Thursday, July 12, 2007

Deja Vu!

During a frenzy of reorganization and cleaning this week I discovered a poem that I had written 20 years ago!

On Growing Older

I don't know
the woman in the mirror
looking back at me.

She looks familiar
as if I've met her before
but I can't quite place her.

Her hair, once golden red
has faded
and is streaked with gray.

Her figure, once slim and shapely
is of
Raphael-esque proportions.

Her face is etched
with lines growing
deeper every day.

I look at her
This stranger who is me
and I wonder what is to become of her.

I live in her, you see
and my desires and dreams
do not fit the image looking back at me.

What has happened?
I am young but she is not!
Life is just beginning...

I have plans and hopes
and projects to accomplish
and so much I want to do.

When did this happen?
One day I looked in the mirror
and it wasn't me.

Now, how do I learn to live
with the woman in the mirror
looking back at me?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Two Wafers in a Baggie

I apologize to those of you who were reading this blog for my lapse in writing without any explanation. It was not a deliberate decision on my part. It began with a debilitating bout of the flu followed by a brief period of depression. While feeling depressed, my sense of humor failed me and I really couldn’t think of anything positive to say about growing older. I really don’t want to write a negative, angry blog bemoaning the aging process so I simply refrained from writing. After recovering from the flu and depression I began to question what I really wanted to write about. With the encouragement of friends and my spiritual director I am going to shift the focus to my spiritual journey which, of course, includes the experience of growing older! Thanks to all of you who have continued to encourage me to write, especially my friend who has been encouraging me for nearly thirty years.

Here is the first entry of my new focus.


Early in the day my boss, a priest in the Episcopal Church, and I had been discussing the 1928 Prayer Book, the language of which does not resonate with her at all. I, being a few years older and having worshiped for longer from the old edition, confessed that I do enjoy Rite I on occasion and that the prayer of confession in which “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed…The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.” does sometimes eloquently express my innermost feelings.

Later that day, my boss was leaving the office to make a pastoral visit to a hospitalized member of the parish and was dismayed to discover she had left her communion kit at home. She rushed back into the office and a few minutes later emerged again to leave for the hospital. With her usual aplomb and common sense she had put two wafers in a baggie (this particular parishioner never took the wine anyway) and went on her way. A far cry from the solemnity of Elizabethan England! I laughed and continued to think about the disparity between the archaic formality of the old prayer book and the accommodations sometimes necessary to provide communion to those in need.

I love the beauty of the language in much the same way that I love the language of Shakespeare. I also love the grandeur of an Episcopal Eucharist celebrated in a cathedral. The beauty of the setting and the liturgy stirs my soul and the soaring hymns lift my spirit. My heart responds to the pomp and circumstance. However, In spite of my appreciation of archaic language and the formality and solemnity of a high mass, I do not want to return to it. For a steady experience I want to worship a God who is approachable in the 21st century world and feel assured that I am loved, miserable offender though I may be.

In a formal setting I feel a sense of separation. God is my sovereign and therefore less accessible. I want to experience God as my closest friend who loves me without reservation, unreasonably and immeasurably, and will come to me in a baggie if all else fails!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I owe my mother an apology

In the later years of her life my mother avoided all contact with anyone who had cold or flu symptoms. Her explanation was that she didn’t want to catch a cold because it took her so long to get over one. At the time I thought her attitude was a little unreasonable and her claim a bit exaggerated.

Now I understand what she was saying. I am on my tenth day of intestinal flu followed by a bout of bronchitis. I have been on a regimen of heavy duty antibiotics for several days and, although I am better, I am still feeling miserable and wondering why it is taking so long to return to health and feeling well enough to go to work and engage in my usual activities. I have had bronchitis several times in the past but it never seemed to take this long to recover.

The reason, of course, is obvious. When we are young we recover rapidly. As we grow older our response rate slows down. I feel like I owe my mother an apology.

I don’t know why I so often failed to understand what my mother was saying and I can’t afford therapy to pursue the matter. Maybe it’s just a generational thing that most people experience. My children don’t always seem to comprehend what I’m saying either. Maybe it’s a denial of the changes that are just part of the growing older process. Even with a lifestyle of healthy eating habits and exercising, most of us can’t perform physically as well as we did even ten years ago and certainly not the way we did 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

My mother is no doubt smiling and saying, “I told you so!”

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Erase 10 years?

I have never been comfortable in my own skin. As a child, I wanted to look like my mother. As I grew older, I wanted to look like whoever was the reigning beauty of the moment. I have never felt entirely O.K. looking like me or being like me (I should be ____ whatever the perceived lack is.). In the extreme that kind of discomfort is pathological. At the very least it is very sad. Our culture conditions us to feel inadequate, men as well as women. Only the criteria are different.

I thought that being older would bring comfort from a lifetime of discomfort. Age is a great leveling factor. But it seems that society keeps raising the bar. I received my AARP magazine yesterday and couldn’t believe what I read on the cover, “Look Younger, Erase 10 Years (or more).” The magazine published for the older population is now promoting looking younger! All of the models were women. When are we going to stop promoting Youth as our life goal? What is wrong with looking our age? Why would we want to erase 10 years? How is looking 62 instead of 72 going to improve my life?

We are still searching for Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. And it is a lucrative search for those who sell the products that promise us a youthful appearance.

As far as I’m concerned, it is very unattractive to see an older person trying to look and act as if they are still young. It simply accentuates the fact that they aren’t. While watching the Academy Awards on TV last week, I noticed an obviously older woman on the Red carpet wearing the de rigueur costume of the evening, a strapless evening gown. She was not fashionably thin and her upper arms were not her most attractive feature. Had her bright red dress been a little less revealing she might actually have looked younger than she did. I felt sad as I watched her.

