Monday, February 28, 2011

The Reunion

Working with seniors every day, I have a crazy quilt of stories to piece together into a book someday when I am retired and have the time. But last week, an occurrence so touching and unlikely took place that I just had to write it down to savor and share with others.

I facilitate a writing group at our community called "Writing Your Life Story." We meet once a week to read aloud a memory we have written down since the last meeting. Over the course of time, we assemble our stories in chronological order into our own personal binders, thus building a history of our unique memories as we go along. It's a wonderful way to fellow with one another, but more importantly it enables the residents to leave a legacy of sorts for their families.

This past week, one of our residents, an accomplished water colorist named Ruth whose work I have long admired and wished I could afford, expressed interest in attending. I welcomed her and asked her to bring a photograph to her first meeting, something to share with the group that was significant to her and would teach us something about her. She did, and when it was her turn to share, Ruth produced a lovely portrait of herself and her twin sister, Hope, when they were about seventeen. She told us stories of growing up as a twin, and shared that Hope had lived most of her adult life in San Diego, but had passed away several years ago. It was clear she missed her sister. I asked Ruth if Hope painted also. "Oh yes," she replied. "Hope was a very talented artist - but unlike me, she preferred the abstract. Her work is very contemporary."

Her words penetrated my consciousness, conjuring up a nearly forgotten incident that literally sent goosebumps down my spine. I had to ask. "Ruth, what was Hope's last name?"

"Wilts. Why?"

"Because I think I have about seventy-five or eighty of your sister's paintings. I purchased them five or six years ago at an estate sale somewhere in Fort Worth."

"Oh, I doubt it. There would be no reason for her work to be at a sale in Fort Worth. As I said, she lived in San Diego until the last few years of her life, and then she came and lived with me."

But my memory was clear. I had purchased a group of greeting cards with very contemporary original water colors decorating them. The were a number of different groups of paintings with names like 'Red Series,' 'Blue Series,' or 'Joy.' Each one was titled and signed "Hope Wilts." Among the group were some larger prints, collages and paintings, also signed and titled by Hope. Some bore the words 'San Diego' on the back. The next day I brought them to work with me to show Ruth. As she approached the paintings laid out on the table she was clearly skeptical, but when she bent to examine them, her face flushed pink and tears appeared in the corners of her eyes.

"Oh my, these really are Hope's work." She looked up at me. "Why didn't she give these to me?"

"Perhaps in this way, she is. You must have them."

I anticipated an argument, but there was none. She leafed through the collection hungrily, running her hands across each painting as if she could channel Hope through her fingers as she caressed her work. In the end, Ruth insisted I select one from each series and invited me to visit her apartment to choose one of her paintings, as well. I am delighted to have them as I am clearly drawn to both sisters' work. But I'm not sure anything will ever eclipse the feeling I had watching this amazing woman reconnect with her beloved sister.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is My Mother Doing in My Mirror?

I remember thinking about growing old when I was a kid, feeling certain I would be one of those women who ‘grew old gracefully’. By that I meant I would not cry on my fortieth birthday, color my hair or subject myself to expensive surgeries in a pathetic attempt to look younger than my years. I was resolute. Aging is as natural as breathing and unavoidable in the extreme. Of course, I was absolutely certain I would look very much like the stylish older women I saw on TV or in magazines when the time came, and not at all like my mom who later in life was prone to carry weight, avoid make up, and dress very casually. 

After the birth of my second child, the ‘baby weight’ never really went away. But as I had always been slim and athletic, the extra weight didn’t look too bad as long as I was wearing clothes. Two-piece swimsuits were out, of course. Nobody was going to be impressed by my midriff ever again. But I faced my thirties with relative equanimity. After all, you don’t have much time to fret when you’re raising young children, caring for a husband and maintaining a home. When my fortieth birthday came and went without a ripple of emotion, I felt great! I’d done it, fulfilled the promise of my youth – to age with calm and grace.

My forties zipped by in a flurry of graduations, weddings and brand new grandbabies. We also bought a restaurant / fish market, and I can honestly say that owning your own business is one surefire way to make the time fly. Truly, the nineties whizzed by in a blur, but one thing I recall vividly was that I quit smoking at the age of forty-one, right after my first grandchild was born. And each year afterwards, I gained another pound or two, but I wasn’t too worried about it.

In April of 2000, Gary and I decided to indulge in a really fabulous Hawaiian getaway. I was so excited and of course, I had to shop for a new vacation wardrobe – swimsuits, shorts, sun dresses and sandals. I had not shopped for clothes in years so it came as a total shock that I was no longer housed in the same body I’d last shopped in. Nothing fit right. I double checked the tags. Yes, they were tens alright. But the swimsuits were much too small and when did those ghastly lumps appear on my inner thighs? I tried twelves - they were not much better. Ultimately, I purchased the only suit I could stand to look at myself in - a size fourteen low rise with criss-crossed panels in the front and a formidable built-in bra… another complete shock to my system. Exactly when did my 34B’s morph into 36 longs?  The photographs from that vacation were a real eye opener, too. I think – no, I’m certain this was when I started to color my hair.

