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Slow Asleep, OR The Lion Sleeps Tonight (but will I?)

Blog Post # 42 

RFSleepingNymph

“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

For me, bedtime has become a carefully choreographed series of contortionist moves and mind shutdown techniques (none of which work), attempting to find a brain- and body-calming remedy that will allow me to drift into that profound state of unconscious bliss called sleep.

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

Repetitious “mind static” is a huge factor dictating if I sleep or lie awake. No matter how I tune the dial in my head, I invariably pick up brash, white noise that won’t leave me alone. It might be the same three lines from the theme song to “All in the Family,” a problem without a solution, or a repetitive rendition of the first paragraph of The Gettysburg Address, but whatever it is, I can’t seem to find a station in my brain that is able to either complete a thought, or tone down the volume. Sometimes, my mind is in such a hurricane of inventive, creative excitement, it’s impossible to find an eye of calm. The worst is the (fortunately infrequent) fretting that is easily pacified during daylight, but haunts like a host of demons the moment the moon smiles, mockingly, through the window.

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

Another factor, and lately, the more troublesome, is comfort. There’s nothing worse than a Mexican Standoff with your bed. In this regard, it’s fairly certain I am a very near relation to the royal with the hyper-sensitivity to a tiny legume. No matter how high her mattresses were stacked, she could feel that tiny irritating pea lurking beneath. And so it seems that no matter how many egg crates and memory foam mattress toppers my husband, Brad, stacks on our bed, I can still feel the tiny seam on my nightwear, or a slight wrinkle in the sheets digging into my side.

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To insure no outside noise disturbs our slumber, we have three separate fans going at once, none of which point directly at us. The white noise and wind tunnel effect breezing through our room at gale force readily allows paper airplanes to dart about, but for us, presents a unique set of problems. For one, when they were passing out eyelids, sadly for Brad, he got a set one size too small, preventing him from ever, fully closing his eyes. Like a plastic bag left slightly open, a blowing fan has the same effect on Brad’s poor eyes as air on a sandwich—they dry out. On the other hand, my sheets don’t know if they’re coming or going. One minute I’m roasting, and the next, I’m cold. My feet and shoulders like to feel cool air, but my middle likes warmth. Hence, the bedding goes up and down like a Roman blind all night long.  

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Recently, as my aging father’s needs changed, we found it necessary to check on him periodically during the night. We settled on a schedule that would allow each of us a chunk of sleep in between each check time, but that meant setting separate alarms to awaken us at our own scheduled times. I knew my old alarm clock’s irritating buzzing would awaken both of us, so I decided it best to experiment with several alarm tones on my phone, adjusting the volume, then tucking my phone into an open drawer next to my bed where I could hear it, but hopefully, Brad could not.

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I needed a tune that would both wake me up, and motivate me to get out of bed at an insane hour, without disturbing Brad. I thought a cello piece from “Master and Commander” would be both energetic and soothing, but the first few notes doused Brad awake, as if with seawater in the face. The theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast me over-bed, but was also too lively for Brad. It didn’t help matters that I invariably fell into a profound sleep moments before the alarm went off, blowing like a foghorn next to my ear. Groggily stumbling from bed, I’d heave-ho to the bathroom with the gait of a drunken sailor, before checking on my father.

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Rousing though they were, the nautically themed alarms walked the plank. Brad asked me to find something less alarming, and I was all for it, as well. It was only natural, then, that the next alarm I chose was Brahms’ Lullaby. Brad wasn’t disturbed in the least by this alarm, and sadly, neither was I—sleeping through its quiet lulling more than once. Obviously, it was living up to its reputation.

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

I was determined to find an alarm tone that would awaken me, but not Brad, while not making me sick of a tune I had once enjoyed, nor making me blunder about as if on sea legs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was developing a strong aversion to all of the aforementioned tunes because of the unpleasant association of rising from Davy Jones’ Locker each time the alarm sounded. Finally, I found a generic, nondescript, quiet tune that, even after having heard it dozens of times, has awaken me without lingering like the California Raisins jingle.

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The alarm tone finally settled, a much weightier problem still existed—that of pain. Certain bodily trials (nothing serious, just the nagging sort) have created a love/hate relationship with bed and bedtime. Aside from the problem with “the pea,” my body creates its own set of issues. The first, and lesser, evil that arises at times is hunger pangs. No, it isn’t a question of starvation, but we do like to eat dinner very early in the evening (usually between four and five), you might even say we’re eating “dunch” (or, if you prefer, “linner”)—a combination not unlike “brunch” but combining lunch and dinner. By the time 2 AM rolls around, if I’m awake, I’m hungry enough for breakfast. I’ve never been one to raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and I’m not about to start now, but if pain hadn’t awakened me, I wouldn’t have thought about hunger until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

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Climbing back into bed after only a minute or two of being up, pain begins, literally, rapping me on the shoulder, ordering me to, “Move over, roll over, put your leg here, stretch your neck there, put your arm on that side, lie on your tummy, lie on your back, sit up…oh, forget it—get up!” To alleviate the problems pain presents, I find myself trying a series of yoga-esque poses, all performed with great difficulty in a horizontal position, further complicated by nightgown and bed sheets wrapping around me in a mighty tangle, creating the illusion of a stalled tornado. During the twisting and turning, the tornado picks up two additional pillows in an attempt for skeletal alignment. This always results in a repetitive rotation through which said pillows are flung about by the tornado, first between knees, then under an arm, then under tummy, then under leg, and so on and on until at least one of the extra pillows is cast aside as debris. After unsuccessfully attempting to find comfort in every possible pose, the whole rigmarole begins anew, until, at last, I find my generic alarm tone startling me awake, and I must presume that, at least for a few moments, I really did manage to fall asleep.

