Last Exit

IMG_0226My friend Jane has a background in theater and music. Over the years she has occasionally been assigned to direct high school student musicals.  Usually, however, she hides and pretends she’s merely another English teacher, while keeping her fingers crossed that the current administrator doesn’t learn of her expertise. 

However, I think Jane is a frustrated director in need of an adult play and cast.  She’s been bugging me for years to take her concept idea for a Broadway hit and write the script.  She already has the title, Last Exit.  As soon as I started this blog, she called to remind me once again of the play.

As any of you reading these entries know, Jane and I consider ourselves sisters, part of a larger group of sisters and a decades-long friendship.  We’re pretty sure we were all family in some weird past life, and it’s always delighted me how we can simply pick up the thread of a conversation even if we haven’t been in touch for a while.

Dianne found us earrings that remind us of our sister relationship — taken from early cave dwelling artwork illustrating four women.  We wear the earrings at sister events or to lend support when it’s needed. 

I remember walking into a School Board of Trustees meeting and sitting down next to one of the principals.  Mary, one of the sisters, was presenting so of course I had on my earrings.

The principal leaned over to say hello, spotted the signature earrings and grimaced.

OK, I knew about you. I even knew about Suzanna and Peggy, but Mary? Mary? Mary is a sister too? Tell me it’s not true.

I smiled.  We’re everywhere.

He sighed. We do know about The Sisters.  If the group shows up to advocate for anything, we’ve all agreed to just let you have your way.  It’s easier.

I smiled. The administrators of twelve high schools and a central office prepared to acquiesce without debate or bloodletting. Countries should take note.

As we’ve retired, we still get together, but now we also show up en masse for illnesses or injuries, taking a day here, a meal there, a drive to the doctor’s or just visiting. We’re very fortunate to have one another.

With that kind of background woven through the fabric of our lives, Jane and I are certain it will continue until our final curtains. At least we came to that conclusion one evening over plotting, laughing ourselves silly and a bottle of something or other.  

Jane wants to make us into a smash Broadway hit, so we can all retire well above our current teacher-retirement means.  She has the plot down and most of our parts cast. I believe Jane has selected Ellen Bursten to play herself and Judi Dench to play me, which, in itself, it’s pretty darn cool. Jessica Lange, Allison Jenney, Shirley McLaine, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and Cathy Bates round out the headliners.  You really won’t want to miss it.

While not giving away the entire plot, because we will want you to purchase tickets, the play follows a group of aging sisters reflecting on their lives with lots of laughter and some tears.

The play opens with the sisters at Mimi’s grave site following her unexpected passing, which, in reality, happened almost four years ago.  We make a pact over a bottle or two of wine that when one of us is dying, the next youngest will, um, accelerate the transition — gently and with love, of course, but eliminating as much suffering, lingering and impact on the savings account as possible.

And, so it goes, one sister at time, until only the youngest — enter Helen Mirren — is left standing alone at the last grave site, waiting to face the music and police.

As she is escorted off stage by police, exiting stage right, she smiles grimly with her final words.

At least now I’ll have free room, board and medical care for the rest of my life.

Women of a Certain Age

Not much has been written about Women of a Certain Age although we certainly do exist.  The few articles are usually hidden on a back page, typically next to the Obituaries, or buried deep within the links of an online format. It’s the myth vs. the reality regarding women of a certain age…women who are old, older,  um well-seasoned by life.

The definition of a woman of a certain age is apparently defined by her hormones, or lack thereof.  This county, and Great Britain for that matter, tend to lump single women of a certain age into a rather vague, grey nothingness — a spinsterhood somewhere beyond menopause, which is apparently the dividing line between maiden/mother and crone — that marks the slow, winkled descent into elder-hood and death.

Wow. Alone and asexual. Now that’s something young women can put on their calendars and look forward to.

Women who do not accept the prescribed definition are faced with a myriad of challenges. 

Single women of a certain age are labeled Cougars for doing the identical thing that men do everyday — although, I admit, men are a whole lot more successful with their marketing strategies.

Then, there is the very well-advertised, large HMO that refuses to prescribe hormones because of a woman’s age (“old” being the operative, diagnostic term) while perfectly willing to provide men of all ages with a variety of enhancement pills.

Good grief.

While we could embrace a mass exodus to France, where both men and women of a certain age enter a rather erotic phase of life, we might also consider redefining the myth with a more realistic version of entering that certain age..with a certain confidence, a certain air and a certain wisdom regarding life, aging, sexuality and partnerships.

