I’m How Old? How Could That Be?

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

This Wednesday at 4:10 a.m., I will turn 70 years old. I don’t feel 70—except for my knees and my back—but every old person says that. Our spirits are ageless. Inside, we’re still 6 and 13 and 28 and 49 . . . .

But the number scares me. When I was a kid, 70 was old/the end of life. There was nothing beyond it. Now, maybe because there are so many of us 70-something baby boomers, maybe because a lot of the diseases that used to kill people early don’t anymore, 70 is barely a tiptoe into seniorhood. We could last another 30 or 40 years. My grandfather made it to 98, my dad to 97, his cousin to 96. On the other side of the family, the numbers aren’t as good, but we won’t dwell on that. Nobody knows when they’re going to die. I don’t know how people who don’t believe in God live with the uncertainty.

My 70-something friends are welcoming me into the cool kids’ club. Most are still very active, despite a few aches and pains. The other day when I walked into my friend’s house with a cane due to my gimpy knee, she brought out six different sprays and creams designed to relieve pain. I took two home; they kind of worked. She also talked about slipping off her diet to eat “pot cookies.” We both talk about buying campers and hitting the road. We grownup hippies are too young to be old.

But I read the obits. People my age die. People my age need hip replacements. People my age get cancer. Or not. I worry more about how most young people perceive 70, the same way I did: old/at the end/finished. I don’t want those perceptions to get in my way.

I’m just getting started. I have done a lot in my 70 years. If God calls, “Time!” I have done enough, but there are so many more books to read and write, songs to sing, people to meet, and places to go. I want to see how today’s children turn out. I want to see how “This is Us” and “Grey’s Anatomy” end. I want to know if my hair will ever turn completely white. The turn of the odometer just reminds me not to waste a minute.

So, here comes 70. I’m planning to go to Mass, hike in the woods a bit, have lunch with friends in Waldport, and, if the weather cooperates, read or play a little music in the sun. Just like I would have done when I was 69. If any locals would like to join us for lunch, let me know so we can save you a seat.

Here are some fun quotes about turning 70: https://seniors.lovetoknow.com/senior-life/turning-70-quotes-celebrate-joy-laughter

WebMD offers a list of the scary changes one can expect between 70 and 80. You don’t have to click on that. Instead, I offer Janet Harrigan Davis’ Pinterest board full of fun and inspiration about being 70.

Check out all these famous people who are in their 70s. Tom Selleck is older than me??? Meryl Streep! Dolly Parton! Go, us!

Whether you are younger, older, or the same age as me, what do you think about age 70? Is it “one foot in the grave,” no big deal, or something to cheer about? Let’s talk about it.

Success! You're on the list.

Hearing aids amplify every little cricket chirp

When I went to have my hearing checked last week, I had no idea I’d be walking out an hour later with hearing aids in both ears. I just wanted to find out if everybody was mumbling or I really couldn’t hear.IMG_20160516_140629411[1]

About 8 years ago, I had my hearing checked by the same audiologist, whom I had interviewed for the local newspaper. At the time, she saw a dip in the hearing in the right ear, but not enough to need hearing aids. A whole lot of life has happened since then. There are certain people in my life whom I just can’t hear. At the last two literary readings I attended, I couldn’t hear them read. It drove me nuts.

So into the booth I went. The doc placed heavy-duty headphones over my ears, blocking out all other sounds, then played beeps and boops at various volumes and pitches. I was supposed to say “yes” when I heard one. Often there seemed to be an echo of the sounds, and sometimes I didn’t hear anything for a long time. She followed the sounds with spoken words that got softer and softer.

A mild to moderate loss, she said afterward, pointing to a graph that shows normal hearing at about 20, mine at about 35, and 60 where it may ultimately go. Hereditary, she said. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I sat there in shock as she told me about the types of hearing aids I could get and how much they would cost–$5,000 for two hearing aids–and oh by the way, they don’t take credit cards. Then she shifted me over to the hearing aid guy, who stuck these loaners on my ears and set about programming them. He told me about all the extra features I could buy. All the while, I heard what sounded like crickets. Part of it was my own voice whenever I said an S or a C. But eventually I realized the cricket sound I was hearing was the clicking of his computer mouse. Whoa.