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Sleep itself is always an adventure, of sorts, because, since expecting my first child forty years ago, I’ve had extraordinarily kooky dreams.  Here is a sampling:

  • Bicycle handles coming out of my stomach (which tummy, by the way, was completely transparent)
  • Standing positively still in a box-shaped room full of floating peas
  • Alligators hanging off the ends of my fingers
  • A tornado held up by little cartoonish feet, dancing around trying to balance the spinning cyclone they’re holding aloft
  • An insignificant (now forgotten) dream interrupted by a commercial break featuring an animated skunk named *Sally Rushkin rowing a leaf or nut-shaped boat (*I was so certain that Sally Rushkin was an actual cartoon character from 1950s TV, I did an internet search, which resulted with no hits. Such is the workings of the mind when dreaming.)
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Sketch made of “Sally Rushkin” just after waking from the dream

The list of kooky scenarios is unending. Nightmares also have a sense of kookiness, but not wishing to remember them, I don’t record them as I do many of my good cuckoo dreams. One son-in-law acts as my dream analyst, claiming he can read my dreams like a book, because they’re so symbolic. Symbolic or not, it’s a hoot to hear his interpretations of the eccentricities that fill my dreaming hours. It makes me feel that, Plato-like, I’m creatively philosophizing, working out real-life issues throughout the night—and doing it all in my stride, or more accurately, in my sleep.

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Plato

 

Our nighttime schedule has undergone many changes these past weeks, as we’ve experimented with different strategies for sleeping and rising throughout the night. Lately, we are sleeping more, and waking less, which is agreeable enough, if it all works out that way. Brad’s alarm has only roused me once, and I think he, at last, is numb to mine, as well. However, the standoff with the bed, my body, and my mind may never be resolved. I often feel sentimental about the words of the poet Robert Frost:

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

And when sleep doesn’t come, I may be found following Henry David Thoreau’s practice:

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.”

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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Cracks in the Sidewalk

View of home

Blog Post #40

My husband, Brad, and I moved back home eight years ago to help care for my 93-year-old father. He lives in the house our family moved into in 1962, when I was eight. My father is the last original homeowner on the street. Even before our family moved into this house so many years ago, we visited it on a regular basis. Each weekend we’d drive out and look at the stepped lots of dirt, where little flags identified each leveled-off lot. We knew which lot was ours in that vast, arid sea of flattened earth.

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Orange groves once covered the parcel of land where our house now stands

I admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy those trips to the house that wasn’t there yet. It was about as exciting as asphalt – a giant wasteland. Then, on one visit, a slab of cement appeared. My siblings and I explored the foundation until that grew old—let’s see, that took about two minutes. Later, the Palos Verdes stone (complete with real, built-in fossils) that would become the fireplace appeared on the slab, then a wooden framework, walls, roof, and so on. Finally—FINALLY,—the house was finished! We sat on the floor of an empty bedroom and ate bologna sandwiches while waiting for the moving van to arrive. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in that big, empty house! Something good was happening to our family—I could feel it in my bones.

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The new house two years after we moved in

We moved in on the tenth of November, mid-semester. It’s no surprise that our mother registered us for school right away–almost before she tucked us in that first night. 

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Riding bikes in the neighborhood

The first or second weekend, my sister Karen and I got on our bikes to explore. Our explorations took us repeatedly by the model home around the corner. Eager realtors stood by card tables laden with floor plans in the open garage of one model. We knew they had small tokens for the children of prospective buyers, so each time we “happened by” on our bikes, we picked up another novelty eraser for our swiftly growing collection.

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These were the kind of erasers with generic pictures (the Smurfs weren’t introduced for another two decades) 

Everything was new, then. New, meaning undeveloped. Tumbleweeds and mini-whirlwinds blew through the dusty neighborhood, while lizards scampered about the flattened dirt that was our backyard. My sister Karen and I pretended we were orphans of the Shirley Temple movies variety, lost and alone in a veritable desert. When playtime was over, we carpeting our mother’s pristine floors  with dirt accumulated on our filthy little “orphan” bodies.

The neighbors were also new. We got to know all the families on our block by name. Mrs. Chung across the street had an older daughter who was an opera singer. Her vocal scales blew into our house each morning with amazing clarity —and punctuality. (They moved away not many years later.) The family next door had three children, and would have two more before moving away. The oldest was my age, a son, which automatically disqualified him as a playmate. (I don’t think he sought my particular association either.) Besides being overcome with bashfulness around most boys, I was getting older, and what I really needed, and wanted, was a girl to play with—someone my age to be my best friend.

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I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of our house. The Chung’s house is in the background. (1964)

Up the street, a family moved in shortly after we did. They had kids, too—four of them at the time, and one who would follow later. The oldest was a girl. I knew she was my age because she was in my grade at school, but not in my class. I watched her curiously as we walked to school—keeping just enough distance between us to avoid having to talk to her. I kept the same unfriendly I-wonder-if-you-have-cooties distance while playing outside. I wanted to make friends, but shyness created an insurmountable obstacle. The Great Wall of China could not have been more effective. I watched the girl ride her bike up and down our street. She made a point to ride in front of my house over and over again. Finally, one day, after a week or two of watching her with the scrutinizing eagle eye of a private detective, that toe-headed girl with the pixie cut pulled up on her bike and stopped at the curb in front of our house. Looking at me with not so veiled disapproval, she bluntly asked something like, “Well, are you ever going to talk to me?” Shy or not, I wasn’t going to miss this chance of making friends. Fortunately, Sheryl turned a blind eye to my backward nature, becoming my best friend – for life. Some fifty-odd years later, she is still my best friend. (If it had been left to me, I suppose I’d probably still be watching her from behind a bush.)

Sheryl Koncsol in front of house at 1034 Maryhurst in 1964

Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

The neighborhood was full of kids back then, and we owned it. We rode bikes, but mostly we walked—everywhere. We knew every crack in the sidewalk between our houses and school. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine” we’d repeat as we carefully navigated the cracks and lines wherever we went, while simultaneously stomping on every dry leaf we encountered just to hear it crunch like a potato chip.

Claremont sidewalk crack

Sometimes, we’d take the back path through the undeveloped field behind our tract of homes to and from school. One day, along the path, we met a handsome fellow—a large *desert tortoise. Wanting to take the heavy tortoise home, we weighed our schoolbooks and the tortoise in the balance. Attesting to our strong responsible natures, and our not so strong arms, we opted to, first, run our books home, then return for the tortoise. Responsible? Yes. Practical? No. Not toward our purpose. (This was during the pre-backpack era when girls juggled loose school books in–or mostly out of–their arms.) If we had thought it through more carefully, we might have concluded that, had we left them, no one would have wanted our school books, but the tortoise was another story. At any rate, when we returned, the tortoise was gone, and we bemoaned our loss.

