Category Archives: Aging

All Aboard the Ice Floe!

ice floeI am steeped in melancholy; this will not be a long post. It has been a week of tepid angst, beginning with a visit to my 93 year old father in Chapel Hill, who, though cogent, content and reasonably comfortable, seems more sadly diminished every time we visit and so deaf that his end of any conversation consists of, “What?” accompanied by a pained look as he struggles to comprehend.

He has a single room in the dementia ward of his nursing home,  which doesn’t bother him since he can neither hear nor see anything and has no plans or, indeed, the means to flee what is, in fact, a locked facility. It is a sad place: the dinners taken in the little dining room with West Indian geriatric aides spooning pureed food into the mouths of ancient, birdlike women with empty eyes, an improbably nicely turned out woman named Martha – my mother’s name — who keeps barging into his room with parcels she has made off with or boxes of surgical gloves or cleaning supplies, and who must be led, babbling gentle as a brook, back to the common room to join the ten or so other slack-jawed residents dangling at odd angles around the television set, looking like things hung out to dry. Perhaps she was a post mistress in her previous life. Or a drug mule.

My maternal grandmother’s  mantra was, “If I get like that, you’ve got to promise you’ll shoot me.” She was from Texas, where guns are considered the solution to all manner of problems , including, it would seem, one’s dotty old granny.  As matters fell out, Grandmother blew up all on her own in an event somewhat akin to spontaneous combustion and none of us ended up having to go to the pokey for her senicide,  for which we were all peculiarly grateful.

gun controlI am not happy that my mother died when she did at the age of only 79 and with her full faculties. Surely she had a few more good years in her. However, post a visit to Dad’s nursing home, I find myself relieved that she didn’t linger longer than she herself would have liked. “Shoot me,” she would have said. “Just shoot me,” but the sign right on the nursing home door states that guns are prohibited inside. Prohibited? In the one place in the United States of America where they might actually do some good?

Now before you get your knickers in a twist, I’m not saying that old people should be rounded up and shot; after all, I’m perilously close to being “that old” myself. But the idea of a nice doctor-assisted suicide for those who want to shuffle off this mortal coil with a shred of dignity is something that resonates with me.

Event planners, take note. If gay weddings and  gender-reveal parties have proved to be great little money makers for you, just think what a market there would be for All Aboard the Ice Floe parties — friends and families gathered around, a chance to say goodbye,  good food and drink, music. Then. . . .

Bon Voyage!


Arrivaderci, Rhonda!

Return to Sender!

The key. as with so many things, is great drugs.




Bye! See you on Friday, September 11, 2015!

In my last post, Avanti! No, wait!, I explored my decision-making process as it relates to my hair, which I appear constitutionally incapable of not highlighting. This despite senectitude  staring me baldly in the face every time I  peer into a wall-mounted magnifying mirror in search of errant mole hairs or, as my friend Linda Hoyle has christened them, “Grisseldas”.   Why do I subject myself to this horror?  So that I will not look like Mrs. Potato Head left too long to her own devices in a burlap sack in a corner of your scary basement.

Which brings me to my point:  way back in June of this year, I switched from publishing this blog on Friday to Tuesday. I did this because, according to stats, this was a better day for such endeavors.  Since then I have noted no appreciable uptick in readers or comments and, given my schedule, Friday is a better fit.  So, this will be the last Tuesday post.  Instead, look for me on Friday, beginning September 18, 2015.    There I will be: no Grisseldas, no eyebrows, highlighted and with bells.

Unless I change my mind.

Avanti! No,wait!

When I make up my mind, I'm determined. Until I change it.

I am nothing if not determined. Until I’m not.

Well, I didn’t make it so much as a month past the cancelled dye job before frantically Facebooking my hairdresser, the incomparable Jeanette, to beg for highlights. I cannot tell you how relieved I am, what a source of angst it was lo those few weeks to contemplate not greyitude so much as utter, unrelieved brown-ness. I need to hide out behind these streaks a little longer; I’m clearly not emotionally ready to return to my roots. And why is that so wrong? As if returning to your roots were not a form of nostalgie de boue.

My mother dyed her hair well into her seventies and everyone loved her. Once she dyed it lavender by mistake, something no one would have known about had I not the very next day marched into my Shakespeare class at University and informed my English prof – a Jesuit priest who, as it turned out, did not find the Chair of the Communications Department accidentally dyeing her hair purple in the least amusing. What can I say? My personal filtration system experiences periodic outages.

