Staring down 73

Savannah Morning News

May 7, 2017


A few weeks ago the odometer on my truck up and quit. And the speedometer. Bummer, I thought, since the old girl was approaching 195,000 miles. That’s something to be proud of. Those are bragging rights. Must be the cable, said Mickey the Mechanic. Simple fix. Bring it in. But maybe it was a sign. Everything’s a sign when your birthday’s approaching and that’s all you’re thinking about. Maybe someone out there is trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s time to stop counting the miles, time to start shaving off a few years from your professed age. Who would know? Time to leave the numbers where they are – either that or start telling people you’re 86 and stand back and glow when they tell you how great you look, “for 86”.

Birthdays can be tense, all those expectations. They didn’t used to be that way. There used to be an inner glow, all day. There was this secret bubbling up inside your head that only you and your old friends knew about. Now there’s a lot of pressure to enjoy your birthday. Now you have to live up to its reputation of being a special day. “What are you doing for your birthday?” my friend Billy writes. “Hope you have a great birthday,” someone else says, followed by, “It’s your birthday week.” It wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t this internal measuring stick (and 10,000 “friends” on Facebook) constantly calibrating your happiness level. Am I having fun yet? Is this fun?

“Be yourself,” one card reads. “Everyone else is taken.”

By this time, you’d think we would know that self, would like that self (not “like” as in social media but “like”: as in enjoy, appreciate, admire that self), but there are those moments – we all have them – when either we’re out of touch with that self or we’re not so happy with that self. (PS covering mirrors helps, looking at old photographs does not help). The good news is we know that everything changes so what might feel true today won’t feel true tomorrow.

There are some benefits to birthdays: a box of homemade brownies from the original recipe created by Katherine Hepburn, who, born in 1907, died at 96; a tray of homemade baklava, made from the hand of a Greek; a massage; a manicure; a dinner or two with friends, and maybe in the next few days a brownie or three for breakfast.

But there are the questions, nagging questions. Is this what you’re supposed to look like at 73? Is this what you’re supposed to be doing at 73? And finally, could that number really be right? Time to put pencil to paper or get a calculator. Note to self:  yep, the math is right.

How does this happen?

Some things get easier. No. 1: we get more forgiving.  As my friend Janice’s Yiddisha mama used to say, “No one sees the hump on his own back.” I see my humps (such a vivid word, such a vivid language). I see the things people are dealing with. I know none of it is easy.

Some things get harder. Oy, my knee – it just doesn’t bend the way it used to. My arm, I complain at night in bed when it can’t get comfortable. Or is it the bicep tendon? Whatever. It hurts. Then there’s reflux. Everyone seems to be getting it. Is this reflux? I ask someone who thinks she has it. With every bit of discomfort, I say, “I think I have reflux.” What did we do before we had names for things?

Some things get scarier. These days when I can’t remember someone’s name I take out my phone, start at the “A’s” and go through every contact – sometimes it even works – sort of like that character Julianne Moore plays in the movie “Still Alice.” She’s a linguistic professor who can’t seem to find the words – or keys or book she’s reading. I’m starting to call people Buddy or Mama or I might say, “How’s your bride/groom?”

This is what I know for sure. We all get shorter. Gray hair doesn’t curl up as well as brown hair. Handwritten thank-you notes go a long way. The cost of duplicating car keys is insane. People in Congress are insane (and selfish) and until they offer us the same health care benefits they enjoy I’ll never believe one thing they say. No storage unit needs to be the size of our Civic Center.  Dogs can indeed bite people despite what their owners say.

For my birthday I’m planting horseradish so next Passover I’ll know where to secure some for the Seder table.  With any luck the root – and I – will grow and prosper and I’ll remember where I planted it.










Stay hydrated with jicama

Savannah Morning News

May 7, 2017

It’s allergy season (fill in the blank: pollen, ragweed, dander). In Savannah that season seems to start in the fall and extend into late spring. With all the trees we have you might as well make it pretty much all year round. You might have a few months break in the summer where gnats and heat are the only enemy. This is a beautiful place to live if you discount tree pollen, weed pollen, grass pollen. A few years ago I broke down and got one of those scratch tests from an allergy specialist. Yep, the tests confirmed what we suspected. I’m allergic to trees, weed, grass, bushes, plants, dust mites, dust bunnies, dust collectors (those are the chotzkies that you can’t keep from collecting that are occupying every square inch of your house that you could never find time enough to dust properly).

Oh. Don’t forget dogs and cats too.  I’m allergic to them too. Don’t let them on the couch. Don’t pet them. Don’t get near them. You want a pet? Get a fish.

You want to be healthy so all year you try to be proactive. You start with what you’re eating. You say no to Cheez Doodles, hot dogs, anything with artificial coloring or MSG, which used to be called Accent when it first came out and you first started to cook for yourself.  Forget yogurt with whole milk. Say no to cheese that’s too yellow, no to anything that’s too white. No white rice, white potatoes, white sugar, white pasta. (Except cauliflower: more cauliflower not less). What else? You eschew iceberg lettuce, French dressing, canned beets, microwaved popcorn, donuts or coffeecake. Chocolate? You make an exception.

You try to eat local honey, though that’s debatable. How many miles away constitutes local? You eat tons of garlic, even if what you planted isn’t up yet and you have to break down and buy them. You stay hydrated. You consume oodles of fresh pineapple, despite the carbon footprint. They’re from California, Hawaii, Mexico, right? You eat apples with the skin. There aren’t enough hours in the day to eat all you’re supposed to eat to stay healthy.

And yet the sneezes appear, one little sneaky one after another, followed by the watery eyes and finally a bronchial condition that just won’t quit. The other day when someone recommended jicama with a bit of lime juice I went out and bought limes and jicama, even though this bulbous, boring-looking root vegetable is white. Another exception. It’s a legume, too, and it grows on a vine even if it’s hefty enough to look like a miniature bowling ball. I would like to see the vine that can hold this up. I forgot how juicy and satisfying jicama is and its sheer enormity.

You try to get to bed early, think good thoughts, wash your hands often. You try to ward off monkey brain when you can’t sleep.  There are other things you could have done, like stay away from a certain 5-year-old who never went to day care and is just started to get immunized to all the germs of the world from her year in pre-K. But how can you do that? Who could refuse a child running into your arms even if she has a runny nose?

So you get sick. But first you move into denial. The sneezes? From cooking with black pepper and black pepper will make anyone sneeze. It’s just allergies, you say. Then the coughing starts and won’t stop.

It’s a little scary. You want immediate drugs to ward off the discomfort but then there are all the side effects of drugs. You want comfort. When a friend of mine couldn’t stop coughing and/or hacking we started looking for some emergency med outlet. It was past five p.m. It closes at five, according to the person answering the phone. The other two we called were closed too. I guess you can’t have an emergency after five. So we went to a hospital emergency room. It sounds a little dire but the situation seemed dire. She had a high temperature. What if it was pneumonia?  Maybe we’ll get lucky, we thought. The entrance to the newly constructed emergency room was pleasant. Easy parking. Easy access. Lots of beautiful plants and greenery.  Nice architecture. The waiting room wasn’t half bad. And it was only half filled. She got “processed” right away. All good signs. Three hours later we looked at one another and said, “Let’s leave.” I don’t know, maybe a little less greenery and a few more doctors?

Stay hydrated. Check out jicama. Cross your fingers. Embrace the few pounds you might lose. And know things have got to get better.