(*This predated the time when laws were enacted prohibiting desert tortoises as pets. As I think of it, that tortoise probably was an escaped pet, which may have been retrieved by its owner.)

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Desert Tortoise like the one we found on the path home from  school. Isn’t he (she?) cute?

There was a nice little flower shop a couple blocks from home. They had a large greeting card display in the shape of a Snoopy doghouse from the Peanuts comic strip. I was a huge Peanuts fan and wanted that doghouse in the worst way. I asked Mrs. Mayer (in those days we even knew the names of the business owners in our neighborhood) if I could have the doghouse when she was done with it. I wrote my name and phone number down on a scrap of paper, and waited for her call. When I’d almost given up hope, my mother informed me that Mrs. Mayer had indeed phoned! If I would pick it up, the doghouse was mine! I called Sheryl, and off we went—on foot, of course. (Ours was a one-car family until my later teens. My father made a long commute to L.A. each day, or I’m sure my mother would have been glad to drive me to the flower shop and help me haul that doghouse home. What mother wouldn’t be thrilled and anxious to have such a monstrosity in her house?) I developed a very valuable motto about that time: “I’ll make it in one trip.”  (This motto is still in effect today. Be it a giant stack of text books (the densest, heaviest books in existence), bags of groceries, camping gear, or the kitchen sink, I can pretty much figure out how to haul everything in one trip at great inconvenience and possible harm to myself.)

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Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

The Snoopy doghouse, when assembled was a good five or six feet tall, counting the cardboard Snoopy sitting atop the roof. Made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, the doghouse had several levels of narrow display shelves that formed the roof on both sides. (These had once served to display Peanuts greeting cards, books, and stationery.) The base of the house was about the shape and size of a big, empty washing machine box. Had I cut the door out, I could have curled up and slept inside. (Snoopy didn’t sleep inside his house, and neither did I.)

 

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Yours truly (and our dog, whose name was not Snoopy) in front of the doghouse. (1970)

Sheryl was such a good sport. Somehow, and with a great deal of difficulty, we carried that doghouse (which was disassembled into large awkward pieces) home. One might think cardboard would be lightweight, but it was actually pretty heavy for two young girls of about ten years of age. After struggling to get it home, we worked out the puzzle of how to put it together with the intensity of Einstein working out Relativity. It took up the former location of a large four-story homemade dollhouse–a conglomeration of boxes, carpet scraps, and homemade décor. Out with the old, and in with the new! I couldn’t have been prouder of my new acquisition. I used the narrow shelves to display framed pictures, artwork, books, greeting cards I’d received, knickknacks and other odds and ends. It was my pride and joy. (Included in the display, was a framed letter written on official Peanuts letterhead to me from Charles M. Schulz himself, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which he sent in response to a letter I had written him.)

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The letter I received from Charles Schulz was on stationery just like this. (Currently in storage)

In those days, when the homes in the area were still fairly new, if company came to dinner, there was always the grand tour of the house that followed the meal. Not surprisingly, people did a double-take when they saw the giant doghouse in my room—a room which otherwise stockpiled a hodgepodge of hand-me-down, non-matching, outcast furniture. One guest, with stunned admiration (or was it incredulity?) remarked, “Now, this room has character!” At the time, I was certain I had been paid a great compliment, but on hindsight, I suspect that either I was “the great character,” or that it was a polite way of commenting on the odd conglomeration that was my room.

So attached to that doghouse was I, that it followed me into matrimony, providing the duel purpose of a playhouse and a shelf for our children. Once our children were old enough to enjoy the playhouse aspect of it, I finally succumbed to cutting the door out so they could crawl inside. At last, we faced a move in which we would have to store most of our household until we could settle in our own place, which would possibly take months. My husband thought it might be time to rid ourselves of the giant doghouse, which was beginning to show some wear and tear and the effects of age. I protested at first, however after much reasoning, was convinced that the doghouse would have to go (but not with us). Nostalgically brokenhearted, I gave it to a family with young children in our neighborhood, and girl and dog (house) parted forever. It was the last formidable vestige of my childhood still holding a visible presence in our home, and I felt its absence keenly.

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A bucket of lard

Occasionally, Sheryl and I resorted to baking for entertainment (with a bonus–a sweet treat). Absurd as it was, one time we chose to make lard lemon cookies. Why these tempted us, I’m not sure. Just the mention of lard is disgusting to me, but paired with cookies it’s over-the-top revolting. Maybe that day we were missing an ingredient for other, more enticing cookies–namely chocolate. Or maybe ignorance played a part. I don’t think I really knew what lard was until Sheryl pulled out the carton that held it. The interesting thing about this recipe was it required said bakers to mix the lard with their hands! Pulling up our shirtsleeves, we dove in, grimacing and exclaiming “eew!” and “yuck!” It was a nasty business, but we persevered, giggling as we smooshed about in the greasy mixture. I can’t remember if the cookies tasted good, of if they provided the anticipated boon to our efforts. I can’t even remember if I ate any. Did anyone eat them? Needless to say, we only made them once, sticking strictly to Toll House cookies, Five-Minute Fudge, or  molasses cookies (Sheryl’s mother’s amazingly declicious recipe) after that.  

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Lard lemon cookies similar to those Sheryl and I made

Speaking of Sheryl’s mother, it might be of interest to note that she was an immaculate housekeeper, and her children learned at a young age how to keep a tidy house. When I had a sleepover at Sheryl’s, I followed her around in the morning while she vacuumed, dusted, and completed various other chores before we could eat our breakfast of Wheaties. Looking back, a better friend would have offered to help with the chores, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t recall doing.