I do not characterize myself as wishy washy or flip-floppy so much as serially decisive. This is how it works. I make a decision. Then I make another decision. This second decision usually reverses the first decision. Then, if I’m on a roll, I might make a third decision, this one reversing the second. Perhaps I’ll come full circle back to my original decision. You never know. Making a decision enables me to own whatever it is for a little while, to walk a mile in its shoes. Perhaps I discover that its shoes hurt. Perhaps its shoes are high heels. If I had realized these shoes were high heels, I would have never forced my wretched feet  into them. But I did and now I know. That’s how informed decision-making work in my world. It’s a journey.  With detours. Some shunpiking involved.

Or think about diving off a 33 foot high diving board.  You decide you’re going to do it. Then you climb up the ladder and stand at the end of the diving board staring down at the pool below.  That’s when you realize thirty three feet is a lot of feet.   You remember that you have never quite (or, to be honest, at all) mastered the art of diving and remind yourself that what you will achieve if you jump off that diving board is a belly flop. Given the distance, that’s belly flop is going to hurt like Hell.  So you make a second decision — the decision not to belly-flop off the board.

My husband Ken is exceptionally thoughtful when it comes to decision making.  He considers all the points of view, ponders every angle, weighs all the arguments, evaluates the pros and cons, does the consumer research. For every sound decision he has made, I have made three completely quixotic ones. You could argue that he makes more informed decisions, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had more fun along the way. More fun for me, at least. I think the perpetual squash game going on in my head drives him crazy, which I don’t understand given his love for sports.

Me at two. Ever onward.

Me at two. Avanti!

One of the reasons I am serially decisive is to free myself to move forward. I cannot move forward if there’s a decision hanging over me. I can’t think of anything else. It looms over me, a giant question mark, blocking all progress. Can’t see through it. Can’t get around it. The only solution is to make a decision, any decision, and then make a desperate break for it.

So on September 25 my highlights will be resurrected, only this time, I think, with a little silver mixed in. I may be old but surely I can still be just a little sparkly?

Returning to my roots, Take 2

At University -- a brunette

At University — a brunette

The point of this micro post is: I’m going to let my hair return to its roots. Yes. I know. This isn’t the first time I’ve let my hair return its roots, only to run howling back to Jeanette, my hairdresser these thirty years, begging for highlights.   As it turned out, my roots weren’t what they used to be and eight years later, if my badger eyebrows are any indication, they will be even less so. The arc of my life: brunette, ash blonde, winter slush. It’s enough to give a girl the pip.

I do not make this decision lightly. I know my beleaguered vanity’s in for one Hell of a bumpy ride. But, if not now, I asked myself, when? When I’m seventy? When I’m eighty? Do I want to be one of those old biddies who look like Donald Trump’s hairpiece blew off and landed on their head?

Me at 37 -- ash blonde

Me at 37 — ash blonde

One seventy five year old woman of my acquaintance has her “blonde” hair professionally set every day and, to preserve its configuration, sleeps on blocks like a geisha.  She is perfectly coifed. And what does it look like? Like a witch in a wig.

And Pamela Wallin? Pamela, please! You’ve been wearing that same hairstyle for thirty years! You’re old! We’re not fooled.

I’m at that time of life when I must start letting go. After all, I haven’t seen my eyelids for years. Ditto waist. Nix to contact lenses. As for high heels, I’d sooner have my feet gnawed off by a hyena.  And now my  hair.  Every old lady hair day is a bad hair day.

Pamela Wallin

Pamela Wallin

On the positive side, I’m going to be a grandmother very soon and at least my grand kids will have a grandma that looks like a grandma and not a Gold Digger of 1933 . . . by which,  I mean an actual Gold Digger of 1933.

Or maybe I could go silver.

That blog about my eyebrows

Dad and me, when we both still had eyebrows.

Dad and me, when we both still had eyebrows.

As I am jetting off to North Carolina this week to celebrate my father Bill Hardy’s 93rd birthday, I am recycling this blog post, which originally appeared on August 14, 2013.  Fittingly, it’s about getting old.

My eyebrows were not the first thing to go, but, thus far, they are proving the most intractable.

