Today I am eighty. Physically, I don’t feel eighty, maybe seventy-two, when my knee didn’t bother me at night. Mentally. . .at the moment I’d like to be be closer to my mother’s one hundred-years-and-still-going-state. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff any more, except when she wonders what Fred will think about the way their money flying out the door, paying so much for rent. Dad has been dead for five years and I tell her he doesn’t care any more. Nor should she. Her daughters are doing the worrying, but I don’t tell her that. She spends much of her time quietly TV watching and listening to music at her adult foster home.
And my sister and I have livened things up with a fine birthday party for her. Mom has two grandchildren, a few step grands, three greats, two aging children of her own, their several husbands whose names she still remembers despite the fact that those names have changed over the years. Also invited was Lorie, her one remaining friend. The party in its lovely private room seated athirteen celebrants and a few ghosts all singing along with the 1930’s ballads Mom used to play on her piano.
Lorie is precious. Lorie contains the best times in my mother’s life. When they talk, it’s about fishing on the Deschutes, the big one Helen caught, the men bringing in strings of steelhead, the evenings playing poker at a table next to a camp fire if the night is warm, or inside the RV if it isn’t. As they reminisce, Lorie holds Mom’s hand. They laugh. They gossip over small scandals that arose more than sixty years before, when they partied and weren’t fishing. “Remember when. . .” they say.
My friends, the old ones, are also eighty. Eighty is the step over the curb to old age, and we are taking it cautiously. For the first time, we understand what this means. It means walking instead of running, eating one meal a day and cutting back on the sweets; it means rubbing ointment into aching joints, or replacing them with metal; stuffing a plug into an ear in order to talk at lunch; turning the phone onto speaker mode to hear our grandchildren. Too many adjustments it seems, until we understand that we may also miss the adulthood of our children’s children, the bat mitzvahs, the graduations, the weddings, the cries of new babies that look a little like us. We will try to adjust.
This uncharted path beyond the curb may also mean that we lose ourselves. This will be tragic to those who love us. They will believe that we are absent, like my mother’s husband, dead, who still worries about the money. Like my mother when she wonders what he’ll say when he finds it is almost gone.
Perhaps not so tragic if they can understand that we will still feel the love swirling about us, even when we can’t always remember the name of the lover.