I rather like that approach, but in the meantime, there are still those pesky assumptions that keep getting made about women of a certain age…

A while back, I had a date with an older gentleman — I’m saying older because his whole demeanor was old although he was only a couple years older than I.  We sat down with the prerequisite coffee and began the conversation.  He told me about his car, his daily routine and the stress of keeping up on a recent walking tour in Europe.

Then, he lowered his voice, confiding that he had problems “down there” and he looked downward.

I looked down at his feet, given all the walking hardships of his European trip.

No, not my feet!

oh. I wasn’t going to look there so I refocused on his face.

He leaned in toward me, as if to share something very confidential.

It was more than a bit uncomfortable, not knowing the man and not even finished with my coffee, but there was no break with which to make my escape. He was adamant about sharing, which he did with all the confidence of a man experienced with women of a certain age.

And it doesn’t matter.  Women your age aren’t interested in sex anyway.

He smiled and leaned back in his chair. He had had just solved his problem by making it my problem.

Um. I hate to burst your bubble, but not all women of my age are finished with sex.  Many of us actually enjoy sex quite a bit.

As his bubble burst, this woman of a certain age spotted her escape, thanked him for the coffee and made a quick exit.

Autumn Leaves

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Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of the year, but, given our mild weather, it is not a season we Californians fully celebrate.  We seem to slide from summer to Indian Summer and then suddenly, it’s overcast and rainy.  Well, sometimes rainy.  We’ve been in a severe drought the past few years and are beginning to forget what rain is.

A long time past, I lived in Pennsylvania for almost a year.  They definitely embrace autumn.  I have a vivid memory of stepping outside to retrieve the mail, an apple in hand.  I could smell the dampness of an early rain as I walked into the crisp fall air, surrounded by flurries of falling orange, red and yellow leaves. Walking down the long drive to the mailbox, I bit into the crisp, cold, so very sweet apple and in that moment knew that it was the taste of autumn.

Last spring, I moved to the Sierra foothills, an area that does believe in autumn despite the drought.  With the lack of water, the leaves are struggling to change colors although, as you can see, there are still some very vibrant red, yellow and orange leaves decorating the landscape. While I haven’t found an apple quite as crisp as the Pennsylvania one, the memory remains and surfaces now and again as I walk amid the color and dried leaves swirling to the ground.

For me, autumn brings the end of another cycle and another year.  It’s a time of quiet reflection and review. Am I on the path I supposed to be walking or simply wandering in the woods enjoying the view?

This is the first time in my life where there has been little drive or passion. No to-do list; no have-to list. A blank piece of paper.  I always assumed there was a reason for one’s existence, une rasion d’être, but now, at this stage, that too seems to have gone missing.

There’s an admitted calm and bit of disconnect from the more grueling aspects of life.  Perhaps it’s a function of age; perhaps a function of location.  Nonetheless, the mind wanders and wonders although, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what about.

A few weeks ago, I went in search of an artificial Christmas tree, as my last one looked a bit too sad last year.  I stood next to another woman, about my age, as we evaluated the artificial forest before us.

She asked what I was thinking.

I was honest.  I’m looking at the prices, wondering how many more Christmases I’ll have, and whether the investment will be worth it.

She smiled and said she was thinking something similar.  I remember my mother teasing about getting too old to buy green bananas. Maybe she wasn’t teasing as much as I thought.

My friend Bill puts things in a slightly different way. He says to get a long measuring tape, measure out one inch for each year you’ve lived and then add another inch for each year you hope to live.  It’s certainly a sobering exercise.

Autumn is indeed a gentle time, and at the same time, there is a chill in the air bringing the promise that the next season is on the cusp of arriving. Sometimes, not often, I wonder what it will bring.

In the meantime, lacking a really crisp, cold, so very sweet apple, I think I’ll put an apple in the oven to bake while I watch the leaves just a little longer.

Truth in Advertising

You look just like your photo.

I can pretty much count on the statement within five or ten minutes of any first date.

um, yes. And whose photo were you expecting me to look like?

Apparently, it’s an issue of Truth in Advertising. My dates have shared some of the craziest stories about the photos women post, evidently with the hope that men will not notice the duplicity.  Hint:  men notice.

She:  I posted photos of my daughter instead of me because people say we look just like sisters.  He: She’s twenty years younger and looks like her father.