I’ve never given much thought to my eyebrows.  I did not have a uni-brow, just two furry caterpillars that responded relatively readily to plucking.  When an influx of Vietnamese into North America  made aesthetics  affordable to the middle class, I discovered the joys of eyebrow waxing – could this have been one of the unintended consequences of the Vietnam War,  the sudden profusion of inexpensive nail salons?   If so, hooray! At least one good thing resulted from that debacle.

I worried about other things: my BMI, my amazing disappearing waist, crusty bits and nurdles. One morning I looked in one of those “up close and personal” mirrors that old vain people should really try and avoid and saw that the skin under my eyebrows had plopped itself right down on my eyelashes — no eyelid visible, just two tiny eyes peering fearfully from under overhanging cave mouths of skin.  I couldn’t believe it.  I‘ve been bitten by something, I thought. Maybe a spider.   Best go to the pharmacy and get something to reduce the swelling.  Then I realized: OMG.   This is why people get eyelid surgery — this right here!

Then my eyebrows began to turn grey – really grey.  As grey – and this is how my mother would have put it – as a badger.  I’ve never really petted a badger; I’m not sure that’s advisable.  But I imagine that my eyebrow hair is not only the color of a badger, but its texture as well – vigorous, wiry hair that stands up and out and wants to go one way when you want it to go the other way – in short, bad hair to have on your face.

The thing about grey eyebrows is not so much that they are grey as that they tend to disappear into your face – such eyebrows are not so much a feature as a smudge.  An aesthetician who specialized in permanent makeup once told me about a client of hers who had been born without eyebrows.    “When I tattooed her a set, she was so grateful she cried,” she told me.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I understand.

At first I tried having my eyebrows tinted at my favorite  nail salon.  This was not too expensive, nor should it have been, since the best thing I can say about the results is that I looked very  surprised.

Then I had it done at a pricier spa.  As opposed to painting two half moons over my eyes, as had been the case at the nail salon, the aesthetician labored over my brows with artisanal concentration and fervor.  It was expensive and the effect was subtle. By which I mean that in about three days my inner badger had reasserted itself and I was all bristly again.

It was my mother who always said, "Grey as a badger!"

It was my mother who always said, “Grey as a badger!”

In Episode 464 of This American Life, Invisible Made Visible, the late, fabulous David Rakoff says of life, “You go along the road as time and the elements lay waste to your luggage, scattering the contents into the bushes. Until there you are, standing with a battered and empty suitcase that frankly, no one wants to look at anymore.” (

I am vain, but I’m also a feminist – albeit a highly flawed one.  I’m also a realist.  I’m not going to have eye surgery and, as for my eyebrows, I’m going to release these badgers into the wild  and be done with it.

Why I am not a runner: double exposure

My brother Peter and I that long ago summer

My brother Peter and I that long ago summer

Summers were brutal in the Piedmont when I was a girl; I suspect they still are. Because my family spent the months of May through to the end of August in the mountains, the half a summer I spent in Chapel Hill when I was twenty was atypical. I remember the sky that summer as a fierce white glare, visible heat waves radiating off asphalt, and the air clinging to me like a sodden blanket. Every day around four thirty in the afternoon, I’d sit on out on the veranda, eviscerated by heat, and watch as towering storm clouds began to build over Durham to the west and begin their slow slouch towards Chapel Hill, looking for all the world like Armageddon on the move. A half an hour later, a clattering rain and the heat would snap in two like a twig, followed by twenty minutes of blessed relief before the whole enervating cycle began all over again. Most places were air-conditioned to meat locker level; our house was not. We did not spend summers in town, after all, and the house was a big one and drafty. What we did have was an attic fan, which sucked the hot air in, chopped it up and then recirculated it in soggy chunks. This was not as helpful as might be imagined. Sleeping was difficult; cooking was impossible; and digestion was complicated. Which makes it hard for me to remember why I thought that that summer in Chapel Hill was a good time to take up running.

Let me state right off the top that the Universe did not design me for running.  I am a pear. When I was young, I was a small pear. Now, having gained in age and wisdom, I am a medium sized pear.  Moreover, I’m a pear with flat feet and turnout. I run, to put it bluntly, like a duck.

Nevertheless, being resolved to get in shape, I donned baggy, paint stained running shorts and a roomy men’s t-shirt and plodded forth.  I will not dignify what I was doing by labeling it “running,” or even “jogging.” It was plodding, plain and simple. One flat foot after the other. As for the time of day I set aside for this self-improvement program, it was the noon hour. Why didn’t I plod in the morning or the evening, you ask, when it was arguably, if not actually cooler? To which I would reply that I was in class all morning and by late afternoon I was a puddle, incapable of doing anything more physical than languish.  Noon seemed like a good idea at the time.