Why do we accept that youth has a corner on the market of determining what is fun or desirable? Every age has a special beauty. And every age has its pleasures. I am tired of the tyranny of trying to defy the odds and look younger than I am. When do we get to retire from the unrealistic demands of our culture? When can I relax in comfort?

I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that. Lauren Bacall

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I think I am becoming a curmudgeon! So many things seem to irritate me. Is that a symptom of being old?

Last week I watched Oprah and the topic of the show was Working Mothers and Mothers Who Choose to Stay Home and Raise Their Children. I was irritated by the terminology. Having raised four children, my experience and my opinion is that all mothers are working mothers. Some mothers work full-time inside the home raising their children and some mothers work outside the home in paying jobs. The subtle implication in using Working Mother for those mothers who have jobs outside the home is that Mothers who elect to stay home aren’t working. They are just taking care of children.

Someone has to take care of children. Some mothers elect to do it full-time themselves. Other mothers find someone to provide care for their children during the hours that they are employed outside the home. Many mothers have no choice. They may be widowed, they may be divorced, or the father of their children may have abandoned them. They have to work outside the home and also provide the parenting. In poor families, everyone who can work does so. It is necessary for survival.

Taking care of children requires many skills. A current term heard frequently and usually associated with important busy people, is multi-tasking. It is a term that aptly describes the skill most necessary to being a traditional homemaker and mother! After many years experience of home making and child rearing, I decided to join the work force outside my home and I quickly learned how little value was placed on the multi-tasking skills required to run a home and raise children. Prospective employers were unimpressed with homemaking and child rearing listed on a resume as skills.

For the first 18 years of my marriage, I was a full-time homemaker and mother because that is what was expected of me. I do not regret having done so. Being a full-time homemaker and mother has its benefits. It also has its frustrations. Working outside the home also has benefits and frustrations. I decided to “go to work” (as if I hadn’t been “working”) when my youngest child was 8. I worked for one year as a secretary for an Army educational program and realized that I needed to complete my education in order to be able to pursue what I really wanted to do. At the age of 39 I had the opportunity to return to college. Nineteen years earlier I had dropped out in my senior year in order to marry my husband, a young lieutenant with orders to move. Not even my father who highly valued education objected. Girls grew up to marry, take care of their husbands, and have children. Even girls who had to work because of limited financial means shared the dream of marrying and having children as their career goal.

I graduated from college and continued to earn a Master’s degree. At the age of 41 I started my first full-time job outside the home and I worked until retiring at age 65. After a year or so of retirement I started working again part-time and I plan to continue working as long as I am able to do so.

Instead of debating which choice is of greater merit, staying at home to raise your children or working outside the home, why don’t we try to support women at home and in the work force to handle their responsibilities as mothers?

It is not a simple choice, and sometimes it isn’t a choice at all because so many women have limited options. I think I was irritated by the superficiality with which the issue was treated. I was also irritated that the role of fathers didn’t factor into the equation. And I was most irritated by the assumption that at home mothers aren’t “working.” Raising children is the most difficult job I’ve ever had. And the most important.

It is at once the most overwhelmingly frustrating and exasperating task and the most joyous and rewarding experience to make human beings out of children.
Rabbi Neil Kurshan

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another blog!

The Dove Pro-age campaign asks, “What’s better than knowing you’re beautiful?” In my previous blog I wrote, “My answer to that will take another blog! So here it is.

At age 72, my first response is that knowing I am healthy is better.
Knowing that my family is OK is better.
Having a personal relationship with the God of my understanding is better.
Being financially independent is better.
Being intelligent is better than being beautiful.
Being talented is better than being beautiful.
My beautiful granddaughter who was wounded in Iraq by an I.E.D. (Improvised Explosive Device) would probably say that being pain free is better than being beautiful.

I quickly compiled a long list but the list doesn’t really convey my feelings.

Beauty is a great gift from God. Like any work of art it is to be admired and appreciated and enjoyed.

In an advertising campaign for skin care products for women, beautiful is most likely used to describe physical attributes that are aesthetically pleasing. However they are using models of varying sizes, shapes, and ages so their message conveys the idea that beauty can be seen in women who do not meet the current cultural definition of beauty. And that, I applaud with a standing ovation!

As a little girl I often heard, “Beauty is as beauty does.” Looking beautiful is not the same as being beautiful. And the latter is the better of the two. Of course, as a little girl, I thought that doing/being beautiful was some sort of booby prize for little girls who weren’t pretty! A consolation that was supposed to make up for not looking pretty.

It took many years to fully realize that being beautiful is more important than looking beautiful. And even more years to realize that inner beauty transforms and becomes outer beauty also.

That which is striking and beautiful is not always good; but that which is good is always beautiful.
Ninon de Lenclos (Anne Lenclos)

Do you love me because I’m beautiful, or am I beautiful because you love me?

Oscar Hammerstein, II

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. More precisely, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where "cognition" is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior.

The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions. Wikipedia

Nancy Pelosi, a 66 year old grandmother who has become the first female Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

A 62 year old grandmother who posed nude for a billboard in Times Square.

I heartily commend the Dove pro-age campaign using “real” women in their ads rather than professional models and I believe their slogan that “Beauty has no age limit.” I answer, “Yes!” to their question, “Can a woman be beautiful at any age?” They also ask, “What’s better than knowing you’re beautiful?” (My answer to that will take another blog!)

I think the problem is that we are establishing an ideal of physical beauty for older women (just as we have always done for younger women) that most older women will not be able to achieve. Some people age well, others don’t.

I am also wondering if we will soon see a billboard with the photo of an older man nude in Times Square. Or watch a TV program about men who look young for their age and discuss how they should dress and wear their hair and make-up in order to look their best.

