Rethinking My Time

Throughout my working life, I was career-centered and goal-oriented: another degree to earn, position to seek, skill to develop. I assumed I would teach happily and effectively until I died, my hand clutching my red pen and my head pillowed by a pile of brilliant student essays; they’d then hang a plaque by my classroom: “Mrs. Bohart taught here; so use your quiet voice and spit out your gum.”

But when I was sixty-four, driving to work on a Monday, I realized my enthusiasm for my job had waned; I was weary; there were other things I wanted to do. So I made a decision that was sure and true: It was time for me to retire. Within two months, I did so.

At first, I napped, ate bonbons and dithered. But eventually, I climbed out of my recliner and discovered my happiness didn’t end when I walked away from the fulfilling career I enjoyed for forty-three years.

Then last November, as I celebrated my seventy-fifth birthday, my thoughts led me to another sure truth: My many years limit my future and make the end of my life foreseeable. So my youthful inability to imagine my death has become a wish for as many healthy years as I can get. Accepting the truth of those words liberated me; I began to appreciate more deeply, worry less often, express my love and gratitude more freely and eat more dessert.

I find I now want to spend my time pursuing and enjoying the small, happy moments of daily life: the laughter of teasing grandchildren, the voices of my siblings on the phone, the smiles on the faces of friends when we meet, a baby’s chortles when I pretend-gobble its fingers.

I hope for time to listen to my loved ones tell me their worries, joys and sorrows and have more quiet conversations with my husband as we sit in our yard talking lazily about our day, the personalities of our trees and the bustle of bypassing birds. I want to take more hikes through the yellow confetti of fall in Colorado and more walks through winter’s snowflakes swirling in dance.

I haven’t offered enough help, read enough books, planted enough flowers or done enough singing with tunes from the sixties on the radio. There are jokes I haven’t heard, salmon recipes I haven’t tried and apologies I haven’t made.

I’d like to take time to linger with others I enjoy after dinner, at the party, along the trail, before a sunset, over a cup of coffee or on a deck beneath a sky lit by stars. And feel no need to hurry.

Thus, my much-pondered and difficult decision to stop blogging. I’ve loved every minute and part of creating and writing a blog — especially the friends I’ve made, the posts they’ve written and the comments they’ve made. But I need more time.

I think my great-aunt Beulah would hug me close and agree with my thinking.

Thank you, dear readers, for following my blog and sharing your lives with me. I’ll visit your sites from time to time and carry you and your words with me as I slow my pace in order to become fully aware of the small things that matter.

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At One With Aunt Bertha 

When I glanced at my wrist, the girl seated next to me said, “You still tell time on a watch?” When I asked a fresh-faced nurse to call my home phone with my test results, she raised her eyebrows, ”You still have a landline?” “Don’t bother with Snapchat,” a nephew advised, “It’s for young people.”

I’m annoyed when others assume I’m technologically inept because I’m old. But I’m also amused. Their comments remind me of the fun my family had when the telephone reached the rural community where I was raised, and older folks acted like a dangerous stranger had come to town.

Because of Lake Shore’s sparse population and remote location, Mountain Bell took its time finding us. My siblings and I watched the slow progress of the line crews and thought if we got a phone, we’d be too old and deaf to use it. Our cousins who lived in Provo increased our anticipation by demonstrating their telephone’s entertainment value. We took turns calling random numbers and burping at length in the ear of anyone who answered.

After weeks of waiting, the summer day arrived when a lineman, whose tool belt dragged his pants dangerously low, entered our yard and perched atop a pole to connect us. Bob and I, in a frenzy of excitement, provided a demolition derby for his amusement: Bob rushed at me pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire; I defended myself with an abandoned baby buggy loaded with Barbara. The lineman looked alarmed and quickened his pace.

After the phone was installed, we stampeded when it rang, hoping to be the one to answer, then stayed to listen to the conversation. When no one else was around, I dialed the operator over and over, disguising my voice each time I said, “Time, please.” My fun ended when an operator replied, “Little girl! Stop it!! Right Now!!!”

Quickly recognizing the possibilities of a two-party line, Barbara and I quietly lifted the receiver and listened when we heard Anderson’s ring. Then Mrs. Anderson stopped by our pew at church and said, “Little pitchers have big ears, don’t they, girls?” She must have been disappointed when we looked puzzled rather than abashed.

