Time for a break

I began this blog in December 2017. Our move from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Tsawwassen, B.C. had heightened in me the sense I was entering a new stage of life. My way to explore this was by writing about it. I wanted to embrace my identity as an Older while noticing its many aspects, from celebration to challenges.

Sixty-eight posts later, I feel it’s time to take a break. I haven’t been writing here as faithfully as I did at first.There seems less “new” in Old. I think I’m beginning to repeat myself. Maybe I’ve settled into the experience of it. It’s not that I’ve talked about every area of oldness that affects me, of course. Columns might have been written on hearing loss, for instance, which I was reminded of when my six-year-old granddaughter easily supplied a remark in a video I’d listened to several times without being able to “separate” the sounds enough to decipher. Or on leakages of various kinds. Or catching myself complaining about the lines on my neck. (I really don’t care, do I?) Or MAID, which I want to think about more deeply.

But for now, a break, and a big thank you to those who have followed my chronicles, perhaps added comments and stories. The blog will stay up; I may put in a note, or even resume, at some point. In the meanwhile, I invite you to my main site, Borrowing Bones, which I’ve maintained since 2009, where I share my writing life, what I’m reading, or whatever.

The sun has just risen and the sky is pink with happiness and hope. I wish you all a good measure of both, and a safe and blessed Christmas.

 

She has a story too

My grandfather’s mother died when he was two. For the next six years, he was raised by his older sisters. Then his father re-married. The boy had a mother again.

Apparently it wasn’t a warm relationship. I picked this up once from an aunt’s comment, something about the stepmother being unkind or their not getting along. Immediately I took my grandfather’s side and, on his behalf, disliked the woman too.

Stepmother, 1857-1933, Russia

It’s not that I thought about her much, but this week, while organizing old photos I’ve accumulated, I came across a photo of the great-grandparent couple as well as separate photos of each. I put the couple and great-grandfather photos in the album but decided not to bother with the stepmother’s. I felt antipathy again.

One is grateful for any countering nudge, however. (Hoping it’s some sign of well-aged wisdom.) It occurred to me that the stepmother had a story too. In fact, bits of it could be discovered in our family pages. She was 41 when she married, 16 years younger than her husband, and marriage for her was “not easy.” Single before, she was now mother of seven, ranging from 8 to 28 years.

I also learned she brought her inheritance into the marriage, enabling a face-lift for the “modest, shabby” house, which had been in the Harder family since 1802, as well as a new machine shed. She brought a pile of feather pillows and duvets. “Everything was very well looked after,” a grandchild recalled. This makes especially poignant the losses of all these things after the Russian Revolution. Step-great-grandmother died in 1933 during a time of famine, and when she died “she had no bed but was sleeping on a ragbag with one sheet because their beds and bedding had been confiscated.”

Her photo is now in the album too.

 

Don’t be trusting!

This morning at our monthly North of 60 meeting a local police constable talked to us about several topics of particular relevance to seniors: elder abuse and scams.

It was grim and cautionary stuff and a reminder that getting older is not for the faint of heart. Why are seniors targeted? Some reasons: we’re too trusting; easy marks; often relatively wealthy (savings for the final stage etc.); too polite; often lonely and isolated; can be easily intimidated. The officer told us that we don’t need to answer the door, for example, and that the revenue agency or police will never phone and threaten or ask for money. Those emails that say we’ve won something or have some distant relative who left us in their will? Scams. “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.” Simply hang up on those calls, or don’t answer a number you don’t recognize. The so-called grandchild stranded at roadside and needing money? Say you’ll call back in five minutes and hang up. “Slow down — take the emotion out of it — analyze — check.”

Scammer are very clever and keep changing tactics. “Don’t be trusting!” the officer declared.

Right now this all seems obvious and easy enough. Some day it may not be. So of course I  will need to do some trusting. I’m thinking it’s important to figure out who to trust ahead of time, to foster a community of integrity around oneself. Wills and power of attorney documents need to be in place. In our case, we trust our children, but we need to keep letting them into our lives — all of them in various ways, as checks and balance — so they know what’s going on with us. We must also stay informed about safety issues and local help-resources.

 

On the road

I’m currently on the road with my beloved H., somewhere between Saskatoon and Red Deer. Last night we slept at my sister Linda’s, tonight it will be at my brother Victor’s. I have siblings scattered across the prairies, which is rather handy for road tripping. Fortunately we get along, and they are all hospitable.