This is perhaps a sensitive issue for me because I was the daughter of a mother who was truly beautiful. Family, friends and strangers would often comment on the beauty of my mother and then remark on how much I looked like my father. My father was a nice looking man but I couldn’t envision him as a beautiful woman. I adored my Daddy and was always proud to be like him but I wanted to look like my mother. I grew up in an era when beauty was a great asset to a woman. (I think it still is.) More important than being intelligent, having an education or being athletic. There were exceptions, of course. But the exceptions were so exceptional that they weren’t really role models for most of us. In the 40’s and early 50’s most women grew up to be wives and mothers and everyone knew that boys and men fell in love with the pretty girls.

The pretty girls were the popular girls, pursued by the football players. Football players were the popular guys and they went out with the popular girls. Occasionally they would date an “attractive” girl, attractive being a euphemism for those girls who weren’t actually pretty but weren’t actually ugly either and had something else to recommend them. Sometimes they were “cute” or “sweet.” Another euphemism. For girls, physical looks and social status were the main criteria for determining who was popular and who wasn’t. For boys, it was social status and athletic prowess.

I was a wife with four children when I read Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique” published in 1963. The book spoke to me powerfully and, although I never burned a bra, I became an ardent champion of women’s rights. The right of women to have the same opportunities that men enjoyed. Now, over forty years later I have witnessed many women becoming the “first woman” to do or become many new things. I wept when Andrea Lee Hollen, USMA 1980, graduated from the United States Military Academy, the first woman to do so. I wept when the first women were ordained as priests. I wept as I watched Barbara Harris become the first woman consecrated as a bishop. Most recently I wept when Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman elected as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, the first female primate in the Anglican communion. I weep with pride and joy and because my daughters, granddaughters and my great granddaughter can choose to pursue dreams that I never dreamed possible. In 1974 at the age of 40 I went back to college to complete a degree that I had put on hold when I married. Several of my friends did the same and we all pursued professional careers and, at the time, that was considered sort of daring. Older women returning to school.

So, here we are. A 62-year-old grandmother in the nude on a huge billboard in Times Square. Annie Liebovitz took the photo and it is a beautiful photo. But I don’t know how I feel. I’m not sure what I think. Is this progress for women?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

On looking younger

I watched an Oprah show this week that was all about women looking younger and looking their best. Several of the guests on the show were women who looked incredibly younger than their actual age. There were several “makeovers” and a discussion by a panel of experts about how women should dress, style their hair, and wear make-up in order to look their best by looking younger.

I am not comfortable with shows that promote “looking younger” as a criteria for looking your “best.” And I am not comfortable with shows that focus on looking your best rather than focusing on being your best and doing your best.

What do people mean when they say, “You look young for your age!” How does 60 look? How does 70 look? How does 80 look? Each age looks different for every individual. Why do we think that looking younger is a great achievement? We all look better on some days than on others, whatever our age. Looking younger than our chronological age is a matter of genes or a matter of cosmetic surgery. Neither of which says anything about our character, our intelligence or our integrity. Looking younger is not praiseworthy.

I do not want every face I see to look the same. Youth is beautiful but so is the face of someone who has lived a long life, with the trials and tribulations that life brings, and has survived with grace and dignity.

I want to see a face that has laughed a lot and cried a lot. I want to see a face that reflects love and is animated by a passion for living. I want to look into eyes that shine with inner light and inner beauty. I want to see wisdom and kindliness and compassion. My friends have lived interesting lives and have exciting ideas and are committed to living as fully as possible. Most of us are of a certain age and none of us look particularly young.

I do not think that presenting one’s self attractively is a bad thing. We don’t have to look at ourselves but other people do and we should make an effort to be presentable so other people won’t have to look at us looking our worst. I just think that looking young has very little to do with anything of real importance.

Love is a great beautifier. Louisa May Alcott

As a white candle

In a holy place,
So is the beauty
Of an aged face.
Irishry (1913) 'Old Woman'
Joseph Campbell

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Bemused & Befuddled

The following arrived in my email.
[Illustrated with cartoon figures of old people]

My forgetter's getting better,
But my rememberer is broke
To you that may seem funny
But, to me, that is no joke

For when I'm "here" I'm wondering
If I really should be "there"
And, when I try to think it through,
I haven't got a prayer!

Oft times I walk into a room,
Say "what am I here for?"
I wrack my brain, but all in vain!
A zero, is my score.

At times I put something away
Where it is safe, but, Gee!
The person it is safest from
Is, generally, me!

When shopping I may see someone,
Say "Hi" and have a chat,
Then, when the person walks away
I ask myself, "who was that?"

Yes, my forgetter's getting better
While my rememberer is broke,
And it's driving me plumb crazy
And that isn't any joke.

CAN YOU RELATE ? ? ? Please send this to everyone you know because I DON'T REMEMBER WHO I SENT THIS TO!
Have a great day who ever you are!

Have a great day in spite of the fact that I’m losing my mind? I am bemused and befuddled by the above. I believe that a sense of humor, especially the ability to laugh at ourselves, is essential to our health and well being, whatever our age, but is the loss of mental faculties really funny? My father suffered senile dementia and my mother’s death certificate listed the cause of death as “Alzheimer’s.” Needless to say, I am more than a little concerned about my risk factor as I grow older. Sometimes I laugh when I forget something but sometimes I feel sheer terror.

However, I think that I do not really find the above particularly humorous because it is a reflection of the stereotype of older people prevalent in our society. There are many persons who are advanced in years who are productive members of society, but in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, the stereotype prevails and often leads to the elderly being treated in a dismissive way. In many facilities for the elderly, residents are referred to as “Honey, Sweetie, etc.” Too often the elderly are treated like children. Children who are sometimes seen but not heard. Not listened to. Not noticed. Overlooked. Not taken seriously.

It is a subtle and pervasive discrimination and most people do not even realize they are doing it. Even some of us who are elderly, join in the joke rather than try to dispel the myth.

The next time you see an elderly person, remember, they are an adult inside an aging body hoping to be recognized and deserving of respect.