She: I posted photos from college days because I really haven’t changed that much.  He: …except for marriage, children, divorce, career, birthdays and all those other life events that age a person  

She: I posted a friend’s photo because she’s cuter. By the time he meets me, he’ll forget.  He: I want to date her cute friend.

She: I didn’t post a photo, but, believe me, you won’t be disappointed.  He: Believe me, I was.

I’m really not quite sure what these women are thinking. Eventually, you may actually meet the man you’ve been corresponding with and then what?  Most men are going to make the connection: the photo and the woman are not the same.

And if he doesn’t make the connection, it’s probably not a man you’d want to date.

Most everyone fibs a bit except Mr. or Ms. Senior Universe and they don’t count because they’re not on dating sites.

Women subtract pounds from their weight; men add inches to their height if under six feet tall. It’s pretty much the norm. The photos, however, tend to tell the truth, unless they’re the same ones that have been used for the past ten years.  Then, you wonder about who is actually going to show up for the date.

A few years back, a man opened an online email correspondence with me.  My profile’s waxing poetic had captured his imagination and he began adding to it with his own waxing and poetic. It was delightful and, being a former English teacher, I wanted to jump right in.

But not before reading his profile and viewing his photo. We were, after all, on a dating site not a writing site.

He was teetering on the very, very tippy-top end of my marginally acceptable age range.  He fostered rescued German Shepherds, a positive in my mind although I’m not sure why. His photo showed a retired gentleman with a jaunty straw hat.  It was enough for me to jump into the fantasy writing.

Back and forth our emails flew. A short story, if not a novel or best seller, was fast emerging.

He paused the spell by asking me out for lunch. I immediately accepted. In keeping with the Mediterranean setting of which we had been writing, he chose a small Italian restaurant in a courtyard setting overlooking a large fountain. He was seated at the table waiting, when I walked in.

He had to have been fifteen to twenty years older than his profile age or photo.

It was, needless to say, a strained luncheon.  It ended with his berating me for not being as flirtatious and engaged as I had been on email. 

He was right but, in my defense, it was really, really difficult to flirt with a man that looked like my grandfather.

A Teardrop in My Heart

IMG_0125It was one of lunch dates that should have been a good, even great, date. The phone conversations had been lively and we had similar backgrounds and interests.  So, with the top down on his vintage sports car, we headed over the hill to Half Moon Bay late one autumn seeking a restaurant with a view of the water. 

It was a very busy restaurant, filled with the Sunday brunch crowd.

Let’s split an appetizer and then he left a tiny tip. I slipped the waitress an apology tip and later declined his request for a second date.

But he didn’t know that then, so when we left for the ride back, he turned down a side road off Hiway 94 into one of the many small, local wineries.

At the end of the long graveled drive was a large barn and collection of mid-size metal outbuildings, each with a heavy barn door.  The barn was home to the winery and tasting room while the smaller buildings showcased artisans who were all focused on their crafts.

He swung around in front of one of the larger outbuildings, parked and said Let’s go in. I have to pick up a package.

We walked through the open doorway straight into an enormous blast of heat.  There, amid the blazing furnaces, were heavy insulated mitts, long iron rods, tongs, anvils, forges and an array of powdered dyes. The molten glass had been formed into pumpkins, paperweights, bowls and what could only be described as enormous ice sculptures. It was simply amazing.

The artist-in-residence, a soft spoken loan officer during the week, finished breathing life into the hot white glass, looked up, removed his safety goggles and greeted us. The package was exchanged while I looked closer at the array of unique sculptures.

The glassblower inquired, Do you have a few minutes?

Sure.

Then he looked at me.

Come here — yes, you, come here.  What would you like to make?

I ventured nearer, the heat from the furnace becoming more and more intense. He held out mitts, goggles and a long black metal rod and nodded towards a number of small glass items…a paperweight, a pumpkin, a heart.

The heart. I’d like to make a heart.

And, just like that, the safety goggles were protecting my eyes while my hands and forearms were encased in the large insulated gloves and holding a very heavy rod with a glob of molten glass balanced on the end.  Focused only on the glass, the rod and his patient instructions, I turned the iron rod and white mass round and round over the flames. Then, swoosh, he had his arms around me, gloved hands over mine, lifting my arms, the rod and hot glass to the colored powders.

Red? Pink?

Green.

Green?  You sure?

I just smiled, suspecting he had never heard of a healing heart.

I sprinkled a pinch of the dusty green powder onto the hot white glass.  And then, a quick turn to a steel anvil and together we shaped the blob into a heart as the rich green shades swirled into an unexpected design.

