A Blog of Personal Thoughts
The August of Life
When August arrives Alaska air smells different. It has coolness to it as we feel autumn approach. By the end of the month the cottonwood leaves begin to turn. A friend once said that winter starts Labor Day weekend when all the tourists leave and it lasts till Memorial Day weekend when they return. What about the August of life, though?
My mother called me twice a year—my birthday and Christmas Day. We talked for three minutes, so used was she to the telephone rates of seventy years ago. One summer she called and talked for twenty minutes. Four days later, she called again. This went on for about six weeks. I wrote her a letter telling her if she had a terminal illness, she needed to tell her four children and we’d support her. She received the letter and called me.
“Oh Honey. I’m getting old.”
“Is this the first time you’ve thought that?”
“Yes. My hair’s turning grey.”
“You just turned seventy-four and this is the first time you’ve felt old?”
“Mummy, that’s okay.”
“No. I’m pre-diabetic and have to stop eating ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate syrup every day.” Ah, that and the visible grey hairs were the disaster for her.
The twice a week phone calls continued for another couple of weeks.
I was thirty-two during these calls. I wondered how I’d feel when I reached seventy-four. Would I feel old? I wondered each year until this one.
When the optometrist told me my increasing macular degeneration was worsening, I asked could I still write for the rest of my life.
“How long are you thinking that is?” He asked.
“100. I have relatives on both sides who lived past that.”
“Probably not,” he said.
The eye doctor called to say that the date for my injection to ameliorate macular degeneration would be in a week. Now eighty-one, I felt old for the first time. I must be old for him to recommend that. The outside opinion he asked for confirmed what he thought. Next week, eh? I guess so.
Three months ago, my grandson defined age as preschool, school age, adult, middle age, and elderly. When I said I must be elderly then, he replied, no, I was beyond that in an unnamed category. “Beyond elderly” is the only age group I fit into. Humph.
As I see myself aging, I used to say so what. Now I ask how much writing I want to do, how much more I need to finish and publish. Does it matter? Will it matter in a couple of centuries? After all, I’m no Emily Dickenson, Dostoyevsky, or Dylan Thomas. No, I suppose it won’t matter to anyone else, but it matters to me.
I enjoy writing, reading the finished products on my desk, reading them in print. I enjoy helping people change the course of their lives from “Oh, this old outfit? I’ve had it forever” to “Thank you. I like this suit also.” I like helping people change their feelings from self-deprecating to self-complimentary. I like it when someone says, “I like that poem (or book) a lot. It speaks to me.” Perhaps the best part is that writing well makes me feel good, rich and fulfilled inside.
Twenty years left, eh?
Death lives around us. But now it’s classmates, work associates, personal friends, and relatives my age.
My close friends, those that are (were) very close, have been dying since I was 30. Relatives began dying when I was a child. How come I didn’t have any grandfathers? Why did my father die when I was in high school? Why did my best friend die less than 10 years into a lifetime friendship? One of my son’s friends, Kearny, died in a plane crash only months into their friendship. It seems we each had a lifetime of friendship with someone whose years was far too few for them, their families, and for us.
Ten days ago I wrote an “in memoriam” for one of my closest friends from middle and high school years. The alum magazine had asked one of her classmates to write one. Elizabeth and I lived across the street from one another, not an easy occurrence in New York. We both lived on a one-block long private street. How easy it was to go between our homes! How easy it was for me to say immediately that I would write about her. Writing it called up so many warm moments across the last very many years.
One of our classmates, Sturges, said, “Every day brings more news of loss. Sigh.” Loss of friends my age, and younger, seems to happen more and more often these days. Thus, for a couple of decades now, I intentionally look for and foster friendships with people decades younger than I. That helps.
Having had a near death experience at age five, usually referred to as an NDE these days, I’ve known about death all my life. I always considered us “good friends” or at least passing good acquaintances. The Seventh Seal, an Igmar Bergman film remains one of my favorites even though it is far from any realm of cheery. In the film, Death plays a game of chess. Whoever wins or whoever loses…don’t bother with this black and white Swedish film if death does not interest you.
When it came to my own death, I didn’t mind. Losing relatives and friends, bothered me a lot, though, until a couple of weeks ago when I realized that the August of my life has arrived. Not the November or December, but summer is closing and autumn approaches.
Our gardens remain the same size, but some now have more perennials than vegetables. I pick fewer berries and can less. Still, I stay a year ahead in case I break a leg or, as we did in 2020 when we spent the first summer of COVID-19 in Oregon and not Alaska, I’m not here to plant and gather. I need to keep the shelves and freezer full for the next winter.