One blisteringly hot day, when I was on the home stretch and Tenney Circle within sight, a battered white sedan pulled up next to me and stopped. I plodded by. It pulled ahead and stopped again. Again I plodded by. Again the car pulled ahead, then lurched to a stop. Do I know this person, I wondered, and glanced in the car to see the nether regions of a man wearing no pants and masturbating. I hauled off and kicked the car hard on the passenger side door. It sped away, but not before I memorized the license plate number. When I got home, I called the police. Twenty minutes later the police called me. They had caught my flasher, apparently still pant free. Did I wish to press charges? I did.

Shortly thereafter the flasher’s lawyer called me. The man had been an orderly at a hospital in Durham; he had been fired because of the indecency charge and his wife had left him, taking their two-year old son. Hadn’t the poor bastard paid a stiff enough price for his indiscretion, no innuendo intended? And speaking of discretion, was my own past so spotless that my sexual history (relatively unexciting as that was) might not be used against me in court? Might it not have been the case that my scanty attire (see above description of said attire) provoked this response in his client? I was twenty years old and clearly spineless. I dropped the charges. One for chauvinism; zero for feminism.

I did not, however, stop plodding.

Several weeks later found me laboriously plodding my way down North Street, not one miserable endorphin to my name, when I spotted a man walking towards me. It was, of course, the noon hour; the rest of the world sat huddled inside their refrigerated homes; the street was deserted. The man appeared to be doing something peculiar with his hands, just what I was too myopic to make out until . . . wouldn’t you know it? His fly was open and he was masturbating.  I quickly recalculated, took a hard left up Boundary Street, then another left down Rosemary to Glenburnie, before making my way home in a state of considerable perplexity. It was noon, for Pete’s sake! Never mind Take Back the Night. How about Take Back the Noon?

My first flasher was white, my second black. I was, it seems, an equal opportunity victim. These two experiences, happening as they did within a couple of weeks of each other, flummoxed me. Were I and my two flashers like mad dogs and Englishmen – the only creatures crazy enough to come out in the noon day sun? Why were they trawling a deserted neighbourhood for lone plodding pears and not checking out the nearby college campus, awash in tasty coeds? Do many men spend their lunch hour this way? Does this happen all the time or was I just special?

At age 22 I made a commitment to regular exercise that I have kept for the last forty years, as both a fitness instructor and a participant. I never make a New Year’s resolution to exercise. I don’t need to. It’s the one thing . . .  perhaps the only thing . . . that I really, truly have down. But plodding is not part of my regimen.  And this is why.

Reality Therapy

Noni . . . on her way out

Noni in better times

When my father was a child, my grandfather – Pops — served as foreman for a construction crew that traveled all over North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland building Texaco gas stations. My grandmother and their two boys – Dad and Clyde Junior — traveled with him, living in rooming houses along the way; it was my grandmother’s job to cook for the crew. “What was Noni like?” I once asked my father. “You know. Before?”

Dad shook his head sadly. “She was very capable . . . and warm-hearted, hospitable.” He added, “I wish you could have known her then, when she wasn’t this way.” By “this way” he meant, “senile.”

Noni was not all that old when she stepped out for lunch and never came back – in her early sixties, about the age I am now. The reason for her early-onset dementia was fairly straightforward. When she was in her forties, she underwent an operation for phlebitis. The doctor prescribed morphine for the pain and, “Do no harm” notwithstanding,  kept on prescribing it. Noni became a  morphine addict, which, as it turns out,  does not promote brain health. In not very much time at all Noni effectively pickled herself.

Throughout my childhood and several times a day, Pops would announce that it was time for Noni’s medicine and off the two of them would repair to his study where he would, essentially, shoot her up. It was treated very nonchalantly, by which I mean doors were not shut. At the time I thought it was creepy – it involved a hypodermic needle, after all, stuck in parts of your grandmother’s body that grandchildren do not wish to contemplate, much less view – but I did not at the time realize that Noni’s “medicine” was, in fact, morphine, nor did I realize how common morphine addiction was among white  women of her generation until I was researching the topic for Paper Son, one of the short stories in The Uncharted Heart – it was, in fact, a virtual epidemic, albeit a hidden one. I suddenly saw Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night in a whole new light; as it turns out, it’s the story of my father’s family set in mid-twentieth century working class North Carolina.

