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From Zero to Seventy without Brakes

“Getting older is no problem. You just have to live long enough.” Groucho Marx

From Zero to Seventy without Brakes

By Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis
For the NABBW

sherry L M author portraitI’ve recently turned seventy and had been shaking hands with that scary, hands clutching my chest, head thrown back dramatically like a silent movies actress, how in the heck did this happen, number for a while now.

It reaches out and grasps my hand – firmly – while I try, unsuccessfully, to wrench it from its death grip. But it won’t let go. In fact, the harder I try to wriggle out of its iron fist, the more tenacious its hold becomes. Its grasp grows firmer daily, even hourly with no regard for my fragile skin and weakening muscle tone. I find myself in a heated battle; me, desperately trying to pull away and it, squeezing tighter as it laughs at my feeble attempts to overcome its strength.

I know who will emerge victorious from this lopsided match and yet, like the brave but mismatched opponent in this life or death struggle, the end will eventually come but not without a valiant effort on my part. But there are really no winners or losers in this challenge, it appears that it’s all a matter of who can hold on the longest before yelling uncle.

It is as it should be and in our rational moments, we accept the inevitable and hope we go down proudly and without too many regrets.

Regrets are hallmarks of the elderly, those fortunate enough to have given Father Time a good run for the money. Young people have few regrets, if any. It takes many years of living to pile up regrets and it’s a stockpile that I try not to build upon. Regrets are time thieves and wishes that didn’t materialize. This is one of the many life lessons I’ve learned along this journey. The singer/songwriter Paul Anka said it best in the hit song he wrote for Frank Sinatra, “My Way.”  Yes, “regrets I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.” This is how I try to live my life now, not dwelling on the What Ifs or by regretting what did or did not happen.

Each day it seems some new challenge presents itself; from trying to maintain my balance while standing and slipping my feet into my panties at the same time, to applying eye makeup and actually getting it on my eyelids instead of in my eyes.

Serums, creams, masks, exfoliants, depilatories, hair thickening sprays, dark spot concealers, wrinkle removers, face brighteners, facial toners, bladder control pads – hey, my female cohorts, wait, weren’t we supposed to be through with pads years ago?

But wait! What am I thinking? Do I really want this hand to suddenly release me and free me from its grasp?  Or do I want it to slowly let go inch by inch until there is no connection between it and me? I keep pumping the brake for the acceleration to stop or at least slow down. But it’s no use.  The brakes are failing from too much vigorous pumping. The creams and lotions are merely emergency brakes and are only good for a few attempts.

And then the light bulb, a dim bulb to be sure, clicks on. If it does release me, then what?  Then, there is no me. I’ve kicked the bucket, bought the farm, passed through, retired from life, croaked, moved into that narrow underground apartment, cashed in my chips and my favorite – given an obolus to Charon. Now that sounds interesting and almost pleasant. It isn’t. But it still sounds better than the dreaded “D” word. Suddenly seventy is sounding better and better the longer I can cling to this mortal coil. After all, the number is still in the two digits, not three. But there is no brake shop in this life to pull into and have a mechanic slam a wrench on the brakes to slow me down.  No, I have to continue full speed ahead and hope I don’t crash into too many obstacles along the way until I finally run out of gas.

“Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” Well, perhaps that’s how the poet, Robert Browning, viewed aging, but I tend to think each age has its own merits.  We get only one chance on this merry-go-round of life so \’carpe diem\’.

My “girlfriends” – and yes we do still refer to ourselves as girls – feel free to snicker here,  have accompanied me on this incredible journey of life; often funny, and sweet, sometimes sad, but always bearable because of the incredible proclivity for bonding that women just seem to have in abundance in our DNA.

The first ten years and beyond

There isn’t really much to add to this decade but the ones that followed were filled with so much.  Oh, sure I can remember some things from this time in my life but not many.  I mean, unless you’re one of those few HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) people who can recall their lives in detail like the actress, Marilu Henner, most of us draw blanks.  Now if something really stupendous or traumatic happens to you there’s a good chance you’ll recall it.  Then again you might block it.  Either way, these first ten years are not memorable or filled with memories from which good books or movies are made; or even good stories to tell our grandchildren.

The rest of the decades are filled with the usual trials and tribulations, the marriages, the births of our children and for the lucky ones, the births of grandchildren. The loss of our parents and for some the tragedy of losing a child, all are part of the tapestry of our interwoven lives. And for which we’ve been grateful to have each other for support and comfort.

I can remember begging my mother for a Black Watch pattern pinafore that was popular for a year or two when I was in grade school. Also popular during those years were dog collars that we actually wore around our necks.  Oh, my god weren’t we so cool?

Another huge fad that we absolutely, positively had to have or else we’d just die, were thick socks.  We’d wear several pair to increase the thickness around our ankles. The thicker the better.  Seriously. We did. We invented the concept of cankles! Only back then all we had to do to divest ourselves of those thick ankles was remove the socks.   But, of course we didn’t want to, because… we were cool. Dog collars and fat ankles; yep, we were rockin’ it in New Jersey in the ‘50s.

There were ten of us in our tight knit clique that defied odds by lasting so long. Most of us met in grade school and a couple of us go all the way back to kindergarten. A few joined us as we branched out from the safe confines of our little community and rode the bus to the city to attend high school.  That’s a whole lotta years and a whole lotta memories, some good, some sad, some bittersweet and yet all of the memories are treasured remembrances. They’ve made us who we are today.

Surprisingly, and nicely, out of the ten of us there was only one divorce, a statistic not often heard of today.