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One day, Sheryl was at our house, playing with me in my room. There was a large black scuffmark on the wall that only someone with Sheryl’s keen eyes for cleanliness would notice (mine were blind to dirt in those days). She suggested we clean the scuff off the wall, and, it went without saying that in doing so, we would please my mother immensely. I produced cleanser and sponges from the bathroom and we proceeded to do a number on the wall removing the scuffmark in its entirety—as well as the paint. When my mother came in and saw what we had done…well, let’s just say, she wasn’t exactly “tickled pink.” She turned more a shade of red.

Sheryl and I were inseparable during most of our growing up years. People knew our names, but often didn’t know which of us was which, even though Sheryl had straight, light blonde hair and blue eyes, and I had curly, (okay, frizzy) dark hair, and dark eyes. To the untrained eye, we attached at the hip.

Sheryl owned two beautiful, silky Japanese kimono-looking pantsuits. Our mothers had given permission for us to go, by ourselves, to the Alpha Beta shopping center (within walking distance of home) to eat an early dinner at a quaint little restaurant located there. Sheryl was going to wear her Japanese outfit. I was envious, and she knew it. I didn’t have anything that even came close to those uncommonly pretty clothes, so Sheryl, being the generous and thoughtful friend she was, offered to let me wear her other Japanese outfit. Off we went, bedecked in those delicately flowered outfits, to Little Pigs of America (I kid you not, that was the name of the restaurant). I felt positively exotic as we walked into Little Pigs to eat. In we pranced wearing our silky pajamas (in retrospect, I wonder if that’s what they really were, glorified PJs), and feeling very glamorous in an outlandish sort of way. I’m sure we turned heads, (and drew snickers) a toe-head and a dark Italian in Japanese costume. We must have been a sight!

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The Girl Scout Cabin “La Casita”

Sheryl and I joined Brownies, advancing into Girl Scouts together, and shared all the joys (ice skating lessons, hikes, campouts, and camaraderie) and trials of scouting (selling calendars and cookies door to door. Let me add, it was a different time. No one ever set up camp in front of a grocery store in those days. Parents never took cookies to work to sell. It was door-to-door or bust). When we went to the local Girl Scout cabin “La Casita” in the foothills near home, pairs of girls were assigned (or chose) various chores that had to be done before the day’s regular activities began. I’m not sure why, but we opted (yes, we chose) to clean the outhouse! (Were we nuts? Maybe. Or maybe it was Sheryl’s propensity towards cleanliness, and the repulsive stench of the outhouse that spurred us on to such undervalued benevolence. At any rate, we took it on and magnified our job description.)  We not only swept it out, we scrubbed it as best we could, and gathered pine boughs and flowers to try to sweeten the air (without succeeding). We felt we had done our duty and a good turn, however I’m not sure it was noticed, let alone appreciated, by anyone but ourselves.

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The outhouse was down the hill to the left in those days. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they use regular bathrooms now.)

After the campfire at night, Sheryl and I spread out our sleeping gear next to each other on the wooden cabin floor. My family never went camping. I didn’t have a clue what an air mattress was. Many of the other girls not only knew, but were privileged to have one. I looked at their soft, billowing sleeping arrangements with a sigh. Surrounded by luxury, I knew I’d be roughing it. I had received a Girl Scout sleeping bag for Christmas. It was like sleeping on a chilled paper towel, having no padding or insulation to speak of, yet having considerable bulk when trying to roll it up tightly again. (After rolling my bag, it always looked as if I had, first, wadded it up, then tried desperately to tie up an explosion that had occurred somewhere in its depths.) I looked on enviously as other girls nonchalantly stuffed their bags into nice little tote sacks. I lied awake in a state of misery most of the night. I was freezing, sore, and needed to use the bathroom in the worst way, but couldn’t bear the idea of traipsing down the hill to the outhouse by myself in the dark (even with the anticipation of the fresh scent of pine needles to greet me). I held it in ‘till morning, then, shivering, made a mad dash for the latrine when the first scouts began to stir at daylight.

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Breakfast was its own trial since I was a picky eater. My mother never made oatmeal. I’m not sure why, but, when growing up, we never had hot cereal or casseroles (both typical Girl Scout fare). I was crestfallen when I heard breakfast was oatmeal, not pancakes. I sat there staring at the lumpy white goop while hungry scouts all around me gobbled theirs up. The rule was you had to eat two big Girl Scout bites before you could leave the table. After tasting just a tiny bit of the bland and sticky stuff, I was pretty sure a 21st Century Girl Scout would find me dead on the bench decades later. Sheryl encouraged me along, as did the other girls around me, urging me to put sugar and milk on it—promising it would help. I loaded the sugar on and choked down my two big Girl Scout nibbles, then got out of there as fast as possible.

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I’ve acquired a taste for oatmeal since those long ago days. I especially love it with cinnamon apples, nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. Yum.

When we were about twelve, the big day arrived when our mothers consented to let us ride the bus alone to an outdoor mall about five miles away. We put on our best dresses and boarded the bus. (In those days, going to the mall was an event worthy of dressing up. I think it’s rather a shame that practice of dressing up for special outings has been mostly lost.) We were sure we had reached a certain level of maturity when Sheryl’s mother decided to send money to treat us to lunch in a department store restaurant. Before lunch, we shopped, or more appropriately, window-shopped, as we had very little of our own money to spend. We looked at items on the main floor of the department store, checking price tags with cloaked dismay. We made our way to a less expensive part of the store, perhaps located in the basement, thinking we might find something in our price range while still giving the appearance of being two very independent, and if not well-to-do, at least refined young ladies. While I looked with interest at one clothing rack, knowing full well I couldn’t even afford to buy one of the wire hangers the clothing hung on, Sheryl was making her way around another circular clothing rack across the room. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to me in a rather loud voice, “This isn’t the budget department!” I’m not sure if I disappeared into the clothes on the rack in front of me, or if I just pretended I didn’t hear her. At any rate, the ruse was up!  We were what we were, and there was no hiding the fact.

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We rode the little bus shown in the picture (above) up and down the mall on our grown-up excursion

Honestly, this is one of the many things I have always loved about Sheryl—she is as genuine as they come. No pretense. Honest as the day is long, she calls it as she sees it, so you always know exactly where you stand. A true treasure.