Another quick turn and the heart disappeared into the kiln.

I’m not quite sure what I expected, but I drove up the Peninsula later the next week to retrieve the finished project from the glassblower-turned-loan agent who greeted me with the same gentle smile.  He had carefully wrapped the heart and presented it in a small white box.

I opened the box, unwrapped the tissue, ever so gently held the green heart in my hands and caught my breath at its beauty.

I’m so very sorry.

But it’s beautiful!

No, it’s flawed. There’s a bubble.

I looked closer. There it was, not a bubble but a small, almost imperceptible teardrop in my heart.

It was perfect.

Workaround Proposals

You have a dog; I have a cat. We each have pensions, investments and Social Security.  Or not.

Kids, yours and mine.

We have our own homes, friends and routines.

Marriage? With all the financial complications at this late age? oh my…

Most of the men I’ve met are professionals; so are many of the women online. We’ve faced challenges before. So, we’ve come up with a litany of workaround relationship options. None are terribly promising.

  • There’s the current popular option: Let’s Spend a Couple Days at Your Place, A Couple at Mine and the Rest on our Own. Could work. Or not.
  • The I Don’t Want Marriage, but am open to a Long Term Relationship option. Until I’m not and then I’m history.
  • Let’s just be Friends With Benefits…sometimes known as the Candy Shoppe Option (I’ll just nibble on your ear until I find someone who looks a bit sweeter)

The challenge with these options is that there’s no commitment, which roughly translates into no commitment. Things get tough, boring, complicated or any of the myriads of “stuff” that are part of a relationship and WHOOSH, the exit door is way too easy to run though.

There is an interesting option floating around some of the over-55 communities. Have the wedding with family, guests and a darn good party, but don’t sign the papers. The vows to each other are made, family and friends recognize the couple as having taken the critical next step in the relationship, but the intertwining of assets (even with pre-nups, it seems things do get messy) and the post-death inheritance drama with children and grandchildren is avoided.

The faux marriage idea may have legs.

 

Linus and the Christmas Quilts: Part III

Measuring, cutting, assembling and sewing 1080 pieces of flannel material and batting proved to be less a challenge than I had been led to believe. Almost like magic, woodland animals, paw prints and muted forest colors fell into a mosaic and the mosaics sewn into five quilts.

At this point in time, I could face anything.

Almost.

My daughter and daughter-in-law each called to find out about the plans for Thanksgiving and what they should bring. Casually, I mentioned I had finished the Christmas gifts for the kids.

I was having some misgivings. The four boys, in particular, had always gotten rough n tumble-type presents and quilts probably weren’t in that category.

My daughter just mused, Quilts? Oh….

My daughter-in-law was more direct, Quilts? For the boys? Really? Really? What were you thinking?

By Thanksgiving, I wasn’t sure the whole idea was going to fly. But the idea had gone long past concept and the five quilts were finished, neatly folded, stacked and tucked in the back of my closet.

Within minutes of arriving, both daughter and daughter-in-law said, ok, let’s see them. I could almost hear the unsaid background conversation, Boys. Quilts. Geez….

The girls disappeared down the hall and into my room. Dead silence.

MOM!!!

I went back to my room, not quite knowing what to expect.

These are beautiful! They’re amazing! The kids are going to LOVE THEM! Where’s ours???

On Christmas day, surrounded by mountains of toys, Christmas wrapping and ribbon, the grandkids tore into their last gifts, the bags holding the quilts. At first, they grinned, and then, following the youngest’s lead, wrapped themselves into the cozy flannel.

Late that evening, the kids curled under the blankets in front of the dying embers of a Christmas fire. Exhausted from the day, eyelids heavy with sleep, they looked up at me and murmured, Awesome, Grandma, awesome.

Two postscripts:

  1. Six years later, all five kids still use the quilts all winter, either on their beds or and just snuggled up watching TV or reading on cold evenings. Truly awesome!
  1. I love making rag quilts. I’m an addict. I admit it. It’s a semi-creative, meditative activity. A small cuddly flannel quilt can be assembled and finished in less than five hours, a perfect evening or winter’s afternoon project. By watching for sales, the cost can be held to under $15 a quilt, a bargain if there ever was one. The challenge was what to do with them.

Enter Project Linus, a non-profit organization that distributes homemade blankets to needy or traumatized children and local community groups that distribute lap blankets to needy seniors in nursing homes.

So very, very awesome!