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The Newest Old Person
How does one make sense of this time. This age.
I came into the bedroom and the dog was lying in a languid stretch across my spot. I kissed her on the nose and then again on the belly, made possible by the slow unfolding of her leg, an automatic response to my breath, exposing her warm pink tummy. How could I ask her to move? I dare not so I plugged in the light on the other side of the bed, her side, moved my cup of tea and my computer, and settled in, leaving her comfortably undisturbed.
My toes are out and legs are bare. I’ve opened the window, more than a crack, because it is warm in here…I can’t seem to get the temperature right, but that’s because the thermostat is regulated downstairs and I’m on the third floor. I stretch and spread my pale toes - they feel stuck to each other. Not because of anything I might have stepped in or done to them. It is because they are 61 year old toes and I need to encourage them. I gently massage them, pushing my fingers in between — they’re not encouraged to “give” but I’m not letting them get away with it. I remember in Pilates class, years ago now, one of the exercises was to lie with our legs and feet straight up against the wall, wiggling our toes. I thought this was silly; surely our toes would always move like that.
The wall shows a picture I had taken of Scout, the dog, when we were in Florida. That feels like decades ago now and I’m not sure with the chaos south of the border that we will ever return. The blown up photo shows her running in the shallow water of the ocean. It is joyous, ears up, only two feet on the ground, the water sparkling and the colour of beach glass.
I remember not being able to sit on the sand. My knees were just not cooperating and I feared that if I half-sat, half-tumbled down onto it, I’d never be able to get up. Like that old lady on the television commercial who wails, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
I was out walking Scout in the snow when we returned and a huge doberman barrelled into me, knocking me off my feet. The owner was mortified and leaned over, stretching out her hand saying, “Let me help you up!” To her surprise, I said, “No! I need to do it myself.” I realized that I now needed to practice rolling on my side and then pushing myself up with both arms. It was something I needed to keep doing so I’d never be that old lady who was doomed to be on the floor for days.
Ugh. How did I become 61? With knees that complain and lines at the corners of my eyes and across my neck. I find myself on Facebook groups that encourage members to tell stories of the “Good Old Days”! It’s funny really. We all remind each other of old haunts in neighbourhoods that are no more; of malted drinks that were once served in the basement of Freimans department store; of old movie houses that had rats the size of feral cats. We talk of songs that played at high school dances, and bands whose members are now either wrinkled old men or dead.
I also have pictures of my Dad. I think of him when I think of my own aging. He was 100 when he died two years ago now but in his mind he was in his 50s. I know this because I asked him. For him the 50s were halcyon years. It was towards the end of his working career and he had decades to go, unbeknownst to him. They were the best years because he spent them doing what he loved - his own genealogical research and the research for his lifelong compilation of Anglican clergy who lived and worked in Canada up until 1900. It was a fat two volume set. And our genealogical history was handwritten in the slim “green book.”
There are three frames: the bottom photo was of him as a boy…
So young, so blonde. With his hands shoved in his pockets, tentative smile, peculiar coveralls that date from another time — likely the late 1920s. He reminds me of Tom Sawyer, ready to jump onto a steamer and begin an adventure down the river. I say this because my Dad did indeed take to the unknown, put his thumb out, and hitch a series of rides down to the southern States. He was likely in his mid-20s and had just moved to Ottawa to start his new job. On his holidays he had nothing to keep him in the city so he decided to hitchhike south. He would tell us the story: no money, no food, no change of clothes. Such an innocent time.
This is the middle picture. It shows him as a young professional; likely in his 30s just after he married. This suit was one of many that he wore almost every single day of his life. And his hair. Combed straight back from his forehead. He had this mane until the day he died. I’m not sure if I have the same hair DNA. He wanted it cut “just so” and for years he would continue to visit his ageless Italian barber in the basement of an office building, with shelves that held glass jars full of bright blue liquid, with combs and scissors percolating inside. I took him there once, years later, because he could no longer drive, and sat against the wall, while the magic happened. I looked over for something to read and to my chagrin, there was a stack of Playboy magazines on the table. So I continued to sit, waiting, as the barber snip snip snipped and Dad sat silently.
The picture shows Dad posing at the Ornamental Gardens of the Experimental Farm. This was no doubt during the so-called “honeymoon period”, when he pretended to be interested in such pursuits to please his new bride, my nature-loving Mother. He looks quite handsome and dapper and I’m sure my Mother thought she had snagged a good husband. A professional.
It was 1955 and they would be married for 64 years. They are all laughing in this photograph, giddy leaving for their honeymoon. Dad loved this picture and often told Mom how lucky he was to have snagged such a “dish”.
Funny how we think about our families, our parents, our ancestors as we age. When I was younger, I never thought about my place in the world in this way. I never kept photos, never looked to the past or held memories in frames.
This is the most recent picture in the frame of three. And how I most remember him. About to laugh at what tickled his funny bone; arms out to embrace me and pull me close when I said I had to leave to go home and walk the dog.
It is easy to be a girl, your father’s girl, while your father is still alive. But then, after they’ve gone, you become the newest old person. Funny how that happens.
Now I have to go, lower myself to the floor and do my exercises.