Dad said we could not call anyone without permission. Mom explained a new monthly bill made him nervous; he thought we should limit the phone’s use until we knew how much it would cost. She felt certain he’d settle down eventually. But for years, by the time we said the second syllable of hello, Dad yelled, “You’ve been on that phone long enough. Hang up.”

Aunt Bertha

We didn’t bother to stifle our giggles when we visited our great aunt Bertha and she used her phone. She held it away from her ear so her hearing wouldn’t be harmed, then complained that people mumbled. She also spoke tersely and hung up without saying goodbye when she deemed the conversation finished. Eventually, Mom discovered our thrifty aunt thought she’d be charged by the word — like a telegram.

Once, after giving me ice cream and cake to “satisfy my sweet tooth,” Aunt Bertha confided she often ignored her ringing phone, because she refused to be interrupted by an “irksome nuisance people use for no good reason at all.”

Now, sixty-five years later, I drive to Steamboat, ignore the sparkly tune I programmed for my ringtone and feel a close kinship with Great Aunt Bertha.

I’ve Misplaced My Derring-Do

Great Aunt Beulah said, “People think old folks like me are daft and feeble.” Then she decapitated a chicken.

Her words stuck with me; and since my retirement, I’ve realized their truth. When I attend meetings like those I used to facilitate, the other participants allow me to sit in silence and look wise. On crowded buses, parents tell their children to stand up and “offer that lady your seat.” Teenagers with spiked hair hold doors until I totter through.

When I took a bowling class, fresh-faced classmates offered one another advice: “Start your release sooner,” or, “ Move a couple of boards left.” Their feedback to me was “Nice try” and a vacated seat so I could catch my breath after rolling two gutter balls. When I walk with younger family members, motorists who stop for directions address their questions to those with unlined brows, as though my wrinkles mean I no longer recognize my neighborhood.

I notice these age-based reactions without letting them disturb my peace of mind or nap. I do, however, worry that I expect less of myself. During the years I worked as a consultant to small school districts in northwest Colorado, I drove alone through the darkness of winter on narrow, two-lane roads curving along rivers and through ranch lands. I maneuvered steep passes buttressed by frozen waves of snow, made lonely by the absence of homes and fellow travelers. I sang with the radio as sparse snow thickened and fell with increased determination.

Now I hesitate to drive three miles in full daylight if a skiff of snow is blowing across the highway.

I used to anticipate the challenge of walking into a workshop filled with seventy-five professionals sizing up the stranger who would instruct them. I liked convincing skeptics I had content knowledge, could make training meaningful and was serious when I said we would keep the break to fifteen minutes.

Now when a friend asks for volunteers to tell stories of the past to first graders, I avoid eye contact.

In my personal life, I thought nothing of cleaning bathrooms while doing laundry, scrubbing floors while making a shopping list, re-potting houseplants while calling my sister, cooking dinner while preparing to party.

Now I feel unduly burdened by one such task, and it takes most of a day to prepare for an evening out — there are so many more problems to disguise.

I used to fuss about my growing reluctance to engage, to rush from task to task, to agree to do things I don’t want to do. But I slowly realized it is permissible to do things I enjoy, not those others expect. It’s O.K. to relax into the rhythms of the life I have rather than trying to maintain the cadences of my younger self.

Living more slowly allows me to recognize my growing need for simplicity: a cluster on the back fence of sweet peas I grew from seed give me more happiness than watching the latest hit movie. As autumn advances, sharing a homemade meal of soup and bread with Joel pleases me more than dining in a restaurant, and sitting in the backyard surrounded by chickadees doing their flighty thing while I read or write seems more satisfying than a trip abroad.

Simple things refresh me, soothe me, fill me with wonder because I now have the time and wisdom to notice them.

Could We Have a Decision, Please

Glue Tube

I stood in a hardware store transfixed by twenty-five types of glue, each promising to accomplish the impossible. I didn’t need a miracle: a small tube of super glue to reattach the wings of a ceramic angel would be sufficient.

But I studied carpenter glue, carpet glue, all-purpose glue, tile glue, fabric glue, household glue, plumbing glue, and shoe goo. I discovered the super glue I sought could be purchased as squeeze-on, brush-on, drop-on, extra-strength, double-bonding, tinted or odorless. I spent long moments with glue that promised to hold up for a lifetime, wondering  if it could solve my eyelid problems.