I  only remember one instance during my teenage years in which Noni appeared cogent – probably because it was such a rare event. Pops had just concluded a tall tale and Noni piped up,  “Anybody believes that, stand on your head and I don’t see no feet!” Silence.  Everyone turned to look at her.  “What?” she said and went back to being not there.

Most of the time Noni sat on a urine-infused sofa in the living room looking blank. Every fifteen minutes or so, she would lurch to her feet, exit the living room, turn right down the hall, traverse my grandfather’s study, enter the kitchen, duck into the pantry where she would take a slug of bourbon from the bottle stashed there, return to the living room via the dining room and resume her seat on the redolent sofa, where she would twitch a couple of times before sinking once again into catatonia. That was how Noni rolled. She would only come back to life when it was time for us to leave. Then she would rouse herself and, no matter what time of day or night it might be, say, “Are you sure you won’t stay for lunch? There’s plenty of bologna.”

This woman provided one quarter of my DNA. (Or something like that.  I’ve never properly understood DNA.)

Pops and Noni.

Pops and Noni.  By this time Noni’s pretty cooked.

My grandparents both lived well into their nineties. They spent the last five or so years of their life in different wings of a nursing home. Pops was frail but, like my own father, mentally sharp. He resided in the unlocked ward and had a great old time, acquiring a girlfriend named Bunny and editing the home’s newsletter.

Noni was placed in the block of rooms set aside for people with dementia. My brother Peter and I visited her there in the mid-eighties. A sign on the door to her room read, “Mrs. Hardy is undergoing Reality Therapy. Please ask her what day of the week it is, what year it is and who is President.”

“Hey, Noni,” we asked. “Who’s President?”

Noni shook her head. “Why does everybody ask me that?” Then, “Harry S. Truman.”

As we were waiting for an elevator down to the main lobby of the nursing home, I said, “What do you think about this Reality Therapy business?  Do you think it’s doing Noni any good?”

The elevator arrived. We entered it. The door ground slowly closed the way elevator doors do in old folks homes. Peter looked solemn. “Don’t see no feet,” he said.


Past Due is a story about a senile old woman, her housemaid and a whole lot of chickens coming home to roost.  I did not base Miss Bob on Noni, but Noni does inform certain aspects of her character. It appeared in the Dalhousie Review in 1992. To read it, click on the title.

Happy Hour

Bill Hardy, 2nd Lieutenant, US Navy

Bill Hardy, 2nd Lieutenant, US Navy

On March 30, 2014 my father, William Marion Hardy, turned 92. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1922, the second son of Clyde Thompson Hardy and Norah Morris Hardy. My grandfather was from a town called Little Washington in eastern North Carolina. He met my grandmother when he was working at a saw mill near her father’s tobacco farm in neighbouring Littlefield. When they were courting, an itinerant photographer took my grandfather’s photo and tried to talk my grandmother into buying a print. “If somethin’ were to happen to Mr. Hardy,” he told her, “you wouldn’t take five dollars for it!”

In 1995 my father suffered a clinical depression, made that much more unnerving by the fact that his disposition had been, up to that point, unrelievedly sunny. During this period he slept fourteen hours a day and lost twenty pounds; his effect was flatter than road kill. My mother finally got him to get help by threatening to leave him. Then she threatened to leave him and take the dog.  Dad went to a psychiatrist and a few months later recovered his misplaced bonhomie. He refers to this period as, “When I was crazy.”

Recently we traveled to Chapel Hill to break up Dad’s apartment; he was moving to the nursing home attached to the assisted living community where he has lived since 2004. It was Friday night – the night of the week when a group of between twelve and fifteen of Dad’s friends gather at the Clubhouse for Happy Hour — drinks and dinner, with an emphasis on drinks. With an average age of 88, they are a rowdy bunch; the Cedars reserves for them their own private dining room, doubtless in the hopes of not terrifying the other old people. It is an odd assortment of individuals. At other times in their lives they would have probably moved in very different circles . . . but, as it turns out, age is a great leveler. Who cares what your political views are or your social status? All that matters at Happy Hour is that you have a pulse, a thirst and a yearning to connect.

