Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Wisdom of a Certain Age

I was eight in 1951 when Grammy broke her hip. A bus door clamped her coattail, tossed her down and broke her hip on Boston’s frozen ground.

Back then they put you in a home to wait for broken bones to join, not concerned with shape or form.

Mom and Dad and Beth and I had moved to Los Angeles when I was four, but my grandfather refused to leave Boston. So, when it happened, we took the train across the country.

I don’t remember seeing Grammy then. Our trip was long and full of exciting adventures for an eight-year-old. If I did see her, the moment has dropped from memory.

Afterward, it took five years for Mom and her sister to convince them to come West.

Everyone deserves a Grammy like mine, sweet and cheerful, always ready to see your better side. I wondered at her fingers, bent with arthritis, and her soft, wrinkly earlobes. So old, I thought. She was short and stout and slow to move and even dressed old: Long hair parted in the middle then coiled on top. When she went out, she wore hats, gloves and sturdy shoes. Old lady shoes, I called them, though not to her. She walked uneven, descended stairs at an angle. And she never complained.

But the main thing I remember most about Grammy is that time she scolded me. I would give anything to undo the reason.

I was a very immature twenty-three year old. Well, immature, but not innocent. I was about to marry the first person who had actually asked.

At the time, I lived 900 miles from my parents and Grammy. My new boyfriend pushed for a quick wedding. I was amazed and didn’t want to miss my chance. We planned a courthouse ceremony a bare two months after our first date.

Grammy wrote, urging me to slow down, saying that my mother wanted to participate in plans and preparations. My family is not famous for direct communications, so I had no experience handling this kind of thing.

I don’t know whether I responded. But I resented her intrusion into what I believed was strictly my business. And what did she know - she’s old! Besides, Mom had said nothing to me.

I marched on, only delaying the event by a week so both sets of parents could attend.

I know now, these many years later, that Grammy was wise and I was wrong. My mother had been excluded from my sister’s wedding. Actually, we were all excluded from that one. Though I made sure she could be present at mine, I had robbed Mom of the opportunity to participate. And Grammy couldn’t be there at all!

Today I’m only two short years younger than Grammy was when the bus snagged her coat. Even though I began jogging before I was thirty and have maintained an active lifestyle, I’m beginning to understand how it happened to her. She’d reached a certain age.

All the fun runs, half-marathons, racquetball, and skiing didn’t stop my age clock. I still walk up to 20 miles a week, jog occasionally and have a daily strength-and-stretch routine.

And yet I often tip, sway or stumble for no apparent reason. I no longer like to drive – or even walk – at night. I’m cautious with stairs and need more light to read the small print.

I've reached a certain age.

My Grammy died in 1969, a couple years after breaking her hip again. Mom died of melanoma in 1984. So I can’t undo my youthful selfishness, nor make amends in person to either of them.

But Mom gave me Grammy’s engagement ring, a half-carat diamond solitaire. After my divorce the same year Mom died, I reset it in my own design. The diamond sparkles from a teardrop shape. It’s always on my hand. My sun-speckled, arthritic hand, just like Mom and Grammy had when they reached a certain age.