me, anyway.
So as I worked my way up the ladder of success (an expression which always reminds me of a lunch bag a friend bought me when I got my first management position, emblazoned with these choice words: ‘As you climb the ladder of success, Don’t let the boys look up your dress’), I found that it was amazingly gratifying to be a little bit “important”. To make a suggestion and have it taken. To make a decision and see it enacted. To find a solution to a problem and see it work. To matter. To be asked what I thought. Most of all – to be HEARD.
But going back to my old workplace – but not be in charge – was a revelation.
The first time the President walked past my temporary desk and into my old office to discuss an issue with the NEW Controller, I thought, “OMG. She isn’t going to ask me what I think.”
And then the revelation.
I wasn’t feeling jealous. I wasn’t feeling left out.
I found myself feeling:
Not snubbed, not unimportant, not dismissed.
I do not have to solve someone’s problems. I do not have to be heard. I do not have to be taken seriously. And most of all:
I DO NOT HAVE TO BE RIGHT.
Throughout the ten weeks of this temporary assignment, the sensation of freedom continued to grow. Freedom from that constant need for validation.
And THANK GOD or Thank Karma or whatever.
What a sweet freedom it is.
I’m done with work now. For good. (I think.)
But not done with my new liberation.
How much easier life will be –
knowing that I do not have to
- review every book I read
- rate every purchase I make
- respond to every single post of Facebook
- be clever with every Tweet
- impress with every Instagram
- convert everyone to my political beliefs
- top everyone’s story
- make every decision
- handle every crisis
Unless of course, I WANT to.
But I may never want to again.
My last post was filled with sweet college memories. Because I am still filled with nostalgia for college – as I am every September – here’s a post from three years ago…
Every September, as I watch the kids go back to school, I get the same yearning.
I wish it were me packing up Dad’s station wagon to go off to college.
I’d take my favorite pillow, and those narrow twin-bed sheets and an Indian batik bedspread.
I’d bring my popcorn popper to warm a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. And my old stereo turntable and my scratchy Crosby, Stills, and Nash albums.
And my big Underwood typewriter that I bought used for $12.00 – the kind where you have to pound the keys and then sometimes the spindles with the letters get stuck together in mid-air. With onion-skin erasable typewriter paper and a gum eraser.
I’d need notebooks too – the narrow-ruled kind. no larger than 5X8, so my notebooks are about the same size as my textbooks, making a neater stack to carry. Colored pens too – so I can color-code my notes.
I’ll take my bucket to carry my soap and shampoo and comb and toothbrush and toothpaste back and forth to the communal bathroom.
With my bell-bottom jeans, moccasins, and the sweater I knitted myself that has one little mistake in the shoulder –
I’d be ready.
Ready for my do-over.
I’ll sit in my Literature class and discuss The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. When the professor asks why Binx prefers the movies to real life, I’ll say exactly what I said in 1972:
“Movies are better than real life because unexpected things happen. Nothing unexpected ever happens in real life.”
And that scruffy boy will get up from the back of the room and walk over to me. He’ll lean over the desk and kiss me without touching anything but my innocent unpainted lips. And that boy will return to his seat without looking back. And I will shrug off the moment with a quip:
“As I was saying…”
And everyone will laugh.
And the class will be over and we’ll all leave.
And this time – this time – I will run down the hallway. And I will grab that young sweet man by his flannel shirt-tail. And he will turn around.
And I will kiss him back.