It is quite wrong to think of old age as a downward slope. On the contrary, one climbs higher and higher with the advancing years, and that, too, with surprising strides. Brain-work comes as easily to the old as physical exertion to the child. One is moving, it is true, towards the end of life, but that end is now a goal, and not a reef in which the vessel may be dashed. George Sand

Monday, January 29, 2007

I grieve with you

Whoever and wherever you are I grieve with you.

I read the New York Times online every morning. This morning I read the article “Man Down: When One Bullet Alters Everything,” an account by Damien Cave of a street fight in Baghdad and the death of a young soldier. I wept as I read it. There was no information about the family of the young man who was killed. He was 27 years old. He may have been married. He may have been a father. He is someone’s son. Are there brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins? How many friends are there? How many are grieving the death of this young man? My heart grieves with them. And I wonder yet once again. Why are we fighting this war? Why are we sending our sons and daughters, our children, our grandchildren to fight and die?

We are all going to die. Why do we hasten our deaths by fighting wars?

Why do we accept that it is OK to send other people’s children to war? Yes, they volunteer to serve their country. It is their duty. Yes. But it is our duty to not recklessly place them in harm’s way by sending them into battles that perhaps we shouldn’t be fighting.

We cannot evade responsibility by blaming our government without blaming ourselves as well. In a democracy we elect our leaders. If they are not acting in our best interests then it is our responsibility to hold them accountable. Silence and failure to act gives consent. We are all responsible for our current state of affairs.

What if it were your child?

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. [Hymn]

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine,
Memories, memories,
sweet memories
Sung by Elvis Presley

My home is cluttered. I live in a small condo with a 72-year collection of stuff.

Thirty-two years ago I met a woman who had a fascinating collection of Staffordshire dogs. I was so taken by it that I decided to start a collection of my own. I thought about what I wanted to collect for quite a while and then, on a trip to Italy, I discovered a small frog figurine and decided to collect frogs. As a child I was always enchanted by the story of the princess who kissed a frog and the frog became a prince.

I collected indiscriminately in the beginning. I saw a frog; I thought I had to have it. After a few years, I began to focus on finding unusual additions to a collection growing by leaps and bounds. Family and friends frequently added to my collection. Although all my children now shudder at the thought of inheriting my collection, they continue to give me frogs and “complain” to others about the impressive number of frogs in my collection. I have assured them that, if one of my grandchildren is clever, they will sell all my frogs on eBay and earn themselves a nice chunk of change. It truly is an impressive number of frogs. I have collections within the collection – frog mugs – frog pitchers – frog greeting cards – frog jewelry, and on and on. Frog is part of my email address and a part of my identity.

My condo is also cluttered with books. Every room in the house has books in it. An entire wall is taken up by bookshelves in the living room and there are several baskets filled with small collections of books on the floor. I have always loved books and reading and have always wanted a library of my own. My idea of heaven is a library containing all the books ever written and the authors themselves roaming around available for conversation.

I keep thinking that I really should eliminate some of the clutter but nearly everything in my home is a reminder of someone or something in my life history. How can I clear out my life history? The desk in my living room was my father’s desk. On the top shelf is a figurine of an angel, lion and lamb that my daughter gave to my mother. Next to it is a beautiful carved box that my son brought home to me from Afghanistan. The flag presented to my mother by a young soldier “from a grateful nation” at my father’s memorial service sits on top of the entertainment center. Paintings painted by my mother hang on my walls and a gallery of family photographs line the walls of the stairs.

In my bedroom, the quilt that covers my bed was made by my son and daughter-in-law. The carpet on the floor was my father’s favorite. My mother’s Hummel figurine of the Madonna sits on my dresser and next to it is my grandmother’s figurine of the Madonna. Needlework done by my daughters is displayed in my bedroom.

On one wall there is a large gold frame containing the long christening gown, made from my wedding gown, worn by my children and grandchildren at their baptisms. Next to it is a wedding portrait of me wearing my wedding gown on my wedding day. Beneath it is a large round table covered with family photographs.

There is a memory attached to nearly every thing in my home, a memory that reminds me of the wonderful life that I have lived. These memories are the story of my life. And not to be cleared out just yet.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Vetustior humo

That's “Older than Dirt” in Latin.

A good friend of mine for many years just emailed me a “History Exam,” a questionaire about the past. My score is: “You are older than dirt!”

I remembered that in the 1940s:
Automobile headlight dimmer switches were located on the floor board, to the left of the clutch – The top of Royal Crown Cola bottles had holes in it to be used to sprinkle clothes before ironing them – Due to rationing during WW II women painted their legs with a “seam” up the back – Roller skates were attached to your shoes with a clamp and tightened with a skate key – A Duck and Cover Drill was hiding under your desk in school and covering your head with your arms during an A-bomb drill – That “ammunition” was the last word in the song title “Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition” – That the Inkspots sang “Cabdriver” and Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco.

There are several versions of the test making the rounds. If you remember Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water – Candy cigarettes – Coffee shops with tableside jukeboxes – Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers – Party lines – Newsreels before the movie – 45 rpm records – S&H Green Stamps – Metal ice trays with lever – Drive-ins – then you are old.

Instead of being viewed as elders with wisdom to impart to those who are younger, I sometimes get the feeling that in our society being old means being beyond redemption. Having no value. No purpose. We are over the hill and out to pasture. Long in the tooth and older than dirt. Those older persons who are still contributing to society are considered exceptions rather than the rule.

John Mc Cain, who celebrated his 70th birthday in August 2006 recently described himself as “older than dirt but not too old to be president.” Seventy seems to be the age at which we achieve this dubious honor of being older than dirt. Most of the people I know who are my age and older are still living active lives and making valid contributions to the communities in which they live. We have not yet reached our expiration date!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another piece of the quilt..

