On Turning 80

This week, when all of Israel is fixated on the election, I am fixated on a much more personal event:  my 80th birthday on the 21st of September.  I’m not normally very focused on birthdays.  I don’t expect cards or gifts and I usually ignore the date..  After all, everyone has a birthday every year so what’s the big deal!  Really!  And I’ll bet that about one in 365 shares my birth date.  But, how many are turning 80?  I’m clueless but also quite sure that there’d be more if I were turning, say, 30.  No doubt a lot of the 1939 crop (my birth year) of 9/21s is vastly reduced from what it was.  We call this all life……or death.  Let’s choose life.

So, do I have serious reflections on this big deal of a date? Yes!  The mirror reveals the real me.  I’m 17 again.  Still a kid!

I remember a lesson from a long time ago.  The teacher was my late and great great-aunt Gussie.  Every summer she and her husband, the unrenowned but vastly talented tenor Pudalov, would spend some time with our family at our “kuchalein” in Parksville, NY, at the very edge of the Borscht Belt. Neither of them drove but I, at 17, was newly in possession of a driver’s license and an old Buick “hand me down” from my father. I was happy to drive anyone anywhere, so when Gussie asked if I would take her to Liberty, the “big” town five miles away, so she could buy a new lipstick, I readily agreed.  That this trivial event should become a pivotal moment in my life still strikes me as remarkable.

It took Gussie about an hour to select one tube of lipstick. My impatience soon turned to annoyance. Whatever could she be doing for so long?! Finally she emerged with a tiny bag in her hand. It contained one tube of lipstick. Seeing my face she taught me my lesson. You, dear niece, she said in the unmistakable voice of Bialystok blended with Brooklyn’s Pulaski Street, look in the mirror and see the fresh face of a 17 year old. Would it surprise you to know that I look in the mirror and see the same? She, with her deeply etched wrinkles, her numerous grandchildren, still saw a 17 year old reflected in the mirror. And so it was. And is.  Gussie was right.

When I look in the mirror, a few days shy of becoming 80, I ignore the ruts and valleys on my face.  I cast aside the totally gray hair. The double chin becomes adorable and here am I, once again, 17.  Fresh faced and lovely, just like Gussie taught me. The mirror wouldn’t lie.  Obviously.

We all, each of us, look in the mirror pretty often.  We brush our teeth, style our hair and do myriad other activities that require a mirror.  When you do something so routine so regularly you immunize yourself from the shock of seeing change.  It’s way too gradual.  You just don’t notice that your reflection at 80 is not the same as at 17.  You still see you and you haven’t changed a bit since 17.  Gussie was right after all.

Other people, however, may not have the same mirror blindness that you have.  And so it was, a few weeks ago, that my husband and I were walking in our beautiful park in West Orange.  We were our energetic best, huffing and puffing a bit to reach our goal of two miles, but the end was in sight when it happened.  An elderly woman (absolutely my age or more) smiled at me and declared, “I hope I can still walk in the park when I’m your age.”  God, forgive me, in these days of encroaching high holy days, for what I thought, but didn’t pronounce.  Surely she was way older than I.  Surely it was her cataracts that blurred her vision of my youth and vitality.  Surely I’m lying to myself!

These kinds of events keep happening.  I look in the mirror and see a teenager and then someone at the airport asks if I want a wheelchair.  Or a shriveled, wrinkled ancient one, gets up to give me a seat on a train.  Or no security guard ever asks to peek into my purse in Israel when I enter a mall.  I’m just waved in.  Old!  Couldn’t be a terrorist.

Worst of all, my children and grandchildren have started to patronize me.  Looking for clues that I’m senile.  Oops you forgot the eggs.  That’s the beginning of the end.!   Should you still be driving Ima?  Savta?

Just look at me.   Look at my reflection in the mirror.  I’m young and vital.  Can’t you see what I see?

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.
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