I walked out into the world with new ears, the biggest part perched on the top of my ears, with little nubs inside my ears. It helped a little with hearing things I wanted to hear: voices, the TV, music on the computer, but my own voice sounded weird to me. Rustling papers, plastic bags, car keys and my dog’s tags were annoyingly loud.

When I played music, the piano and guitar sounded tinny and my singing voice sounded like I was singing into a tin can. Normally blessed with almost perfect pitch, I couldn’t hear whether I was singing the right notes or not.

Trying to talk to a friend in a crowd, I felt like I was a radio station that wasn’t quite tuned in. Plus my ears itched. Hearing aids take getting used to, I’m told. That’s an understatement.

As I walked around hearing every foot shuffle and mouse chirp, I made myself crazy trying to figure out where to get $5,000. When I talked to my dad, who at 94 has not gotten the hearing aids he most definitely needs, he said I didn’t really need them that bad. He thinks that because everything at his house is so loud my problem is hearing too much. If his next-door neighbor weren’t deaf, she could hear every word on his TV. In her house. In her garage on the other side of her house. So, no sympathy there.

The batteries on my loaner hearing aids died on Saturday night. I had hoped to use them at a meeting on Sunday. Oh well. I decided, for now, that I don’t need them. I will revisit the situation in a year. I’m still trying to grasp the news that I have a measurable hearing loss and it’s going to get worse. One shock at a time, right? Besides, most of the time, I’m at home alone where the quiet is a blessing.

I did some research on this whole hearing aid biz. A recent article in the New York Times said that nearly 30 million Americans, including two-thirds of those over 70, are said to have a hearing loss. But only 15 to 30 percent of those who would benefit from hearing aids use them. Why? Because the cost is ridiculous and rarely covered by insurance, and the results are not that satisfying.

My experience was not wasted. Now I know where I stand, hearing-wise. I also know how much I DO hear. I hear a lot. I can still hear the birds, the foghorn, the click my cellphone makes when I get a Facebook message, and my dog whimpering in her sleep when she has a nightmare. I can hear the voices of the people I love. Now that I know what’s coming, I’m grateful for every sound, even the trucks on the highway and the neighbor’s rooster crowing.

My Uncle Bob used to say his hearing aids let him hear the grass grow. Well, I listened and I didn’t hear it. I don’t think I need to.

Musicians meet again in South Beach

This spring, the Rhodies are reborn, and so is our South Beach open mic

When I got the call from Sky that she and her partner Renee were bringing our South Beach open mic back to life on Mother’s Day, I tossed all other plans to be there.

For several years, a bunch of us gathered in the boxy little building known as the South Beach Community Center to sing and play for each other. It was a loving group that quickly bonded through our shared love of music. In 2007, we made a CD of our songs. But eventually people got sick and busy, and the open mics faded away.

Renee Richmond, a local woodworker and fabulous flute player, ran the open mics with her musical partners Scott Paterson and Kate Scanlon. Together they played and recorded as Sea Changes. But Scott was sick. The last time I saw Renee and Sky was at Scott’s funeral, attended by a fascinating blend of musicians, veterans, recovering alcoholics and family. They gave away pictures of us that had been taken at the open mics. I have one of me playing classical guitar stuck on my refrigerator.

Yesterday, instead of formal 15-minute sets on stage, we sat in a circle taking turns singing and playing whatever we felt moved to share. Everyone sang and played along. There were only five of us, but we hope this monthly gathering will grow into something much bigger.

The room was the same. Same striped folding chairs. Same wood floor. Same mirrors on the wall, same old kitchen, same old bulletin board. Same great acoustics. But life has thrashed all of us around a bit over the years. We’re thinner, heavier, balder, more wrinkled. My husband has been gone for three years. I have been directing choirs at church all that time and become more of a keyboard player than a guitar player. Renee has learned how to play flute and guitar as well as ever despite losing the ends of several fingers on her left hand to a woodworking accident. Sky and Renee share a last name and are wearing wedding rings now. They moved from South Beach to Beaver Creek, where they are neighbors with Randy and Debbie. Randy, whose ponytail is gone, had a heart attack a few years ago. Debbie, who has a new tattoo on her leg, has gone from struggling through easy mandolin songs to being able to play just about anything smoothly and beautifully. We all have learned new songs, changed styles, and taken new paths in our lives. And of course, Scott is gone. I could feel his spirit hovering over us, thumping his guitar and smiling with those big crooked teeth.