An impatient employee locked the door behind me as I left —  glueless.

When younger, I never dithered over a decision. I would have been out the door with the glue I needed in minutes. With age, however, I’ve become less certain, more given to deliberation, and more open to possibilities.

I prefer my new behaviors.

I used to shop for clothing by myself so the opinions of others wouldn’t slow me down.

I stood alone beneath the harsh lights of dressing rooms, thinking, “High in the waist, a strange pucker along the zipper, bruised avocado is an unpleasant color, but it will do.”

My shopping decisions were quick and misguided. “What was I thinking? I can’t go out of the house in this!”

I also made quick decisions in restaurants, needing only a couple of minutes to be fully prepared for the waitperson’s inquisition. I knew what I would have to drink, the sides I would choose with my entrée, and the salad dressing I preferred. I had backup selections in case my choices were no longer available.

Meanwhile, my husband reacted to the standard inquiry about soup or salad as though it were a trick question and seemed stumped by the potato possibilities. While he engaged Hi-I’m-Your-Waiter Jules in a lengthy conversation about every dish on the menu, I read War and Peace cover to cover.

But, too often, I ate an overcooked chicken breast with gooey rice while my husband dined on salmon in dill sauce with garlic mashed potatoes.

So now I chat with Jules.

Throughout my working years, I thought the only decision necessary when choosing a driving route was the fastest distance between two points. I anticipated the arrival, not the journey.

Now Joel and I set the GPS on minimum freeway time and stop every hour or so at a city park or rest area where I enjoy checking out license plates and watching fellow travelers as they stretch out kinks or chase dogs held captive in cars for too many miles.

On the road, when my sharp-eyed husband spies the tenth hawk in less than fifteen minutes and slows to watch it soar, I share his enthusiasm rather than responding, “Yup, looks just like the last nine.”

This morning as we drank coffee and watched snow swirl around our yard, I thought about this unexpected advantage of aging: the ability to dither and fritter. I may be developing the jowls of a bloodhound, but I’m also patient when making decisions, open to opinions and options, appreciative of the journey.

The race is over.

Rose-Colored Glasses

aged woman with pink eyeglasses smiling at camera

I once read the more you remember about your childhood, the happier it must have been. I don’t remember the credentials, if any, of the person who authored this idea; but the notion stuck with me, and I ponder it from time to time.

I have an abundance of vivid, detailed memories of my upbringing. They are predominantly pleasant, so I tend to write with humor and happiness about the life I lived as a youngster.

But I sometimes wonder if I view my childhood through rose-colored glasses and thus mislead my readers, who could imagine I had perfect parents with only one or two endearing failings and siblings who squabbled, but always in a humorous, affectionate manner. My followers could believe I lived in a constant flow of love, exemplary behavior, good grades, abundant friends, and the pink glow of pleasantness.

Of course I didn’t live in a never-ending state of bliss. Some of my memories are embarrassing, humiliating, and hurtful. Most folks would probably agree the road of life is a crowded, bumpy, pot-holed path rather than a newly paved highway traveled by decorous drivers.

Dad’s temper could flare alarmingly at inanimate objects and recalcitrant animals. Mom — weary from babies, refereeing, cleaning, and cooking — sometimes issued sharp reprimands. The ridicule and insults of my siblings could wound me by falling too near the truth, and I would rush to retaliate as hurtfully as possible.

Our sibling life included yelling, crying, sneakiness, lying used defensively, defiance of parental rules, and resentment of punishments. Our friendships and school experiences contained bouts of bleakness; and money, which did not flow easily, could cause contention.

So I do remember turmoil and outbursts of chaos; but, if given the opportunity, I would choose to be raised again by the same parents and with the same siblings. My heart sings when I know I’m going to spend time with any of my brothers and sisters and floods with love when I remember my parents and deceased brother. If given a truth serum and asked to describe in one word the years I lived under my parents’ roof, I would respond, “Happy.”

I think the truth about anyone’s past is a liquid stream of luminous gray, neither pristine white nor deep black: a stream at the mercy of human memory, wending its way through the sometimes boisterous, sometimes placid, sometimes threatening river of our lives.