My fiftieth birthday did not pass as seamlessly as my fortieth. I tried to put on a brave face in spite of my mind incessantly chanting ‘half a century, half a century, half a century’. Gary took me out to dinner at a nice restaurant but I couldn’t relax and enjoy the evening. My mind was consumed with scrutinizing other women in the dining room, especially those who appeared to be close to my age. I wanted to see how I measured up. ‘Does my butt looks as big as hers? My upper arms – do I have bat wings like that poor soul? Oh, now that gal looks good…too good, actually. She’s probably had surgery.’

Surgery! I smiled to myself. Gary smiled back at me. “Are you having a good time?”

“Oh yes,” I replied savoring the mental image of myself after liposuction. “Yes, I really am.”

Well, that was eleven years ago and I have to confess, I was never able to summon the courage to do it. Call me a wimp – but the thought of undergoing surgery just terrifies me. So here I am, fifty-nine years old, twenty pounds overweight, watching my mother emerge in my mirror more and more every day. But I haven't cried. At least, not yet.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Can See Clearly Now

I remember the first time I actually caught myself extending my arm to its fullest reach trying to read a recipe card. 'Uh-oh,' I thought. 'This is not good.' For months afterwards, I made myself squint and strain to read at the distance I had enjoyed all my life, but my arm would insidiously defy me and creep away from my face.

"You need reading glasses," said Gary observing my struggle one evening.

"Oh, I don't think so. My eyes are just tired."

"They seem to be tired a lot lately. You need reading glasses."

I had to admit the truth to myself if not to Gary, so the next time I was in CVS I surreptitiously eyed the display of reading glasses. Looking the various styles up and down from a safe distance, I was aggravated to learn I couldn't read the price tags or various lens strengths from afar. Broken in spirit and devoid of any hope for the return of my youthful eyesight, I stepped closer and tried on several pairs of glasses. I was happy to find I needed the lowest strength, settled on a pair I thought looked good on me and checked out.

Now, I read a the kitchen table (my favorite spot), in my bedroom, in the car (when Gary's driving), at my desk at work, in the bathroom (admit it, you do too), at my home computer, and all sorts of other places. The trouble I kept running into was that I would find myself in one spot, and my reading glasses would invariably be in another. Then one day I was at Sam's Club and happened upon a display of reading glasses that offered four pairs of glasses in one box for one low price. I was ecstatic! I bought a package, took them home and distributed the various pairs throughout the house. It was better but I still occasionally found myself separated from my reading glasses when I really needed them. But overall, the situation was much improved.

A short time later I was running a little behind on my way to work then was further delayed because I couldn’t find my regular glasses, the ones I use for distance and driving. Gary was helping me look and called from the kitchen table, “Here they are!”

I raced over to him. “No, that’s not them.”

“You said you were looking for your glasses.”

“Right, but those are for reading. I need my real glasses – the ones I wear all the time.”

Unfazed, Gary persevered. “Is this them?” he called from the office.

I came in to look. “No. Those are also reading glasses. The ones I need have a bronze metal frame and the lenses are larger than these.”

Gary looked a bit befuddled, so I released him from his obligatory duty. “Never mind, I’ll wear my old pair and find them later.”

He looked relieved.

Time passed and one day I realized I was squinting again even though I was wearing reading glasses. So the next time I was at Sam’s Club, I checked their display. Sure enough, I now needed the 1.50 strength in order to see the test lettering clearly. No longer a novice, I bought two packages – eight wonderful second sets of eyes to assist me at every turn! Plus, I still have the five original pair stashed away in the event I need them.  Plus, I went back to my optometrist and ordered a second set of regular lenses which will come in handy if I lose my first pair again... and they were running a special, so I also received a free pair of prescription sunglasses! Aaaah, life is good. At least until my eyes get worse.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thirty Precious Valentine's Days

Thirty Valentine Eves ago, I met my sweet husband and soulmate, Gary. The circumstance of our meeting was precarious. We met in a bar - which is so weird because I never, ever went to bars. Back then, I was a twenty-nine year old single mom working at my first job ever - my divorce a mere four weeks away. It was Friday, the thirteenth of February, and a co-worker asked me to accompany her to the Woodcock, a neighborhood bar, after work. She had met a fella named Don, and they had arranged to meet at the Woodcock that evening. I was reluctant because I had my two little girls at home in the after school care of their sixteen year old step brother, Rod.