The reason for being on the road is that I launched my new book All That Belongs in Winnipeg last Saturday evening, and now, on the homeward journey, in addition to visiting some of the siblings and my mother, who is resident in the Mennonite Nursing Home in Rosthern, I’m doing several other, smaller events related to the book.

It’s both energizing and tiring, an extending outward for an introverted 69-year-old like me. And I’m realizing again the power of gratitude as a strengthening force. Gratitude that’s deliberate.

Rather than speak in further detail about these two weeks, I’ll just mentions that I’ve been keeping a diary of the road trip at my main site (www.doradueck.com) if anyone’s interested. Writing the (public) diary is also an extending, but I’m making it part of this venture, this interlude, and before I know it, I’ll be home again, resting and semi-private. 🙂

Thursday already, not Wednesday

Here it is Thursday of another week and not Wednesday, this after I’d promised myself that I would write my Chronicles posts on Wednesdays. But I wasn’t campaigning so maybe it’s okay if the promise stretches a bit and the weeks between as well. If the promise gets broken, that is. My excuse is there’s not much new in the older department, besides my being further along. Otherwise, older on Thursday is the same as older on Wednesday.

Presently I’m gearing up for full-on Author mode and trying to be as energetic as possible. In about a week and a half H. and I will set out on a road trip to Winnipeg, for the first launch of my book, All That Belongs, on October 5. (More about the book and the past year’s writing here.) On the way home we’ll stop in Saskatoon and Calgary and hopefully the small town in Alberta where I grew up.

I’m quite excited about the trip, especially crossing the plains again and seeing family and friends. The days leading up to it have been stressful with details, however, as well as several other challenges. Last night I put myself to sleep by recollecting times we got through and there were quite a number of them, so this was a comfort and encouragement.

I do have one wee worry about the upcoming book events that’s age-related. I’ll be meeting people I know well but am afraid that in the excitement of it all I’ll forget their name when it comes to signing their copy. I suppose the best solution will be to confess the fear before the signing begins so if I look utterly blank, they’ll laugh and help me out!

Pajamas day

After a week like the last — with our Toronto children and grandchildren here, and thus the entire family together (the others are local) — I felt the need for a pajamas day, or half of one at least. By which I mean more or less doing nothing. On a pajamas day, I may or may not actually be in my pajamas — it’s more a state of mind and body: rest mode and absolutely not beginning Next Tasks. I was tired. Surprisingly tired. Realizing again I’m older than I used to be. My husband was tired too. Even though it was our anniversary when the week ended, we told ourselves we’d celebrated all week and could easily stay home and be quietly happy that we’d managed 45 years. We sank into that satisfying tiredness that follows days of steady going and going and giving and getting. The energy had been there, adequate for all the week’s occasions, but once done, only pleasant ache remained.

I needed time too to sit a while in gratitude. It was such a good week.

I noticed something in this gathering. The adult children were in charge. We two olders had been slotted into their care as well. Sure, we did some meals and hosting and planning, but these were moves in a larger game others were running. It wasn’t uncomfortable either, but I felt the shift: being sort of central still as “heads” of this particular family but practically speaking, de-centralized and free to not be responsible. Free to submit to their competence. I remember this transition happening in my own family of origin, as my siblings and I matter-of-factly took over from Mom and Dad. Now it’s our turn in that position, and unexpectedly, it’s fine.

Summer

It’s been warm — today will be too, the forecast says — but it cools down at night, enough to sleep comfortably when we open windows wide. By mid-morning we’re closing them again, also the curtains, to hold in what the night gave us, and then we wait for evening when we can open again. So it goes, day by day, the small rhythms of summer. Opening and closing. Watering the balcony petunias and geraniums, harvesting the balcony tomatoes, trying to trap fruit flies. The blackberries have started, big and abundant this year, so H and I haunt our sites with our containers. Sunday we took advantage of an invitation to pick apples at a farm, so now we’re making applesauce, and maybe today I’ll make pie-by-the-yard. Our freezer is apartment sized, but I still have this impulse to harvest and store for the winter as if we have a family to feed and a huge freezer to fill! I still “feel” it the way I did as a child and then the mother of school kids, July and August allowing all kinds of difference and flexibility. (As with regular blog posts, for example!) McDonalds has ice cream cones for $1 all summer, so more times than I want to admit, we wander over there mid-afternoon or evening, because it’s a nice walk and the ice-cream is actually very good. (Plus $1 is a deal!) We have company to look forward to in August, most especially our Toronto kids for a week, so my blogging will likely continue in flexible mode. Ah yes, wonderful summer. I don’t mean there aren’t regular matters like H’s frequent (it seems) doctor’s appointments, nor that sadness stops in honour of the season, witness the shootings this weekend, but summer does seem a time for extra gratitude.

