Age has a way of creeping up on you. One moment you are 20 and fearless and your body effortlessly performs amazing feats that you don’t think twice about asking it to do. Then you wake up a moment later and you’re 40 and your hair has grey in it and you reach for something on the top shelf of your kitchen cabinet and your back goes out. And I hate those people who say, “Age is nothing but a number…” they love to say it because their number is usually less than mine.
My aunt (who is actually my second or third cousin, but because of her age I call her aunt) had a birthday last week. I stopped counting when she turned 90, so impressed was I that anyone I knew had hit that landmark and was still not only mentally and physically active, but dating! I think she hit 95 this year. I tried to call her, but the line was repeatedly busy. I always seem to call in the morning, during the appointed time that she talks to her boyfriend every day. He’s in his 80s. Honestly, I really find something inspiring in the fact that they have a life in their later years…they see movies, go to luncheons and concerts, she even makes a regular appointment at the beauty salon. Not just a life, a good life, better than mine in some ways. It gives me hope that at some point my life will be more than playdates and carpools and birthday parties and fussing over what is or is not appropriate to wear to school. It’s not that I don’t adore my children and adore the ages they are at, but I sometimes miss my younger days when I had the freedom to do what I want, when I want. But my aunt has given me hope. It makes me think that one day I will return to seeing movies that aren’t rated G or PG, in first run, on screens in theaters, seated next to other adults who get to go out after dark and stay up late and not have to worry about the mounting babysitter bill or even the fact that they are just too damn tired to be out so late.
I try to imagine my life at 95 and it is tough for me to get a visual. My aunt is amazing, having retired about thirty years ago, she has crafted a life for herself that includes regular exercise, watching what she eats and working on all those projects in and out of the house that never seemed to get done with kids, job and spouse to tend to. I would love that. All me time, all the time. She’s involved with her church, civic and social groups and loves to support the up and coming youth not only financially through donations, but by just being there. My girls and I sometimes pass her house on our way to run errands and we like to do what we call drive-by huggings – where we just show up unannounced, ring the doorbell, give her a hug, then jump back in the car and drive off a few minutes later. I’m always surprised when we do that and find some young person there visiting my aunt. One time the driveway was full of college students who had stopped in to say hello. My aunt had helped out the mother of one of the girls by watching her afterschool and they girl had returned with her college friends to visit. People ranging in age from six year olds to forty years olds had all flocked to see this nonagenarian and say hello. It was a testament to how many different lives she had touched over the years.
I thought of my aunt the other day when my husband made some comment that almost got him the Al Green treatment (if you don’t know what that is, Google Al Green and grits and see what comes up). For dinner, I decided to make an elaborate taco bar. I cooked up two kinds of meat – chicken and beef - seasoned them to perfection, cut up onions, avocados, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and then fried several corn tortillas until they were crispy brown. I had margaritas chilling in the refrigerator. I placed the food in various serving dishes on the stove and announced that everyone should come and fix their plates. David looked at me and said, “What is this…I like being served.” I waited a moment, expecting him to break into a grin. When he didn’t, I realized he was serious. I angrily snapped back something very uncomeback worthy, like, “Yeah, me, to,” fixed my plate and deliberately left those margaritas in the fridge. He could get them himself if he wanted them, damnit. As I sat stewing and eating my muy delicious make your own tacos, I remember one of the many words of wisdom my aunt had given to me over the years. When I got married, she said, “Make sure your husband knows he’s not marrying to get an indentured servant.” I was surprised by her words because I would have expected an older woman, she was in her late eighties when I got married, to ascribe to the serve your man a plate and clean his boots mentality. But I was wrong. She continued, “If he wants a housekeeper, cook and servant, he can go out and hire one. He’s marrying you because he loves you, not because he wants someone to wait on him.” That’s not to say she didn’t have other words of wisdom that completely contradicted her tough stance. She also dropped these pearls of advice, suggesting that I have a potato heating in the oven when my husband got home from work because the potato would fill the house with a delicious smell and make him associate coming home with wonderful things. When my sister-in-law got married, my aunt advised her to always keep a small towel by the bed. Need I say more. I’m grateful I missed the sex advice talk. I’m not sure I could have taken it. You really don’t want to think that the seniors in your life ever engaged in sex, let alone have them give you advice about it. David and I had traveled together so much before we were married, I guess she figured I was a lost cause in terms of the towel advice.
So whenever I complain about feeling old, my little seven year old, Natalie, who I’ve tricked into believing that I’m decades younger than I am (although I think at this point she knows the truth and is humoring me), cuddles up next to me and says, “You’re not old, mama, you’re only 21.” Like I said, age, just a number…even if it’s the wrong one.