We were a twosome. If Sheryl had a dentist appointment, we walked downtown to the dentist office together, then to the library, and to the bakery for a cookie afterward. We created clubs, played the piano, and vied to see who could take the most notes during class. We walked to and from school together, made identical Halloween costumes, and roasted hot dogs in the fireplace when she spent the night. When I wanted to join drill team in high school, Sheryl was right there trying out with me. We shared all the monumental events girls go through. Our families shared holidays and outings. Our mothers were best friends. Our brothers were best friends. And my sister Karen was welcomed into the circle of our friendship, as well. We laughed and cried together. And we even had our spats, but they never lasted long.

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Halloween: Sheryl and I were majorettes. I’m the one in the tall hat with the curly dark hair, and Sheryl, is my blonde twin. My sister Karen is Peter Pan.(I’m guessing 1965)

Then the dreadful day came when Sheryl’s parents announced they were moving—and not just across town, but all the way to Ohio! I was devastated. We did our share of bawling, and making promises to be true to the end. Before Sheryl’s departure after our sophomore year of high school, my sister and I hosted a going away party for her. It was a bittersweet event. We pledged to write letters (the old-fashioned kind), and we kept our pledge faithfully for a long, long time.

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At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

We didn’t have cell phones, and with expensive long distance rates, calling was not an option except on rare occasions, such as a birthday, and soon fell out of practice. When high school graduation time rolled around, Sheryl flew out to celebrate with me. That was our last hurrah together.

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Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

We didn’t see each other in person again for close to thirty years, and that was only for an hour at the airport when I was passing through.

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A quick visit at the airport

Letters became sporadic throughout those years. Life was busy with work, family, moves, and other normal occurrences that drive people apart, but we never gave up on our friendship. As we approached our fiftieth birthdays, we determined it had just been too long, so Sheryl flew back to Southern California from her home in Texas, and I returned from Colorado at the same time. We both stayed with my father at my childhood home (the same home I live in at this time), tracing our steps from the past. We walked three houses up the street to Sheryl’s house and knocked on the door. The current owners were gracious, inviting us inside, and giving us a tour of the house as it then stood. They even magically pulled from a brown paper bag the original kitchen cabinet and drawer hardware that looked like bunches of grapes, sending the bag of metal treasures from the past home with Sheryl.

Sheryl in front of house on Maryhurst

Sheryl in front of her former home

As is the case with faithful souls, we picked up exactly where we left off years earlier, laughing and having a great time. Time sped by and we soon regretted how little time we had allowed for this visit together. (Sheryl confessed she didn’t know how it would be, and didn’t want to be [stuck] with me for more than a weekend if “things” didn’t go well. She didn’t use the word “stuck,” but she would have been had she stayed longer and things hadn’t gone well. Fortunately, we parted wishing for more time, instead of holding to the sentiment my mother-in-law used to profess: “Company is like fish; after three days it stinketh.” It was time to bid each other farewell again and just as when we were children, it was hard to do.

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Sheryl and me, the last time we were together

This farewell was so like our sixth grade graduation from elementary school. On the last day of school each spring, the 6th graders filed through the younger grades, all of whom were lined up by the bike racks, singing “Aloha Oe” ( in English, “Farewell to Thee”). We knew that when our time came, we’d face this emotional event. Even when singing among the younger grades each year, we felt the weight of this melancholy, and life-changing rite of passage. Usually, we walked to school, but on our last day of sixth grade, we rode our bikes. We walked numbly and with a lump in our throats through the singing students, boarded our bikes, and bawled all the way home.  We knew an important era of our lives had come to a close.

“Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow’rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.”

(“Aloha Oe,” as we sang it to the 6th graders)

Bike racks

This is a recent picture of the school bike racks. When I was a kid, the bike rack area was smaller, and either there was no fence, or it was chain link. The 6th graders processed down the center  through the opening, and the younger grades sang the mournful tune on either side.

At fifty, we bade each other farewell again. Time and circumstance have kept us apart to this day, but fortunately, although we couldn’t foresee it then, we lived to the ripe old age of cell phones and Skype (which we’ve yet to use). We communicate more frequently now, calling at least on birthdays, but at other times, too, and we write emails as well as the old-fashioned, hand-written, snail mail letters.

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Our house in the 1970s.

Now, in my sixties and back at home, I walk on almost a daily basis the same places Sheryl and I walked as children, but most of the time, I walk for my health and diversion instead of to get where I need to go. The neighborhood has aged, but many things remain the same. Instead of tender young shoots, the trees are giants, providing shade and beauty. The homes still stand, some having undergone face-lifts, others falling into various stages of age or transformation. Yards no longer sport dichondra, and even grass is becoming scarce, as a long-term drought takes its toll and people move toward drought-resistant landscaping. The sidewalks are uneven and weathered.  The cracks are still there, and greet me like old, worn-out and worn-in friends. Those cracks in the sidewalk prompted this post. I walk past Sheryl’s house every time I’m out, and remember…remember….

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My younger brother Craig in front of our house.  (About 1970)

I believe memory is a gift from God. All time is present before God. We can experience a little of that miracle through memory. The past is present before my face; time is naught, and I can relive so many of those special moments so dear to my heart as often as I like, and “be with” friends gone from my sight, living far away, whom I treasure–like Sheryl.

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“It is one of the blessings of old friends

that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilairee Belloc

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“No distance of place, or lapse of time can lessen the friendship

of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”

~ Robert Southey

 

“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,

all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

~ Shakespeare

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“Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

End Piece

© May 28, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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Relativity-ly Speaking

Blog Post #37

einsteinsarc

Einstein had his Theory of Relativity, and I have *mine.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: E=mc2

(Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light squared)

My Theory of Relativity: A=pt2

(Age = perception multiplied by the speed of time squared)

*Disclaimer: There is nothing scientific about my theory of relativity. Any similarities to science, math, or physics is completely coincidental. The ideas and philosophies represented in this post are those of the author and are not to be confused or mistaken with anything legitimate.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I began developing my Theory of Relativity when I was in 2nd grade. During the course of my second grade year, I underwent eye surgery as well as contracting an infectious virus, causing me to miss quite a bit of school. It was during that school year, at the tender age of seven, that I began to perceive a change in Time.