My Christmas card was returned and next to the address it was stamped, “Vacant.” I was overcome with sadness. My father’s cousin Snooks, who was in her late nineties, no longer lives in the tiny house in Blackwell that she had lived in ever since she married. It is possible that she has been moved to a nursing home but I think it is more likely that she has died. The family of her husband, long since deceased, checked on her periodically but I never met them and I doubt that they know my name, much less my address or telephone number.

Snooks given name was Emma but I never heard anyone call her Emma. She was always Snooks or sometimes “The Old Broad!” She was not what the name implies but she had an earthy sense of humor and enjoyed referring to herself as the “Old Broad.” She even had mailing labels printed with that name.

We didn’t see Snooks often because of moving a lot. But whenever we did go back to Blackwell she was always one of the first people we visited. Snooks loved my father and mother and was always thrilled to see us.

On my last trip to Oklahoma to visit my parents, who were both in a nursing home, my son and his family who were living at Ft. Sill, and I took my parents to Blackwell to see Snooks and to visit all the family tombstone’s in the cemetery. Three living generations of the family visiting previous generations. It was a great visit and afterwards I started writing to Snooks. I became interested in the genealogy of my family and Snooks was a wonderful source of information. She had numerous physical difficulties but she was still mentally sharp in her late 80’s when I last saw her.

Although I remember her only as an old woman, I think she must have been quite beautiful as a young girl playing drums in her father’s band. I have only a vague memory of her husband. He served in WW !! and died in middle age. Snooks lived alone the rest of her life, faithful to his memory. She lived in very modest circumstances, in a tiny shotgun house with a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen and bath, but she never complained. She laughed a lot and spent most of her time helping others. She did volunteer work at the hospital for many years, doing very menial tasks. Her language was often ribald and she had all of the prejudices of her generation but she had the proverbial heart of gold. Even though she didn’t go to church she was a believer and she frequently expressed gratitude to the God of her understanding. She was a good woman. A strong woman. Another "feisty" woman in our family history! A survivor.

Snooks, the old broad, is another piece of my quilt of memories. A very colorful piece.

I pray that she is reunited with all her loved ones. Her husband. Her sister. Her parents. All the cousins. And my parents. May they rest in peace

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A quilt of memories

I remember my Aunt Bubu (she was my father’s aunt) standing in her kitchen beating cream until it turned to butter. She was always called Bubu (Boo Boo) by the family but other people called her Ruby, her real name. Her sisters were named Diamond and Pearl. I don’t know how she got the name Bubu. I remember the old ringer washer that she used to “worsh” the clothes. “Worsh” was the way everyone pronounced it.

Uncle Rusty looked a lot like Randolph Scott, a movie star who was popular then. He was a quiet man. Aunt Bubu did the talking. She was “feisty,” a word we don’t hear so much nowadays. Like ornery. Aunt Bubu and Uncle Rusty lived in a tiny town called Three Sands. It was founded around 1900 as an oil boom shanty town and my Uncle Rusty worked for the oil company. It had been the largest oil field in Oklahoma and is now a ghost town. Oklahoma had a lot of little towns with names like Tonkawa, Chickasha, Shawnee, Anadarko, Ponca City.

Their home was very small, a living room, a kitchen with a table in it, and two small bedrooms, barely big enough for a bed in them. They had a small black and white TV in the living room. Their yard was, to be expected, mostly sand but I do remember hollyhocks blooming there. And I remember the wash hung on clotheslines and blowing in the wind. The wind is nearly always blowing in Oklahoma. And I remember playing with horned toads in the yard.

I remember staying with them when my mother left to be with my father for a few weeks. Daddy was in the National Guard and when the National Guard was called up for World War II, he left and his unit was stationed a lot of different places. My mother and I went with him whenever we could.

I know now (I didn’t know then) that we were very poor. Almost everyone was very poor then. I remember the pretty pillowcases Aunt Bubu embroidered with a crocheted edge on them. I still have a few of them. She also crocheted potholders and afghans. Everyone made things then because anything “store bought” was expensive and beyond most people’s means.

Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907. It had been Indian Territory and it is still home to more Indian tribes than any other state and 39 of those tribes are federally recognized nations. "Oklahoma" is two Choctaw Indian words meaning "red man." I love the names and I have always loved the Native American spirit that is still strong there. And even though we traveled a lot and only lived in Oklahoma for short periods of time, I keep a clay pot made from the red earth of Oklahoma on my bookshelves and it is filled with the red earth that I brought with me.

Being older does have its advantages. One of them is having a lot of memories. One of the tasks of the last stage of our life is introspection. Recalling our experiences and what we have learned from them. And remembering pleasant experiences brings pleasure once again. Sharing our experiences also brings pleasure. Remembering is rather like making a mental quilt of all the bits and pieces of our memory. And, like a quilt, all the pieces of our life, when brought together, create a special and unique beauty and provides comfort.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Old is when

Old is when:

The best man in your wedding doesn’t remember being best man.
The first house you lived in is burned to the ground as practice for the fire department.
There is no one left to remember you as a child.

On most days I do not feel old. I feel like the younger woman who still lives in me and is wearing the costume and mask of an older woman. But there are moments of great clarity when I fully realize that I have lived a long time. My reaction to that realization can range from amusement to deep sadness and sorrow.

One amusing instance occurred when I accepted an invitation to attend a dinner during my former (now deceased) spouse’s 50th reunion at the United States Military Academy. We had married the year of his graduation and the best man at our wedding was a fellow graduate. During the cocktail hour, I saw our friend and best man in the crowd. I approached him and, having not seen him for many years and realizing that I might not be instantly recognizable, I told him that I was the first wife of my husband and made some comment about his being the best man in our wedding. He looked at me strangely so I asked if he remembered (name of my husband). He said, “Yes, of course!” We asked the usual questions, “Where are you living now? What are you doing? How is the family?” and then wandered apart greeting other people.