"Please," Vicky cajoled. "We will stay for one drink only. If he hasn't shown up by the time we finish them, we'll leave. I promise."

I called Rod and he was totally okay with my being a little late. "All right then - just one drink."

When we got to the Woodcock, we each ordered a glass of wine and sat down at a table near the front. About ten minutes later Vicky spied her date entering the bar. 'Oh good,' I thought. Tall and slim, Don chatted briefly with a man at the bar as he ordered himself a beer, then came over to our table.

After a brief introduction, I took a final sip of my drink and said "Well, it was very nice to meet you, but I think I will be on my way and leave the two of you alone."

"No, wait," said Don. "I met a friend at the bar and invited him to join us when I saw Vicky had a friend with her."

"Well, I'm sorry. I have children at home who need their dinner and I really must leave."

"Look, please stay for just a little while and let me buy you another drink. I don't want my friend to think you took one look at him and bolted."

I was just about to inform Don that my list of top priorities did not include his friend's sensitivities, when up walks a handsome cowboy wearing the sweetest smile I had ever seen.

"Leslie, this is Gary."

And the rest as they say, is history. Rod graciously agreed to give the girls their dinner and get them into bed. Gary and I spent the evening getting to know one another, laughing and dancing. The evening melted away, and before we knew it it was after midnight, and we had danced our way into Valentine's Day. We dated for exactly four years and were finally married on February 14th, 1985. We love our Valentine's Day anniversaries and I am ever so grateful to Vicky for talking me into going to a bar with her that fateful evening.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Check It Out!

Yesterday it was confirmed once again, that I am fast becoming a dinosaur. I was at Walmart with my very cool co-worker Laura, buying some things for an event we were doing at the senior living community we work at. At the checkout, I pulled out my checkbook, filled in the date and signed the check, then handed it to the checker along with my driver's license. Laura's eyes were huge and she looked as though I had just laid an egg.

"What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Oh, n-nothing. I just can't even remember the last time I saw anyone pay for something with a check."

"Well, I had a debit card once and within two days of having it, someone stole it and used it. I swore I would never have one again. And anyway, they treat my check like a debit card now - did you notice I didn't have to fill it out?"

"Yeah, I thought that was weird."

"Well, watch her. She is going to run it through that machine which will fill in the rest of the information. Then she will give it back to me."

"She gives it back?"

I felt a little uncomfortable now. "Yes. Why do you look like you think that's strange?"

Laura smiled. "Well, what do you do with it once they give it back?"

"I take it home and shred it."

"You have to shred it? So, let me get this straight. You have to order checks from the bank. The checks  have to be stored somewhere in your home, then you donate space in your purse to some of them. You  write a check every time you make a purchase, which the store immediately gives back to you. Then you have to remember to deal with the check again when you get home. Why on earth don't you just get a debit card and be done with it?"

Why indeed? I have been analyzing this question since Laura posed it. The older I get, the more I seem to resist change - which is odd because throughout my life I have historically loved a change of pace, scenery or circumstance. The truth is, I like my checkbook. A check is like money to me whereas a plastic credit or debit card is not. I tend to overspend when I can just swipe a card and be done with it. My checkbook requires thought and consideration of the expenditure at hand. True, it does consume a bit of time to manage it correctly but why should that bother me? I never saw a dinosaur in a hurry.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Welcome to My Blog!

The desire to start a blog has been percolating around in my mind for a long time now. I have wanted to blog, but was afraid of the commitment. Will I have to write every single day? Will I want to? More importantly, as my sixtieth birthday approaches, will I remember to? Then my friend Robyn (who is much younger than me) started a blog, and I was instantly plunged into a bizarre feeling of envy. Robyn is a beautiful (inside and out) young wife and mother who was the business office manager at a retirement community I worked at for six years. Robyn has a perfect little family - a handsome husband and two adorable children. Oh, and she calls her blog "Robyn's Nest" and it is all about the cute things that she, her husband and kids do - how perfect is that? Oh yeah, I was a noxious shade of pea green when I found out that Robyn had a blog and I didn't. I mean, she is in her twenties and is already established. I am almost Medicare eligible and have never posted one comment.

So...Ta Da! Enter my blog. Now, 'Robyn's Nest' not withstanding, I hadn't considered that when you sign on to set up your blog, you have to give it a name. The name has to, in some way, define you. That gave me significant pause to consider what my life amounts to...I love my family and friends, I love to write, and I have spent the bulk of my career as a restaurant manager - the rest in senior living, I am nearing retirement age with much anticipation and relish. I love books, I love wine...and cheese. The phrase 'Aged to Perfection' seemed appropriate and I was really happy to find it was available.

So, there you have it. Introducing "Aged to Perfection," a tongue-in-cheek peek into my life, that of my husband Gary, and the poor unfortunates who claim us as friends, foe or family.