Up until second grade, Time moved at a snail’s pace; to my mind, there was no Time to be reckoned with. Life was an endless stream of fun, family and investigation—everything was new. I was young, carefree, and full of energy. I had loving, caring parents who provided a safe and happy environment and life, and school hadn’t yet become a stressor for me (that came later). Worries were essentially non-existent.

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Then I got sick. I remember how miserable I felt even though it was well over half a century ago. I couldn’t go to school, or play outside. I didn’t feel like eating, and was so tired—the kind of tired where your head feels like a balloon full of lead. After running its course, the illness passed, but not without making an indelible mark on my perception about life. I had come to understand that being sick meant that during the Time in which I was ill I couldn’t do the fun things that I normally liked to do.

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The eye operation meant an overnight hospital stay. I remember my parents giving me a beautiful, light blue, quilted robe with lacy ruffles as a gift. They said good-night (good-bye) just before bedtime, and went home. (In those days, anxious parents couldn’t stay all night in the hospital with their frightened children.) There I was, almost alone in a dark room, standing in a cage (perhaps it was a large crib) where they must have hoped to keep me from wandering about, looking across what appeared to be a vast, dark wasteland of a hospital room to where a toddler was crying uncontrollably in his cage. I don’t remember shedding a tear myself. It was all so surreal. I do remember lying down in that cage and having a hard time falling asleep with the incessant bawling—not that I could blame the poor little guy. I must have eventually drifted off, because the next thing I remembered was waking up and not being able to see. Once the surgery was completed, the doctor had covered my eyes with patches to protect them while they healed. These I wore for a week.  I was too young to be frightened by blindness, and trusted my parents implicitly, so in many ways, the experience of surgery was an extension of childhood investigation, and I might add, fun. In a way, it was sort of an adventure to have patches—to experience the world without sight. As usual, all my needs were met by my attentive mother, and I found I could still draw on my Etch-a-Sketch and “watch” “Car 54, Where Are You?” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” on T.V. even though I couldn’t actually “see” them. The process of healing lasted two or three weeks, and then I was back to life as usual–school, playing, and just being a seven-year-old kid with a story to tell about what it was like to be sightless for a week.

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Besides improved vision, one monumental thing had changed from this experience: my sense of Time. My second grade year dragged by. It was the longest year of my life, and I recognized it as such even at that tender age. I began to mark Time from that year on, and noticed that each subsequent year began to speed up a little bit more than the last.

In my theory, I propose that Age is equal to perception multiplied by the speed of time squared. (Please see disclaimer at the beginning of this post.) I confess that while my theory is not scientific, it is the opposite—a whim. Still, it rings true for me, even though it follows no logical thread. According to my theory of relativity, aging depends on my perception of things relative to the speed of time. In other words, the older I get, the faster time speeds by, and/or the speed of time shapes my perceptions about my age.

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Interestingly enough, perceptions (including memories) of my childhood have remained intact and vivid during each passing year of my life. However, perceptions during the years following second grade, have shifted like tectonic plates with the passage of Time. The more distance between 2nd grade and the current year, the more the shift, sometimes causing quaking and trembling in my perceptions—especially regarding details, such as what I believe I said to my husband, and what I’m sure he said to me.

The following is an example of how age (A) is equal to (=) perception (p) multiplied by time squared (t2). At a young age, maybe around three years old (A), I became (=) acutely desirous (p) of being two years older (t2) than the age I currently was. (*For your own sanity, please do not try to force my variables into a true equation.) This was probably due to my sister being two years my senior, giving her privileges, which I, as the younger sister, had to wait for. I remember crying at the bus stop as Karen boarded the school bus bound for kindergarten. I desperately wanted to go with her, and I couldn’t understand why I had to wait. No amount of sobbing swayed my mother, who simply scolded me for my tantrum and marched me back home. Wishing to be two years older became more intense as the years passed, which accounts for *time squared. (*Mathematicians and physicists out there, I know this is all sheer folly—please humor me.)

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The inverse was also true. As the younger sister by two years, I had the opportunity of observing my older sister, and those behaviors and consequences I wished to avoid. A very valuable asset and one I exploited to my gain.

There is yet another interesting corollary to perception as it relates to Age and Time, that is, how I perceived those who were older than I was. If I was thirteen, a fifteen-year-old was strictly out of my league in every aspect of life. (I now attribute this incorrect perception to the public school system, which unwittingly forces most children into an unrealistic environment—boxing them into a classroom with thirty other students of the same approximate age and developmental issues for about twelve years of their lives. This short-sighted and preposterous arrangement prepares children for an environment they will rarely, if ever, experience later in life. During adulthood, you would be hard-pressed to find yourself (it would seem unnatural to find yourself) among peers of your exact age group on a daily basis. In fact, most people spend the majority of their lives in family units composed of a variety of ages and temperaments,—the ultimate seedbed for learning—not in a setting as unnatural as that of a public school classroom.)

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When I attended my first year of college, I was eighteen, but my roommate (who was seventeen—having graduated high school a year early) soon after became friends with a girl of twenty-one! Imagine it!—she was friends with a co-ed four years her senior! (This is where my theory of relativity really became obvious to me.) I was in awe of this twenty-one-year-old. To my mind, she was light years beyond me in wisdom, experience, and dignity just by virtue of her three extra years of advanced age—I assumed this without really knowing her.

By my second semester of college, a shift in perspective had already begun to occur. I had become used to sharing the classroom, the campus, the dormitory, and the dining hall with a multiplicity of ages, but it wasn’t until this particular girl—my roommate’s friend—shared a class with me, that I realized the fallacy of my perception about age creating such a huge superiority gulf. On the first day of class during the second semester, we students looked around the room sizing each other up, and because this girl and I had a common friend, we recognized and gravitated to one another, sitting next to each other the remainder of that course. This was when I discovered that she was every bit as childish as I was! We doodled little frogs and cartoon-y characters with text bubbles full of nonsense all over each other’s and our own notepaper, quietly giggling at our silliness. We had so much fun! It was a great class to begin with, but it was all the more enjoyable for me when I realized that “twenty-one” was not the sage old age I thought it was, and that I could have fun and be silly even when I, too, reached the landmark maturity of twenty-one.

Even though challenged with every passing year and season of life, my flawed perception has remained with me; I still view age as a relative thing. When I was a young mother in my twenties, the thirties seemed ancient. Indeed, thirty-nine (or for some twenty-nine) has been the place where many people stop the “aging” clock, refusing to admit to any age above that. Year after year, when asked their age, these people refuse to acknowledge themselves as any more than 39. (Jack Benny comes to mind—he was forever 39. If you are my age, you will know who Jack Benny was. If you are from a younger generation—sorry. It’s one of those advantages of advanced age, to know about and gloat over things those younger than you were unfortunate enough to miss out on—things such as The Great Depression, roller skates with keys, garter belts, corded telephones, and 45s.)

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Hint: The perpetual 39 year-old

As I approached forty, and recognized that I was old enough to be mother to the youngsters of twenty whom I often hosted in my home, turning forty sounded like putting one foot in the grave. To my mind—to my eternal spirit—I was always looking out of eighteen-year-old eyes (that is, from the inside out), and each numerical age I reached was someone else’s bad idea of flimflam (for clearly, I was perpetually “in spirit” the eternal age of eighteen inside—that was my perception). Note: My outward appearance does not necessarily agree with my eternal “inside” age.

Then, fifty came, and most recently, sixty (by the way, I missed The Great Depression, the Revolutionary War, and the age of dinosaurs, though my grandchildren might challenge that). I have friends in every age bracket—age is immaterial when it comes to finding worth in others—and is very instructive as to differences in perception about time and age. With a ninety-three-year-old father, here’s what I’ve discovered: seventy-five is the new “thirty.” It’s all relative.

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For a 93-year-old like my father, age is a badge of distinction—of longevity few live to reach. A 93-year-old perceives the speed of time as being akin to the time spent on a merry-go-round that goes faster with each rotation. You get on, orbit the circumference a few times enduring the usual ups and downs, and then anticipate jumping off your horse, which might throw you at any time. Life is a blink when you’re 90, and often a blur—but things do tend to appear blurry when traveling at great speeds.

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As I mentioned earlier, time began to speed up for me in second grade. During each subsequent year, time has picked up momentum. Although reason tells me this is due to my flawed perception, I think it must also be due to age. With every passing year, I become a year older. (Yes, I know,—brilliant deduction—nothing profound here, folks.) The more years gathered into the garner of time, the faster time passes. Age is the fireman stoking the steam locomotive’s boiler with more and more coal, making Time’s train move on at an ever and ever increasing rate. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) At any rate, Perception stands on the ground next to the tracks and watches the train fly by, saying “Whoa! Did you see how fast that train blew by?”

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Where once there were long, lazy days of summer, summer days now run into fall, fall into winter, winter into years, and years into lifetimes. Deadlines, responsibilities, calendar events, reminders, commitments, activities, and endless checklists of to dos tip one side of the scale, while the other holds the inevitability of time running out. The scale is rarely balanced. It is all relative. Relative to one’s own age, and time, and maybe even one’s own perceptions.

 

“Time is too slow for those who wait,

 too swift for those who fear,

too long for those who grieve,

too short for those who rejoice,

but for those who love, time is eternity.”

 – Henry Van Dyke

 In light of the relativity of age, time and perception, I would like to repeat the last line in the Van Dyke quotation above:

“For those who love, time is eternity.”

Amen to that.

End Piece

© April 21, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 


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Painting the Roses Red

Blog Post #29

As Alice explored Wonderland, she happened upon three gardeners in the form of playing cards busily painting the queen’s white roses red. When she asked them why they did this, they explained that they had planted white roses by mistake, and were frantically attempting to conceal the error with red paint before the queen found out, lest they lose their heads.

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The image of the playing cards painting the white roses red sprang into my mind a few days ago, as I took stock of my 60-year-old image in the mirror. After conflicting emotions, and months of deliberation, I had decided to stop painting the white roses red. (More accurately, I decided to stop painting the white roots brown.) I couldn’t help but see the comparison. I applied paint hoping to camouflage the white “roses” lest someone noticed they were white instead of red. I’m not sure who would care that the roses weren’t red, or who I thought I was fooling…the only person I can think of is—well, me. I am short at only five-feet, one-inch tall. Anyone even a hair (no pun intended) taller than I could easily detect shimmering silver peeping through unnaturally dark locks atop my head. Most people are too polite to say anything—most, that is, but not all. Twenty years ago, when I was barely forty, a young fellow who stood two heads taller than I detected the shimmer, and with stunned candor, announced to the world (at least, the world inside our house) “you have gray hair!” At that point, I may not have lost my head, but I remember that I lost my composure. I didn’t know how to respond to that, and shrank into silent embarrassment. I had been “found out!” I would have found it no less disconcerting if he had yelled, “Off with her head!”

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For many women, aging means a buffet of life-changes in multiple courses, many of which are sometimes difficult to swallow. Oddly enough, the Smorgasbord of life begins with a feast of desserts! Sweet and palatable, Youth is oblivious to the effects of age, coming with a devil-may-care attitude, a sense of indestructibility, and of time standing still. As one grows into young adulthood, one eases into appetizer trays rich with deep-fried flavor, unhampered by worries of clogged arteries, or muffin tops. Following earlier, carefree times are meat and potato entrées that may consist of choosing a companion, furthering one’s education, pursuing a career, and the responsibilities of family life. A jog around the block pushing a stroller keeps one fit and one’s thoughts far from the vultures of time and gravity waiting patiently to pounce on the carrion of one’s future. One’s thoughts may wander to advanced age, but possibly only in reference to asking grandparents to babysit. Middle age is the time for salads and smoothies—watching what one eats, and guarding one’s health. Finally, during advanced years, one dines on entrails (innards). Awareness of the aging process becomes more difficult to ignore during the entrails course since as one gets older, one’s bodily counterparts to innards tend to become more outspoken. In addition, evidence of other aging issues may be hard to swallow—even when “painted red” by tucking, squeezing, dying, exercising, studying, meditating, or moisturizing. Body shape and size, hair, skin, attitude, behavior, mental acuity, physical capacity, and other sundry changes are inevitabilities of life, leaving bare chicken bones and crumbs from the feast on the plate for one to shiver at with dismay.