My memory soothes the intervals of disturbed water in my young life, and I’m glad. Though I don’t deny my realities, I prefer to remember  my childhood as stretches of calm river etched with sunshine rather than occasional turbulences edged by a threatening sky.

I’ve made my choice: if I ever write bleakly, it will have to be fiction.

The Nature of Time

vintage clock

When he flew home from Vietnam, my first husband, Bill, brought with him a carved wooden hand with two fingers extended in the peace sign, photographs and memories of men in his platoon, and his short-timer calendar.

Most soldiers with fewer than three months left in Viet Nam kept such calendars. They were painted on helmets, sketched in notebooks, drawn on paper. All were illustrated; some were funny; many were salacious, a few were works of art. Every calendar had numbered spaces counting down to wake-up on the soldier’s last day in country.

As the final months crawled by, short-timers colored or marked off a space a day.

A fellow soldier drew Bill’s calendar: a psychedelic design decorated with joints, peace symbols and jungle trails. My husband had colored in every space. Here and there around the edges, he also scribbled addresses, phone numbers, and reminders. A random note caught and held my attention: “Time stands still. I’ll never make it home.”

When asked, he said: “Time moved like mud those last few weeks,” and nothing more.

Now I’m embarked on my final season, I think about his calendar, his comment, and the nature of time.

I wonder if time fears its own passing; if it drags its feet in an attempt to slow itself down. I wonder if it ages, develops wrinkles and aches, rues the fast pace of the passing years. Does time lose track of itself when lost in memories as I do? Does it remember the freedom it enjoyed as a child, the possibilities it sensed as a youth, and the rewards of being needed and useful as an adult?

Calendar

I tell myself if time wanted to postpone the inevitable result of its relentless passing, it wouldn’t spin out of control, crazed with speed, as it has since I turned sixty-five. It wouldn’t fold in on itself, causing months to fly by as quickly as days once did, and days to flash by in minutes.

I know that time doesn’t age as we do; but it does seem to possess a contrary personality that compels it to act in opposition to our lives.

To children, the weeks before Christmas crawl more slowly than a slug; teenagers, yearning for the endless years to pass, think they will never be old enough to drive. Meanwhile, adults are amazed that their offspring are in high school already; and grandparents look into the face of old age, incredulous that it arrived so quickly. At the same time, a soldier colors in a calendar and despairs.

Time passes for all of us, seeming to adjust its pace for each of us; and I find myself at the center of a whirlwind.

For Joel

 

Sombrero Shot

In 5th grade, I missed the point but remembered the beauty of a science experiment. After assembling some materials and asking for our attention, Mr. Wadsen told us to watch carefully because he’d be asking for our observations. Then, with his cowlick springing free and an air of scientific inquiry, he slowly emptied a large eyedropper filled with red dye into a jar of water.

Leaning forward in my desk, I propped my chin on my fist and watched as tiny tendrils of scarlet worked their way through the water, slowly expanding and stretching in whorls and swoops until the water was completely infused with a lovely red glow.

More recently, a sense of well-being has spread through me much like that softly flowing color I remember watching as a 5th-grader. Contentment, in swirls and downward trickles, has slowly changed me, bestowing an ease that streams through my days, transforming me as gently as dye infuses water, making me more beautiful on the inside. I’m happy.

Aging — though a continuing succession of physical woes — has blessed me with the grace of maturity.

During my life, I endured losses, suffered hurts, made mistakes, and failed those I cared about; but I also learned what is important and what is superficial; what my body and soul need and what harms them; what I am responsible for and what I can leave to others.

I’m calmer now, more genuine and appreciative. I’m able to more quickly see the humor in my own follies and the eccentricities of others.

My major life-decisions have been made, and for the most part, I’ve accepted them and learned to live with their consequences. Sentences I used to resist saying come more easily to me now: I’m sorry. I was wrong. It’s not important. And other statements escape me less often: You always. You should. I didn’t.

I still begrudge my body’s latest betrayals, dread the results of medical tests, and greet my mirrored image with indignant surprise, but the infusion of happiness bestowed by my years buffer those blows, comfort me with the knowledge that, as long as I live, I’ll be able to find a measure of joy in life.

So thank you, Joel, for looking up from editing one of my recent posts and asking why I never write about the positive aspects of aging.

You are right. I’ve failed my readers by not telling them the truths I’ve discovered as I’ve walked through the last ten years with you.