If you’re on or near the Oregon Coast, consider joining us on the second Sundays of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center. Bring your instruments and your songs. We’ll welcome you with a hug.

We all lost an hour, but I gained a year in California

When the time changed last Sunday, I was in California. It happened to be my birthday, so I not only lost an hour of sleep but added a year to my age. Now I’m a nice even number.
When you’re my age, birthdays aren’t what they used to be. My mother, who used to make sure birthdays were special, has been gone for almost 12 years, and my husband, who did his fumbling best, has also passed away. My dog doesn’t do birthdays. In recent years, I have had some great celebrations with my friends and some quiet ones with myself. Many years I have bought myself a tiny cake and eaten it alone, but don’t cry for me, Argentina. I enjoyed every bite.
This year, I found myself in California with the family. I had heard about a poetry workshop that sounded wonderful, realized I could arrange the time off from work to do it, and could combine it with a visit with Dad, whom I last saw at the hospital after his heart surgery in December. The fact that my birthday fell on the day after the workshop was a coincidence.
Dad is doing great, by the way. The sparkle is back in his blue eyes, and he mowed the lawns while I was at my workshop. The fact that he feels well enough to do yard work again is a darned good birthday present. Anyway, it was Sunday. We got up early and went to church at St. Martin’s. Then we took our usual trip to the cemetery to visit Mom and the rest of the gang.
By then, my brother and his wife were on their way. After they arrived and I opened my gift of scarves and fuzzy socks, we sat around and talked a bit, debated a while over where to have lunch, and ended up at Red Lobster. It’s a lot more expensive than the commercials imply, but the food was fabulous. After gorging on shrimp and lobster linguini, I was encouraged to order dessert. My red velvet cake in a jar—seriously cute—arrived with a single lighted candle on top, and the servers sang “Happy birthday.” I heard my sister-in-law, brother and father singing along, a first. Unlike me, they don’t sing. So nice.
Back home, I talked to my lifelong friend Sherri on the phone. She moved to Texas three years ago. She’s about six weeks older than I am, and we always call each other on our birthdays. We had a great talk, although she had sad news. Her old dog Gus died. She has a new pooch named Pepsi. Much worse, her older brother is dying of cancer. Nuts. Getting old is tough. I was sitting in the patio looking out at the lawn and reminded her of those summer evenings when we used to play badminton out there until it got so dark we couldn’t see the birdie. I can still feel the grass on my bare feet and the moths rising up around us. Those were the days, we agreed. No troubles, at least none that mattered. Thank God we’re still friends.

My sweetest birthday gift was the one I gave myself, that poetry workshop led by Ellen Bass and Roger Housden. If you’re into poetry, check them out. Great people, great poems, great workshops. Of course Dad’s response was “Poetry???? What do you get out of that?” Never mind. The workshop took place at Dominican University in San Rafael, which happens to be where I attended one of my first writing conferences in the 1970s and won first prize in the poetry contest. So, I had good memories. Of course, nothing looks the same and the drive through Bay Area traffic added a few gray hairs, but Dominican is still a quiet world of trees and squirrels and stately old buildings.
For seven hours, we poets talked, wrote and shared what we wrote. We could write anywhere we wanted, so people spread out on the lawn, the stairs, and the benches scattered around. Most of us were boomers, nearly all women about my age who knew the value of a day with nothing pulling at us. We had time to think, time to write, and time to make new friends. Two of us were celebrating birthdays on Saturday, and mine was Sunday. Lots of Pisces are poets. For me, that day was the perfect gift.
So, I have survived another birthday in good health. And the Facebook good wishes are still pouring in. Thank you to everyone. I am blessed.
%d bloggers like this: