That day I was driving on a country road, windows down, oldies blasting. (At the time they were “newies.”) As the road entered a delicious, straight downhill run, I propped my arm in the open window and let the car gather momentum. Suddenly, I heard a “flup-flup” sound and glanced in the side view mirror. My upper left arm was flapping in the breeze! The time was 10:03 a.m.
And that’s when I knew I was old.
Nothing again was ever quite the same. I began to see “laugh lines,” aka wrinkles on my face, my mother’s feet, a thin old-lady spot on my scalp. I knew that there was an aging skeleton under all my decoration, which was inching along toward shop-worn. And my body was going to continue to erode.
The only choice, really, was to decide how to react to this turn of events. Looking back, I could see that aging wasn’t really all that sudden. I simply had refused to acknowledge it. First, the policemen looked about twelve years old, then the doctors. “Kids are getting through school faster these days,” I thought.
My children became teenagers. My wedding gifts appeared on Antiques Road Show. Still I fought for denial.
Around the time of the arm flap, my husband was lined up to enroll in a post-grad college class. In line at registration, he eyed the co-eds, feeling heady and young again. He felt a tap on his shoulder. “Excuse me, Sir?” asked a co-ed in line behind him.
“Sir,” he thought. “She called me SIR?” That was his moment.
A male friend coped with balding by combing over. Big mistake, the comb-over, but he hadn’t had his moment yet. One day a good-looking woman drove into his auto repair shop, engine throbbing and knocking. Up went the hood. With his most charming smile, he said, “Rev the engine a bit, Dear.” (It was okay to use such terms back then.) She gunned it, and the comb-over lifted in the prop wash, stood proudly erect, nearly touching the open hood. Yep. His moment. Also the last day of the comb-over.
Long before my moment, one of the kids in the class I was teaching became disgruntled and said to me, “Are you this mean to your grandchildren?”
“GRANDCHILDREN?” I said. “Listen, Tony. If you want to get anywhere in this world, don’t throw around words like ‘grandchildren’ Got it?” I was badly shaken.
Poet Robert Browning said, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” And in many ways, it is. The only real choice we have is how to face the inevitable, what my father called “the aging process.” Maybe denial isn’t so bad after all.
On one of his visits when I thought my dad was very, very old we shopped together at the local grocery store. We watched a man about his age pushing a cart, squinting through thick glasses at tiny labels. “Poor old fella,” said Dad.
Once I was caring for a 94 year-old woman when a doctor-ordered four-footed cane was delivered to the house. She thanked me profusely, mistakenly thinking I was responsible. When she tested it, she smiled sweetly and said, “I hope I don’t have to use this for the rest of my life!”
Aging, like nearly everything else, boils down to attitude. Are we going to have Hollywood-style facelifts until we become caricatures of our former selves – plastic faces made up by gnarled hands? Are we to retire to the recliner and live life through the soaps?
Fight or flight. We will each find our own way and be rich for the experience.
But never again have I driven with an arm propped in an open car window.