My husband and I had seen our friend on several occasions when stationed together in Washington, DC. Later in the evening the gentleman in question approached me and said, “I think you must have mistaken me for someone else. I was not the best man in your wedding.”

Now, my memory is sometimes tricky but in this case I knew for certain that this man had been our best man and I offered to send him photographic proof! I was amused by the whole encounter but, on reflection, a little saddened also. Sad that his memory is fading (I can identify with that) and sad that he did not remember my wedding. And, yes, I did dig out my wedding album when I returned home and made sure that my memory was accurate. I never did send him a copy of the pictures and I wonder what he thought about a crazy lady who thought he was someone else!

A few years ago I returned to the small town in Oklahoma where I was born, with my oldest daughter. I wanted to show her my very first home. A very small, very modest duplex. I guess the old adage is true, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” because I felt a kind of affection for the house that had been my home for the first six years of my life. and that contained my very earliest memories. I drove down Florence Street, turned around at the corner and drove very slowly down the street again. My house had disappeared! I parked and we walked to the spot where it once had stood. There was a small patch of burned ground. A patch that looked too small to have been home to two families. I was overcome by a great sadness. I learned later that the fire department had used the small abandoned duplex for training purposes. So, at least, my first home had met a worthy end.

I was an only child so the death of my parents meant that my childhood is now remembered only by me, like the memories of living in our first home on Florence Street. My aunts and uncles predeceased my parents and I did not grow up with any cousins. As we grow older and the previous generation begins to die we lose not only our loved ones but also pieces of our own history. Perhaps that is why we begin to think about leaving a legacy to future generations of our family, lest our history disappear altogether.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ode to my hands

Hands are the heart's landscape. Pope John Paul II

As a young woman my hands were small, slender and smooth.
Now my hands are looking old, wrinkled with visible veins.

I fell several years ago, my hands reaching out to break the fall, and broke my wrist so severely that my hand became swollen and I could not use it for many weeks. After the pins and then the cast were removed, I spent several months in therapy with a hand specialist. With her expertise and encouragement and exercise I eventually recovered the full use of my hand much to the surprise of my orthopedic surgeon and my therapist. They did not expect me to regain full use.

Since that time I have been mindful of my hands. They took care of my children when my children were babies and held their hands, as they grew older. They have held the hands of my grandchildren and now, my great-granddaughter. They have washed many dishes (I actually married before the advent of the dishwasher), folded many clothes and fixed broken toys. They have administered first aid to my children and held the hands of my family and friends when they needed comforting.

My hands have been blessed with creativity. They have embroidered, knitted, done needlepoint, smocked and quilted. My hands have drawn and painted, cut and pasted many craft projects, held a camera and taken photographs. My hands have enjoyed the sensual feel of fabrics and have sewn clothes for me and for my children. They sewed and beaded a quilted chuppah for my daughter's wedding. They have made many gifts for the people I love.

My hands have provided me the pleasure of playing the piano. My hands have kneaded dough, baked cookies and cooked for my family and friends and guests. They have arranged flowers and pulled weeds and planted bulbs.

My hands tickled the backs of my husband and my children. My hands held their heads when they were sick and throwing up. My hands have petted many dogs that I have loved.

My hands have held the chalice, offering “the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation” during communion. I have laid my hands on others to pray for their healing.

My hands touched my father as he lay dying and touched my mother as she lay dying.

My hands have worn my engagement ring and my wedding band, the diamond ring my parents gave me when I finally graduated from college at the age of 40, and all the beautiful rings that my father made for me.

My hands are no longer smooth but they have served me well and deserve respect and appreciation. They have been the instruments of my soul. I pray that I will never take them for granted as I used to do.

May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us;
Prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. Psalm 90:17

Monday, January 15, 2007

Some things are better aged.

Some things are better aged. Wine. Cheese. Friends.

A friendship that has withstood the test of time is one of the greatest blessings of growing older. Friends who knew us “when!” Friends who have shared our joys and sorrows and have laughed and cried with us,

who have celebrated with us and mourned with us,
who have encouraged us to be our best,
who always see the best that is within us,

who know all our faults but love us anyway,
who know all our secrets and keep them all,
who know all our sins but find value in us and respect us still,

who are willing to talk to us at any time of the day or night,

who care about the people, places, and things that are important to us,
who actually enjoy seeing our family photographs!

It is through the love of our closest friends that we experience the love of God.

Happy Birthday to my friend who is celebrating her 71st today!

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend.

She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.
Toni Morrison

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.
John Leonard

Saturday, January 13, 2007

How I miss my red hair

My deafness I endure
To dentures I’m resigned
Bifocals I can manage
But God, how I miss my mind.

I am not yet deaf. I still have all my original teeth minus one. I have worn glasses since the age of eleven and was prescribed bifocals in my early twenties. My ability to recall is not as sharp as it once was but I am still able to function in a job and live independently. I think what I miss the most is my red hair. I had thick, long, coppery colored red hair. I enjoyed having the color of hair that is least common. There are lots of blonds and brunettes but not that many redheads. All the colors I prefer to wear are the colors that complement red hair. Colors that do not usually look good on me now.

As I grew older my hair darkened and the red faded. For a few years I used a color rinse that maintained the original color but somewhere along the way I became allergic to products that color your hair. My hair has begun to turn grey around my face but it remains a very nondescript color in back and horror of horrors, my hair is thinning and I have the balding pattern that runs in our family. I have also developed cowlicks and styling my hair is no longer possible. Long hair is a thing of the past. I now wear it very short.

My mother’s hair, originally brunette, turned a beautiful white and she never had to use a color rinse to enhance it. It had a natural wave and softly framed her face. I wish that my hair would turn white like hers but it isn’t.

