My chest is tight. I have that oh-oh feeling when I wake up each morning. I say mean things to my fine husband. Like, “Will you please put your day-old socks in the dirty clothes basket for once? They are having a two-day orgy on the foot of the bed. Very distracting and I’m trying to make a list of things to worry about.”
Don shrugs, smiles. “Perhaps one item on the list should be to investigate why my black socks resting quietly on my side of the bed make you think of orgies.”
Not orgies, really, more like riots. Like what’s going on in my head. I explain, “It’s almost Christmas. I had the nightmare again last night. The one where I’m about to give a speech and I can’t remember why I am standing dumbstruck at a podium.”
“Oh, oh,” he answers and he picks up his socks.
I am the matriarch of my small family. Actually, my mother is but she’s 101 and ten years ago she handed over the scepter to her elder daughter. A pencil, actually. And a piece of paper.
I rewrite my list four times, shop my catalogs, and review the menu, always cheese fondue for twelve folks, young and old. But last year something happened to the cheese and eating it involved trying to spear and move to one’s mouth long strings of rubber. I don’t like working all day on a meal and ending up having people laugh at it. This year it will be vegetarian lasagna, I decide. Safe.
The phone rings. My cheerful son surprises me by volunteering his talented teenage daughters as cooks for our Christmas Eve dinner. “To give you a break,” he says.
“Sure,” I manage to answer. “I’ll set the table.” I am deposed as matriarch. I hang up, overcome with negative thoughts. Even they don’t want the fondue again. They think I am too old to manage. They hate singing carols. The Bible story we always read bores them. Maybe they’d rather stay home.
Depressed, I ask my mother how she felt when I took over the role from her. “Happy.” She gives me her sweet smile. “Why?” Nowadays Mom smiles a lot.
I do understand that change is the only constant. However, when you have eighty years of changing, usually for the best, it is difficult to accept what is changing right now: the control of body functions, neck, memory, ability to get up from the sofa without groaning, children whose hair will soon be as gray as mine, the loss of the responsibility of stirring a pot of cheese into rubber.
“Everything changes,” my husband says as we walk to the bookstore. He takes my hand, perhaps because I’m inclined to shuffle over cracks, perhaps because he needs me as much as I need him.
“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” Bette Davis and my mother whisper.
I‘m going to stop whining. I squeeze his fingers. “I’m not a sissie,” I tell him.
“Nope, and I’m not either. Ice cream store coming up. Kefir again?”