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The truth of what I once was, outwardly—a lithe, fair-skinned brunette—is not quite the truth of what, outwardly, I am now. Traces of the past remain, even though, from a distance, one may not see significant alterations. Up close, the telltale signs are flashing in neon. It is hard to avoid the persistent work of time and gravity over the years—evidenced in wrinkles, lines, discolorations, sags, and so on. The mirror reveals the truth bluntly and without the least bit of sensitivity, especially in broad daylight. By evening, the mirror is kinder, but only because the sun in its time of setting paints the light into a soft and rosy hue. (Ah! It appears that as each day ages, the setting sun has sympathy on other aging things, and paints the roses red!)

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During a discussion with my oral hygienist one morning, she declared that of all the changes that come with aging, the loss of pigment is the saddest for her. (She was referring, of course, to her hair.) My reply to this was, “I haven’t lost my pigment. It has relocated: from my head to spots on my face.” We laughed about it, but it is one of the unsettling facts of life that aging has a way of shifting things around, such as pigment, muscle tone, and the “F” word: FAT.  Although my weight is the same as what it was in my youth, how it is distributed is startling and a bit discomfiting. Even dendrites—the neural networks of the brain—are sometimes rearranged or reduced in number and efficiency, wreaking all sorts of havoc for some poor aging souls.

We talk about ‘growing old gracefully,’ but what does that really mean? Is it referring to one’s appearance, one’s mental or emotional state, or one’s behavior? I suspect, all.

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It is, precisely, the question of how one grows old gracefully that prompted my thoughts about painting the roses red. As I stared at my image in the unforgiving mirror, I asked, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, where is the girl who, once, I saw?”

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The glaring feature prompting this chant was my hair. Truthfully, I was never proud of this feature. My hair had always been dark brown and wildly curly—in a frizzy, windblown sort of way. When I was a teen, straight hair was in, and mine was not. I never ironed it, (though it was faddish to do so), nor did I do anything drastic like that, but I did go through time-consuming gyrations to smooth and straighten it out. Inheriting genes for prematurely gray hair, at age fifteen, I held a single strand between my fingers, announcing to my peers, “Look! A blonde hair!” That’s when the mindset that led to ‘painting the roses red’ began. I was in denial, even as a teen. In my early thirties, I was appalled to see myself in a photograph wearing whitish earmuffs on either side of my face around the area of my temples. I wasn’t ready to be gray by thirty-five, so I began the unhappy task of painting the roses red. I didn’t want to be a blonde, or a redhead. I was happy just being what I had always been: a brunette.

After thirty years of applying layer over layer of my “natural” color to mask the gray, (no salon for me—I did it myself), I found I was finally sick and tired of being a slave to white roots. They are persistent and devious—making paparazzi appearances at the least opportune times. Standing in front of the mirror, I wondered if I had strayed from the graceful path of aging. Is covering gray, or accepting it for what it is, considered graceful? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question; one must answer that question for oneself. I do believe growing old gracefully encompasses physical, mental, emotional and behavioral aspects of oneself. I have always envisioned it as meaning one gratefully accepts the inevitable, and makes the most of each blessed day of life—living optimistically, fully, joyfully, and trusting in the eternal plan of a loving Heavenly Father.

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In response to my idea of gracefully aging, I believe it really doesn’t matter if one paints the roses red or not–especially if one finds joy in the process and outcome. Some might argue the “truth thing”—that one is hiding the truth, or deceiving others into believing one is what one is not. Really, now? Is it any different from wearing a little mascara, or blush, or from tanning creams, high-heeled shoes, or control-top pantyhose? A favorite author from my past said that ‘even a barn looked better painted,’ and that one should care enough about one’s appearance to repair broken fences, and add a coat of paint now and then. Who likes an eyesore? Part of taking care of one, and contributing to one’s self-respect is presenting oneself as clean, tidy, and well-groomed. For some, a spot of blush just might brighten one’s appearance and one’s outlook.

At any rate, and thankfully, hiding one’s silvery roots won’t cause one to lose one’s head! It causes me to wonder why it seems such a big deal in the first place—at least to some (including myself). Just as one gradually ages, I have decided to ease my way into my ‘natural’ hair color—or lack thereof. The beautician who cuts my hair, told me I am one of the “lucky ones”—that my roots are silvery white (thanks to my mother), not salt and pepper gray. This “easing into whiteness” will be a gradual process, so as not to shock anyone (most especially so as not to shock me). I will strip the roses of their red paint, and enjoy the beauty of the white roses. White roses have a beauty all their own, do they not? And a white rose, by any other color, will still smell as sweet.

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I will still be me. The me inside—my eternal spirit—still looks out of this aging shell of a body through sixteen year-old eyes. Perhaps therein we find the answer to the question of growing old gracefully. Perhaps growing old gracefully means living the truth of who and what you are within, no matter what alterations occur without. If this is the case, then growing old gracefully should begin in our youth, for shouldn’t we all live a life true to the values and attributes we cherish? Living true to one’s values means not allowing someone else to paint you red if you are truly white.

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I have begun the process of stripping the red paint from my white roses.  Just as one liberates and refinishes an old piece of furniture as one strips layers of chipping paint and faded stain gradually revealing a naturally beautiful wood grain quietly enduring underneath, there is, likewise, a liberating and refinishing quality in tossing out the ‘red’ paint, and relaxing into the ‘white’ reality shining through. Like Alice, one might ask why paint over the white roses in the first place. I might ask myself the same question. I’m not sure the answer is as clear to me as it was to the playing card gardeners. I hope I don’t react like the Queen of Hearts and shout, “Off with her [my] head!”  Perhaps a better question might be, will I come to appreciate and enjoy the white roses for their truth and beauty?

I like to think the answer will be ‘yes.’

© June 12, 2015

© June 12, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.