I sometimes wonder what purpose or lesson God has in mind for us in being subjected to the indignities and losses that most of us experience as we grow older? Many of them are too embarrassing to even talk about. Many are silly, like losing your hair, or the color of your hair, and some are very serious. It almost feels like adding insult to injury. And I know that God would do neither.

Approaching the end of one’s life is difficult enough without all the indignities that we joke about because it’s the only way we can handle the humiliation.

On the bright side I have a granddaughter who inherited my red hair, just as I inherited mine from my grandmother, and she is named after me! When I think about her I don’t miss the loss of my red hair so much.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Act your age?

There is a commercial currently playing on television that I find very irritating. A mother holds up a pair of jeans that she had worn when she was young and her teen-age daughter comments, “Mom, those are awesome.” Then we see the daughter appear on screen wearing her mother’s jeans and parading through the kitchen with a boyfriend. Mother is eating bowl after bowl of Total cereal. After several frames, mother has presumably lost weight, and says to her daughter, “I want those jeans back now.” Then we see mother walking down stairs wearing the jeans, dressed like her teenage daughter.

I think the commercial irritates me because the not so subliminal message is that mother wants to look like she did when she was a teenager. Why would a mother want to look like her teenage daughter? The message? Thin and young is attractive and sexy. Granted, it is. However the corollary is that not-so-thin and old is not attractive. When we no longer look like a teenager, we are no longer attractive. Lose weight in order to be thin and look young.

As Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”—desiring to be attractive! However I think there is something wrong with what we as a society promote as attractive. And something is very wrong when being young and sexy [“hot” being the current operative word] is the predominant image of female desirability.

We used to hear the expression, “Act your age!” It was usually used to admonish someone whose behavior was inappropriate to his or her age. Some behaviors were considered undignified at certain ages. Some behaviors were considered undignified and inappropriate at any age. I still believe that to be true and would like to admonish the mother in the commercial to act her age! Mothers dressing and acting like teenagers is unbecoming. [Am I becoming anachronistic?}

Another synchronistic moment. While writing this I received an email from a good friend titled “When it’s time to hang up the thong.” It was a photograph taken at the beach of an obviously older woman, 70 or 80 years old, walking away from the camera, wearing a thong. It is one of those pictures that are worth a thousand words. A thong at 70 or 80? Definitely not age appropriate. Actually I’m not convinced that a thong is appropriate at any age. Why not just go nude?

Is there such a thing as age appropriate behaviors? If so, what is appropriate for older people? People in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? What irritates you? While thinking about it, what is your image of an attractive older person?

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Now I am laughing! After posting today’s blog I checked my email and a friend had forwarded the following:

"I picked up this list of answers to Bible questions from a friend. They are the answers given by children, ages 5 to 12 or so, to Bible questions. They well illustrate the principle that "a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing!"

1. A deacon is the lowest kind of Christian."

Too old?

Sarah is not my name. It is the name I have chosen to use on my blog. I have chosen it for a reason.

9 They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." 10 Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" 13 The Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." Genesis 18:9-14

Last summer I was thrilled to be accepted into the process of discernment for Ordination to Deacon in the Episcopal Church. The first question I asked of the committee was “Am I too old?” and they assured me I was not. I completed the process and received a beautiful letter of recommendation to go forward in the ordination process. Six weeks later I was called and informed that the Church had changed canon law at National Convention (in 2006) making 72 the mandatory age of retirement for deacons. I was disqualified before I got out of the starting gate! I was very disappointed and confused about the “call” that I felt. I was “too old” after all.

During the discernment process I had chosen to meditate on the above scripture concerning Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who was blessed by God and gave birth to a child when she was “too old” to have a child. There are many ways of bringing forth new life and that was my prayer. To bring forth new life in old age.

It is still my prayer. And this blog is somehow part of gestation. I am awaiting the birth of new life. What form that new life will take I haven’t a clue. Meanwhile I am pursuing the path that I had hoped to pursue as a deacon. I am involving myself in additional interfaith activities. And I am exploring the experience of growing older and what it means to be “too old.”

Old age comes from God, old age leads on to God, old age will not touch me only so far as He wills.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The final challenge

To be afraid of death is like being afraid of discarding an old worn-out garment.
Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi

In old age, we face our final challenge of living. Death. The death of loved ones. Our own death. Yesterday I drove to Amherst and spent the day with a good friend who retired there with her husband several years ago. Last year her husband died of cancer and she has written a book about her experience of caring for him during his final illness and death.

We talked about death and dying but our conversation was not morbid. It felt very natural. She is younger than I but we are both of an age that thoughts of dying are part of our consciousness and we have both experienced the deaths of family members and friends. Having been active members of the Episcopal Church for many years, we both believe in everlasting life. It is natural to wonder what that life might be like.

In the 70’s Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer prize for “Denial of Death.” The title told the tale. As a society we avoid even using the words, death and dying. We use euphemisms instead. She passed away. He bought the farm. Perhaps talking about dying and our own death helps us to remember what is truly important in life. Loving God and loving others.

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen [BCP, p. 504]

Friday, January 5, 2007

Woman with a past

Woman with a past!

One day, on my way home from work, I stopped at Barnes & Noble. While I was browsing a book display, a young man approached me and said he needed help. He knew that I was another customer and not an employee but he thought I could help him. He explained that he was researching an object that he had been given, which he described as a small birdcage with a bird in it that played music when wound up. He said that he knew it had been popular in the past and thought I might know what it was called. In his hands he was holding a book titled “Toys” and commented that he didn’t really think that the birdcage was a toy. He was very polite and pleasant and was genuinely perplexed by the object he was trying to identify. After a brief discussion I agreed that he was not describing a toy and suggested that he look under music boxes instead. He was very pleased and said, “Thanks! I knew you could help me!”

