It’s fair to say that each of us is getting older. But does it have to happen so fast? It’s cute, even adorable, when I get a picture of the newest baby in our family and suddenly he looks like a person with recognizable features and, best of all, a sweet heartwarming smile.
Compare that to the eldest lady in our family who just happens to be me. The double chin is deeper and the wrinkles are definitely more pronounced. The hair is thinning but the body is fatting! It’s not at all adorable. It’s actually scary!
I used to look in the mirror and see me, myself. Now I just am not so sure I recognize the image. The hair is gray. Some might say white. But, liar that I am, my driver’s license still says brown.
My driver’s license is also somewhat incorrect about the height and weight. Actually the weight was never what you’d call precise. It was a range that I was aspiring to and may have never reached. No. Another lie! Definitely never reached. And the height, which was close to correct, is now down about two inches. And sinking. This is not a pretty picture!.
Oy, the things that happen to us. But why, I repeat, so fast?
I remember elementary school like it was yesterday and high school as well. How did I go from there to here? How did I go from miss to ma’am to ignored like a piece of old furniture?
And maybe the same is true for you?
So getting old is inevitable if you’re lucky enough. My family has a mixed longevity. My father lived to be a robust almost 98. He aimed for 100 but didn’t make it. But he tried oh so hard. He was well over 90 when someone told him that soup is very fatty, especially the type laced with flanken, so rich that it almost slid from the bowl to the mouth. A man of, say 92, who had loved soup his whole life, hears that soup may be unhealthy, might think that stopping would be useless since he was already well into old age. Not my father, Sam. He never ate another bowl of soup in his life.
My mother lived to 85, greatly disappointing my father who fully expected that she would take care of him when he got old. He, being almost 7 years older than she, felt that he could expect her to outlive him. He was entitled. What a blow to him that she didn’t, leaving him to be an independent old widower. Life should not have had that in store for him. He imagined her cooking her magnificent meals and spending their old-age in peace playing gin rummy. Then, she was gone and I don’t think he was able to forgive her.
She, Mom, had a terrible fear of falling, rightfully so. She had broken her hip and knew that falling was far from fun. I remember one night when Dad was in Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba for an infection from which he recovered quite nicely. I was visiting from New Jersey and staying in their apartment to keep Mom company. It wasn’t late when I came home from having coffee with a friend, and I noticed instantly that there were drops of blood going up the stairs to their apartment. My heart started pounding in that ominous way it has of signaling trouble ahoy, and then I reassured myself. Across the hall from my parents was a dental office. No doubt the blood was coming from the mouth of a patient. As I recall that evening I felt like a character in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. All that was missing was a flock of birds or a shower curtain. There I was checking each step and finding a drop or two of blood on each and every one. When I reached the top would the blood go left to my parent’s apartment or right, as I prayed, to the dental office? No ambiguity at all. The drops continued their onerous pathway to the left. The dentist had caused no harm. The blood was Mom’s.
She survived that nasty event but she continued to fall. Dad was a strong old guy but not able to lift her from the floor by himself. Eventually, Belinda, a lovely Filipino woman, was hired to be a home attendant. But, their lives were never the same and Mom moved into a “facility” where she eventually died.
Her death was not a beautiful slow peaceful exit. She forgot many things. Remarkably, her English grammar stayed with her almost to the end. And she would correct grammatical mistakes in the times she couldn’t remember what she had for breakfast. Such is a mystery of life. One of many.
Then there was Pop, my mother’s father. He only lived to 77 but in his late 60’s he heard that smoking a pipe was very dangerous. This was a man with a perpetual pipe,filled with Model Tobacco which I, the errand girl, was sent to get him several times a month. Only on Shabbat was that pipe dormant and knowing his commitment to his pipe and his commitment to Shabbat, I was always impressed that Shabbat came out the winner. But those were the days when cigarettes were getting a bad rap and someone decided to throw pipes into the news as well. Pop, a devoted reader of the Yiddish Forward, read that pipes caused lip cancer. That was the end of the pipe. No more Model Tobacco entered our house. How did he give up a bad habit that he had had for probably 50 years? I was too young to ask but for sure it was not easy.
My father’s father, Zayda, also enjoyed longevity. He lived until 87 and died without fanfare at the Newark Beth Israel Hospital. In those days people just died without a disease being named and without all the descriptive material that we’ve become so familiar with in our times. Thus we didn’t know what was wrong with Zayda and there was certainly no CT scan to help with the diagnosis. He just stopped living and probably no one really knew why. We did know that he was built like a bull, broad and strong and that he succeeded in business in America, specifically in the great state of New Jersey, without ever speaking the sprecht known as English. I’m sure the nurses during his final days found him easy to take care of since he could never ask for anything.
Thus are our lives. From the precious baby to the wrinkled old ones, including me, to the many who will never return. C’est la vie. Or as we toast each other, to life, “L’chaim!”