We accompanied Dad to Happy Hour as his guests. My sister and I ordered a gin and tonic. We observed the bartender pour. “Doesn’t that seem like a lot of gin?” my sister whispered to me as the girl half-filled a large tumbler with Tanqueray. Neither Pamela nor I back down from a challenge, especially when the challenge involves alcohol. We drank our drinks and ordered another.

After that I don’t remember a thing.

Well, actually, that’s not true.

I remember gushing at great length to a beautiful old woman about how truly grateful I was that, in my lifetime, blacks had made such great strides and weren’t they an amazing race? Why, what would America be without them? This paean to the black race is my default encomium when I’ve had one too many (in this case two were one too many). At least I wasn’t flirting outrageously with an eighty five year old Auschwitz survivor. That was my husband. He  had had one martini. A Happy Hour martini.

Hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, I awoke, disoriented and jumbled, to find myself in the guest room of Dad’s apartment. I did not remember the rest of the meal. I did not remember returning to the apartment. I did not remember going to bed. An image of my aged father sitting slumped in his wheelchair, abandoned and forlorn, leapt into my mind. “OMG,” I gasped. “Did we leave Daddy at the Clubhouse?”

Fortunately we had not.

Glancing around at all the flushed and animated faces that night, I could see, glittering from within the crusted carapace of age, the young person each Happy Hour devotee still was, full of life and passion — pretty girls and dashing boys, and chief among them my sparkling father, holding court, holding sway. They’d all had two drinks, but they were the Greatest Generation. Unlike our sorry lot, they could hold their liquor.

I have many photographs of my father, but my memory of Happy Hour, incomplete and ragged though it is, is its own kind of keepsake.

I wouldn’t take five dollars for it.

A sense of foreboding

The Last Resort

The Last Resort

The day I helped move my then 78 year old mother and 82 year old father into The Cedars of Chapel Hill (or, as my father calls it, ‘The Last Resort’), Mother advanced grimly into the elevator brandishing a large kitchen knife  capable of wreaking considerable mayhem on vegetables and meat alike.  It was, as she was careful to point out, extremely sharp. I’m not sure why she felt she had to personally convey it to her new home.  Maybe she didn’t trust the moving company to pack it correctly.  Maybe she wanted an assurance she’d be able to make a break for it.

The facility was new and all around us milled future neighbours, also moving in, although not, it would appear, so heavily armed as my mother.  These were not the young old you see in ads for golf resorts or Grey Power. These were the old old, the target market for walk-in tubs, stair lifts and catheters – people wasting away, all right, but definitely not in Margaritaville. Not anymore.   We were joined on the elevator by an elderly man with a black eye.  We eyed the eye.  He eyed the knife. No one spoke.  “What happened to him?” my mother asked, when we were safely off the elevator.   Then she shook her head. “They’re all so old!”

I did not personally feel old until we moved into this house three years ago.  In part that was because my husband and I stayed in our “starter home” for almost twenty years.   In that house’s mirrors I looked more or less the age I had been when we moved in; this house’s mirrors told a different tale.   “Hello!” they said.  “You’re sixty years old!  What’d you mean, you hadn’t noticed?”

This realization was corroborated by the fact that people I knew started to die. People my age.   It began with a passing acquaintance from junior high. He started to leak Tea Party sentiments onto Facebook. Deciding he was off The Team, I swooped in to defriend him, only to encounter the following posting:

“Hello, Dad’s Facebook Friends, this is Jennifer, Danny’s daughter.  Dad died suddenly last night and I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next few days.  He was my best friend and I already miss him SOOOOOO MUCH!!!”

If I were a religious person, I might have felt guilty, as though I were in some obscure way responsible for Danny’s demise.  Or perhaps  I would have felt all powerful, as if all I needed to do was think about defriending somebody, and poof!   Or maybe I would have felt vindicated, as in, “God clearly agrees with me that Danny was a horse’s ass and so He offed him!”

But I am not religious, so the whole incident just creeped me out.    I did end up defriending Danny.  It’s the only way to exorcise ghosts on Facebook.   However, his death turned out not to be an isolated case. He was followed in short order by another, dearer friend and then another.  Then a friend our junior by more than a decade had the temerity to die!  Thanks a lot, guy! (You know who you are.)