The small stuff of legacy

Many of us in this stage think about legacy, hoping to pass on hope, peace, love–you know, the big stuff! It occurred to me this week that what often motivates us, however, is a wish that younger folk like our grandchildren also catch a liking for some little thing we like.

This week, it was flying a kite. Among my fondest memories is kiting with our kids. It was never just about them; I loved the feel of the string in my own hand. It’s hard to describe the experience of a kite out as far as the string will go, dancing and pulling–oh how it tugs, wanting free I suppose–and hanging on because this is as free as it gets, but thank you, for the sense of wind and sky you’re giving me! I remember once when camping, lying on a blanket on my back for a long long time, flying a kite.Scan 1

At any rate, I was aching for this and wanted to do it with the local grandkids. We bought a cheap kite that only ascended about ten feet and kept diving into my husband’s face when we tried to get it up (because we’d assembled it wrong–oh, the chronicles of aging!), which made me laugh a lot at his expense. A bit more money secured a great butterfly kite with a long tail of baby butterflies and the two youngest grandkids were along for another round and suddenly the wind was right, and there it was, all the way out, waving at us, and the eight-year-old girl was holding it and I was telling her to hang on tight because it was pulling and trying to get away, and I was saying, “Feel it? Isn’t it wonderful?” and she definitely felt it.

 

 

Layers of friendship

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View of Georgia Strait from Fred Gringell Park, Tsawwassen. Photo by Eunice Sloan (eunicesloan.ca). Used by permission.

My friend Eunice visited last week. Three nights, three-and-a-half days. We’re friends from way back, probably since four or five. We went to the same church and school in Linden, Alberta. Her family moved to Drayton Valley when we were going into Grade Nine. We wrote letters. Over the years our lives overlapped at times, then opened to gaps — because of geography and life in general. In the last two decades, we’ve re-connected again.

Some months ago, circumstances brought us together for several hours. She noted later that we’d mostly talked about the past. The reason was probably my curiosity about our childhoods because I’m doing memoir writing. Plus, in any long acquaintance, the past remains the solid, continuous reference point.

This visit, with more hours at our disposal, we added new, current reference points to our repertoire. We picked strawberries. We viewed stained glass windows at Christ Church Cathedral and the coliseum-like public library in Vancouver. We lost and found (whew!) a cell phone. We wandered sites in Tsawwassen. We discovered treasure in the Thrift Store. She sat with us through the livestream of the funeral service of my husband’s niece in Paraguay. We talked. We talked about aging.

We agreed that we quite like this stage, not least because we’re freer to pursue things we really want to do. For Eunice, it’s the capture and expression of life via her camera.

I think her photo above encapsulates the visit. I’ve become fond of blue (what choice do I have, now living near water and mountains?) but it speaks to me of long friendship too — any friendship, for that matter — which is comprised of subtle and changing layers within a dynamic whole. 

 

Taking a scan

I just spent several hours filling out an author questionnaire for Turnstone Press, publisher of my next novel, All That Belongs. They need information to market my book. A long string of questions. Basically, who am I, what have I done, where have I lived, who do I know?

It wasn’t my favourite assignment of the week but of course I did it. It’s among the things you do after the euphoria of a manuscript’s acceptance wears off.  But it felt peculiar, vulnerable, like taking a slow 360 degree scan of one’s life, to see if anything’s still relevant. Fortunately I have an up-to-date CV I could use for my publishing history. I was also glad I could think of several places across the country where a cluster of friends and relatives might be interested in me and my book. (Glad too for a big family.)

There were questions about the work itself. A description in my words? Themes? What do I think people will like about it? (So I can’t hide behind “I hope they’ll like it”?!)

What about its inspiration? This was my answer:

I clearly remember sitting in the sun near my local library when the character of Uncle Must–a mysterious and haunted man, a kind of Desert Father, equal parts faith and fear–dropped into my head. Then, like the narrator Catherine, I had to figure out who he was and what he wanted, and who she and the other characters who soon gathered around her were and what they wanted. I was interested in the whole concept of shame as well as how the past remains with us and what we do with its legacy when we would rather turn away than embrace.

Now I’m going to reward myself with a break and go read someone else!