Some of us, actually most of us, have remained friends for fifty to sixty-five years bound tightly by strong threads of love and friendship. Most of the threads are made of spider silk, an incredibly strong yet resilient thread and although weakened a bit from time to time, it retains its strength. One or two threads it seems turned out to be made of gossamer, lovely to look at at the time and delicate to behold but easy to break if one is not careful.

Sadly, and this is one of the rare regrets that I can’t seem to shake out of my brain and heart, it remains with me. I find myself wondering if the thread is being held at the other end by a former friend who perhaps regrets the detachment of something once so strong and yet now drifts in the breeze being carried along by pride and ego. Unable, or is it unwilling, to find the will to reattach itself to something it once held so dear.

The good, happy memories sustain me as I look in the hateful silver-backed plate glass known as a mirror. Or as I tend to refer to it, “the no good lying looking glass.”

Adopting the Jewish custom of sitting shiva suddenly  appeals to me. This means that after a person has died, all mirrors are covered during the seven day mourning period of a close loved one.

One of my friends adopted the Jewish faith when she married a man who was Jewish. She always looks lovely so I suspect she has taken advantage of the loophole that allows people to check in the mirror to make certain their hair is not out of place and so on.  Smart girl. But I’d rather remain in the dark and not be confronted with those daunting crow’s feet. Others may refer to them as crow’s feet but let’s face it, sometimes they’re more like a pack of giant centipedes’ feet crawling all over our face and leaving tracks that make one wonder if an alien train crawled over our face while we were sleeping.

Not to worry though, those offensive tracks will soon be obliterated by the big blotchy age spots which seem to jump out of nowhere like a cockroach who’s lying in wait for you to walk in the bathroom and turn the light on and then pounce! And in Florida our roaches are so big, not only do they fly, but I swear you could saddle them up and ride them.

Or they could fall into the facial abyss surrounding our mouth, so cutely named “puppet lines,” obviously by someone who still thinks puppets are adorable. Someone in the first decade of their life probably, who wouldn’t mind them only not on my face please.

I watch the news and read articles about what’s going on in the world and am always startled when they refer to people my age as elderly. Elderly, really? Who are they talking about? Surely not moi. I’m young. I think young, I feel young, I act young, my body looks reasonably young. Well, with clothes on, of course.

Clothing hides a multitude of sins from cellulite-laden thighs and butts to saggy breasts, muffin tops and the one thing we never saw coming in our youth, couldn’t have imagined – batwings! I never heard much about them and didn’t consider them until one day as I was innocently lifting my arms to shave under them, I noticed a lot of loose skin hanging down. I put my arms out to the side and I’ll be damned it hung down even further. And as if to taunt me even more, it jiggled. And then…then, the damn covers fall away from the mirrors and there’s a…well, there’s an elderly woman staring back at me. And I stare in disbelief. How in the world did she get there?  I swear she wasn’t there yesterday. Or was it the droopy eyelids obscuring my vision protecting me from seeing her for who she is?

But, wrinkles, cellulite, muffin tops, batwings and everything else that accompanies us as we take a few hesitant steps forward into this unknown realm, don’t stop us. We press on trying to go backwards but there is no Reverse on this old jalopy. There is only Forward and the longer we ride, we discover that there is only Fast Forward now and no working brakes.

As we careen down the hill, picking up speed and feeling sorry for ourselves we notice road signs along the way. They’re not happy signs. Some of them read Cancer, Heart Attack, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other debilitating diseases.

Some of the signs depict birth and death dates that sadly have only a few years separating them. Others read Murder, Suicide, Despair, Loss of Child.

The roadside is littered with these signs and a host of others that grab our attention as we sit helpless at the wheel still pumping futilely at the brakes.

But if we’re lucky and open to reflection, the road turns and becomes lined with gold as we see new signs depicting the good that we’ve had in our life. Signs that tell of the good deeds we’ve done, the happiness we’ve shared with others, and brought to others, the joy of experiencing many spectacular sunrises and sunsets, the love we’ve given and received and the thrill of having lived and grateful we’re still living.

We don’t know what twists and turns the road ahead will take but we hope they lead us to a good place where we reach the signs that read Acceptance, and Gratitude.

And then the final cluster of signs, lined up one after another like the old Burma Shave signs that dotted the American landscape in the ‘50s.

The End of the Road  – Lies Somewhere Ahead – So Enjoy Your Seventies – At Least You’re Not Dead.

As I ponder these signs, a smile forms on my lips and I realize I have indeed reached the Acceptance and Gratitude part of the journey.

Then I see a flashing light up ahead calling my attention to a large sign.

  • Next right – Eighty and Beyond.
  • Y’all Come Back When You Hit One Hundred.
  • As Bette Davis said, in the movie All About Eve,Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

After much introspection I realize I am indeed up for it. As long as these legs can pump the gas pedal and there aren’t too many bumps or potholes in the road, I’m game. And I’ll be diligent in my efforts to keep this old car running with regular oil changes, plenty of water in the radiator and routine checkups with the mechanic.

With such care and a healthy dose of good luck I may very well reach that one hundred year milestone. If not, I’ll look in the rear-view mirror and smile and be happy for all the miles I have traveled so far.

Author Sheryl is a devoted wife and mother. Married to her husband Jack, for 47 years and the loving mom of their first born son, Dale. Sheryl and Jack suffered the devastating loss of their youngest son, Scott Graeme McGinnis, RN on December 1, 2002, at the age of 31, to a multiple drug overdose.  A retired medical transcriptionist and former radio DJ and voice-over artist for TV, Sheryl now uses her voice to speak out about addiction, trying to prevent children from using drugs. Sheryl is always available for speaking engagements.

NABBW Contributing Author

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