Both my husband and I began to feel what we describe as “a sense of foreboding.”  We wake in the morning and lie there for a few minutes, deep in dogs and feeling the foreboding settle on us life a suffocating blanket, a miasmal fog.  Am I going to die today?  I wonder.  Is he going to die? Will it be a heart attack?  Maybe an aneurism?  Will my upcoming physical result in a fatal diagnosis?  What about a car crash that leaves one of us paralyzed?  When will we be forced to leave this house that we love? How many years do we have left?  Is it years or is it months?

After my parents moved into the Cedars, the man on the elevator became my parents’ good friend.  Sam owned Kentucky racehorses and was married to a lively Holocaust survivor.  One day I was sitting on my parents’ balcony, looking out over the gardens when I saw Sam collapse in the roadway.  I jumped up in alarm and called out to my mother, “Sam’s fallen!”  White uniformed staff materialized as if by magic from behind the bushes and collected Sam, helping him to his feet and brushing him off.  Unfazed, my mother glanced down at the unfolding scene.   “He falls a lot,” she said.

Which explains the black eye.

Dad and his dog Poppet

Dad and his dog Poppet

Sam is gone now and so is Mom.  Then there’s my Dad,  ninety two this March, waiting out his days in Death’s antechamber like an old dog in the sun, biding the time that remains to him with remarkable equanimity and grace.  I sometimes try and imagine what his sense of foreboding must be, how it must feel to be him, to wake up every morning to find oneself, against all odds, alive.  I bet it trumps ours.

I have three looks: gussied up, not gussied up and OMG.  My friend Catharine says that I should include ‘Gone to the dogs’ but I argue that that’s just a subset of OMG.  I used to have many looks: most of them pleasing.  .  . .  But now I have only the three.

The Ladies of the Book Club c. 1987. Left, Linda Nicholas, Back, Mary Malone, Bottom, Nancy Bjerring and Right, me

The Ladies of the Book Club c. 1987. Left, Linda Nicholas, Back, Mary Malone, Bottom, Nancy Bjerring and Right, me

My brother Peter once exclaimed at how my mother and I could go from plain to pretty in a matter of minutes with a little judicious hair and makeup.  For years the women in my now nearly thirty-year old book club were able to “come up well” . . . until we couldn’t.  We had a group photo done of us in those glory days.  We have not repeated the exercise.  Before and after. You don’t want to go there.

An old family friend used to say of women wearing housecoats and curlers in public, “It’s all right to look like that, but do you have to come out of the house?”  Every night I don a denim bag I brought used off of eBay, put my hair in pink foam rollers and my feet in Wellies and take the dogs out for their last pee, praying that we don’t run into anymore.   If I do not curl my hair, I look like a woman who kidnaps children from shopping malls.   No, really.  And blow drying isn’t an option.  I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror long enough to successfully pull it off.

At CREA PAC c.1993

At CREA PAC c.1993

Last year at the Canadian Real Estate Association’s Political Action Day in Ottawa I opened up a new publication outlining CREA’s lobbying successes over the years.  There was a candid black and white photo of me taken twenty two years ago.  I went around the conference showing everybody the photo and saying, “See! This was me!”  To my alarm and distress, most people looked incredulous and asked, “Really?” or, “Wow! You’re kidding!”  Needless to say, a downward spiral quickly ensued. I knew it was pathetic to persist in my quest to find somebody, anybody who would respond to my showing them the ancient photo by saying, “You haven’t changed a bit,” but, alas, I could not help myself.

Right now I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and watching Ken Burns’ Civil War for the third time, trying to wrap my mind around what tore my native country asunder during that conflict.  This is my idea of a good time.  I am a history nerd, a political junkie and a tree hugging, left leaning radical Obamist.  Documentaries are my guilty pleasure, a pleasure in which I indulge perhaps to excess.  I subscribe to serious podcasts and listen to them religiously.  I sit on the Steering Committee for the London Homeless Coalition, for Pete’s sake.  From all of which you might deduce that I am a fairly serious person, but you would be wrong.  You would be wrong because, at the age of 61, I’m still expending blood and treasure – that is to say, my dwindling stock of time – on pretty.

Ruth Skinner Zant. OK, but she didn't last.

Ruth Skinner Zant. OK, but she didn’t last.

Once, while visiting my then ninety-five year old grandfather, I gestured to a photo of my grandmother taken in her early twenties; she had predeceased him by a dozen years.  “Grandmother was awfully pretty,” I said to spark a lagging conversation.  To which Granddaddy replied, “She was OK, but she didn’t last.”

I guess none of us do.

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.  And then they didn’t.

Bare ruined choirs