I am sure that he thought I could help him because the object he was researching had been “popular in the past.” And I am obviously a woman with a past!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Mardi Gras

Dressing in costume and pretending to be someone else is always fun. And it seems to me that our bodies, as we age, are rather like “costumes” that hide our true identity. We look in mirrors and are shocked to see our reflections. Who is this woman staring back at me?

Recently I visited a close friend of mine who is recovering from knee replacement surgery. I met her when she was younger, slim and blonde and energetic. Now, she was lying on the couch with an ice pack on her knee, seventy-five with grey hair and not so svelte and not so energetic. We chatted about the changes that occur as we grow older—the inevitable physical changes—and the change in the way that others treat us. We talked about the frustration of being treated differently. I looked at my friend and laughed to myself remembering the hot biker chick that lived inside her aging body. The blond bombshell that commuted to work on her motorcycle. It was then that I came to the conclusion that “old” people, those of us who no longer look like we used to, are wearing “costumes” just like we used to on Halloween. And sometimes our costumes are so convincing that we don’t even recognize ourselves.

I have always loved costume parties. I love being someone else for a few hours. As a child I loved playing “Let’s pretend”. As a woman growing older I have decided to go for the prize of “Best Costume!” To be amused when others fail to see the young woman who is wearing the costume. I am going to revel in the adventure of growing older as if it were a celebration like Mardi Gras. I bet I’ll get a lot of attention!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Age is opportunity

I am wondering why I launched this blog thinking about age and growing older. “Growing older” is a phrase we usually associate with a population that has enjoyed many birthdays. The truth is, we are all growing older, from the newly born infant to the great grandparent. It is the natural process of life. Growing older. In our society we want to remain alive but we avoid growing “older” like the plague. Actually it can’t be avoided except by dying but we can pretend that the effects of growing older aren’t happening. Men and women spend billions on cosmetics, hair products and cosmetic surgery in the attempt to keep their faces and figures frozen in time at age 20. Our favorite compliment is, “Oh no, you couldn’t possibly be __! You look so young!” We are inordinately pleased when someone thinks we’re younger in years than we actually are. Why is that? Being young is wonderful. Youth is beautiful. But, why can’t every age be wonderful and beautiful? I think that I am rebelling, trying to defy our culture's negative perceptions of age and hoping to find the wonder and beauty inherent in being old.

Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Aun aprendo

The first response to my blog came via email from a friend who told me that Goya had drawn a portrait of himself as a very old man and titled it Aun Aprendo, meaning “I am still learning.” It hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Goya continued to paint and draw in spite of ill health as he grew old.

Growing old chronologically is a given but being open to learning throughout our life leads to a wisdom of the spirit that keeps us young at heart.

Sophocles wrote, "Old age and the passage of time teach all things." I have often wondered if learning is the very purpose of our existence. Life seems to be a series of lessons. Opportunities for learning present themselves. If we fail to learn the lesson, it is uncanny how further opportunities for learning it come along. Once we do learn the lesson, we move on to the next one.

Continuing to learn until "death do us part" from this world is one of the reasons I believe that our souls continue to exist after our physical departure. Why else would we be learning, if not to prepare us for whatever lies ahead?

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year!

My family and friends have been encouraging me to “write” for many years. So I have resolved on the first day of this New Year 2007 to start a blog. I have been a regular blog reader for quite a while but the thought of writing one myself is scary. I’m not at all sure of what to write about.

I suppose I will start by sharing some of my thoughts and feelings about growing older and being an older woman in a culture obsessed with youth and sex. I think it was Art Linkletter who said many years ago that, “growing older is not for sissies.” I am certainly finding that to be true.

Two years ago I celebrated my seventieth birthday. My four children and their spouses and my sixteen grandchildren gathered from Kansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Tennessee, Florida and Iraq, traveling a total of 3500 miles to host a party for me. It was a wonderful celebration and the first time that all my family has been together in one place since my children grew up and left home. And I was thrilled to have a family portrait taken with me in the middle as the grand matriarch of a family of 25! Not bad for an only child!

I am in good health and happy most of the time. However daily I am ever more aware of the fact that the older we become the less our outside appearance reflects the reality of our inner life. In her later years my mother frequently protested, “But I feel young!” And she was offended at my suggestion that perhaps she qualified for the status of “old” when she was eighty. In our culture the word “old” has many negative connotations. Now that I, too, am old, I know what my mother was saying.

This blog will include, but not be limited by, my reflections on growing older. It will include my reflections on whatever comes to mind. I began to read blogs when my granddaughter, a sargeant in the Army started one when she was stationed in Iraq. So here goes! If anyone should read this I pray that you will have a very blessed new year!


I discovered the following among the drafts that I never published. I don't know why I abandoned it. Rather than delete it forever I think I'll publish it now!


My family and friends have been encouraging me to “write” for many years. So I have resolved on the first day of this New Year 1007 to start a blog. I have been a regular blog reader for quite a while but the thought of writing one myself is a little scary. I’m not at all sure of what to write about.

I suppose I will start by sharing some of my thoughts and feelings about growing older and being an older woman in a culture obsessed with youth and sex. I think it was Art Linkletter who said many years ago that, “growing older is not for sissies.” I am certainly finding that to be true.

Two years ago I celebrated my seventieth birthday. My four children and their spouses and my sixteen grandchildren gathered from Kansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Tennessee, Florida and Iraq, traveling a total of 3500 miles to host a party for me. It was a wonderful party and the first time that all my family has been together in one place since my children grew up and left home. And I was thrilled to have a family portrait taken with me in the middle as the grand matriarch of a family of 25! Not bad for an only child!

I am in good health and happy most of the time. However daily I am ever more aware of the fact that the older we grow the less our outside appearance reflects the reality of our inner life. In her later years my mother frequently protested, “But I feel young!” And she was offended at my suggestion that perhaps she qualified for the status of “old” when she was eighty years. In our culture the word “old” is a bad word with many negative connotations.