A Hat to Wear Proudly

Following is an excerpt from a current work in progress, Embracing 60.

A Hat to Wear Proudly

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Last night I stepped into the closet to retrieve a birthday present I’d stashed on a shelf and spied my embellished ball cap hanging on the wall. It’s a hat I’ve only worn once, yet I keep it hanging there to remind me of a lesson learned later in life.

Hand painted letters proclaim a truth it took me a long time to learn. ‘I’m the quiet one and proud of it.’

The ‘quiet one’ part of the statement isn’t what I’d learned. I’ve always known that. It’s the being proud part that has been a recent revelation.

I learned to accept and be proud of that aspect of myself about five years ago, which puts the lesson closer to the age of 55, and not 60. Yet, while the title of this book is Embracing 60, it’s really about embracing any age we are and being grateful for our deepening wisdom and maturity – whether that wisdom comes to us at 60 or 55, at 80 or at 30. Any day we can wake up a little wiser than we were the day before is a good day, and should be celebrated.

Back a few years ago, just prior to my decorating the ball cap, my better half and I were working on a special project. It involved getting together with two other friends most Sundays for about two months.

One of the friends — or should I say ‘friends-at-that-time’, as we’re no longer on speaking terms – was a challenge to spend a lot of time with. The common saying about friends coming into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime is very true. This particular friend was one of the friends for a reason – to teach a lesson. But, that lesson is an entirely different and lengthy story.

This lady, who I won’t name for obvious reasons, tended to dominate conversations. She was very verbose, a bit (a lot) on the pushy side, and…loud. I’m…not as loud. I’m usually fairly quiet in a group, and the larger the group gets, the quieter I get.

This one Sunday afternoon, we’d been out together for several hours. I kept trying to speak up about my opinions on an issue and kept getting cut off. Later I’d try again to interject my views and would get cut off again. Again. And again. And again. I finally reached a point where I was fuming. But at that point, I’m afraid to say anything, because I fear if I start to speak up, the pressure valve will go off and I’ll explode instead of calming stating my frustration and anger. So, in an effort to prevent an explosive moment, I walked outside.

Nancy, our other friend who is another mellow and soft spoken lady, joined me outside. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”

“Trying to calm down.”

“Oh. (Unnamed ladies name here)? She can be a bit dramatic at times.”

Rustling footsteps behind us announced the presence of my better half and ‘the now-ex-friend.’ I spoke up. “The dramatic doesn’t bother me. It’s repeatedly being talked over and interrupted.”

Lady X tried to placate me. “But you never speak up. You’re always the quiet one and the rest of us are so loud we just tend to take over.”

“I can be loud, too,” I protested. “Next week I’ll be the noisy one.” I spoke with steely regard. I planned on being that person too. I vowed to myself that the next week I’d be the most talkative one in the group.

On the way home I was already contemplating the hat I was going to make that week. Maybe even a t-shirt. I was going to proclaim my noisiness to the world, or at least to those at our next outing.

My brand new plans lasted until I crawled into bed and picked up the book I’d been reading. In One Man’s Love Story, Jason Hughes had a statement that spoke to me. “…it is about feeling a oneness and unity between body, mind, and soul, and perfectly accepting ourselves just the way we are.”

Ouch!

Perfectly accepting ourselves just the way we are.

I am not the noisy one. To think that I could suddenly transform myself into a verbose, boisterous woman taking control of the group and not letting them get a chance to talk is disregarding myself. It means I am not accepting myself just the way I am.

In spite of my revelation, I did proceed with my plans and made a special hat to wear the next week. When we met at our usual parking lot the next Sunday, I was sporting my newest creation. Topping my head was a black ball cap, embellished with paint and glitter. “I’m the QUIET one and PROUD of it!”

If getting older, whether the next milestone is a 60, a 70, or even a 30, means we keep learning these valuable lessons, then I’m all for it. Bring on the years!

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Losing It – Or Not?

Losing It – Or Not?

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“How long are we supposed to keep the cards up?” Mary, my co-worker was confirming our plans as we worked on stocking some greeting cards.

“Until January 20th.”

“Until January?” The puzzled look on Mary’s face matched the confusion in her voice.

“No. No! July 20th. Not January. Don’t even ask me where that came from! We’re supposed to keep the Father’s Day cards up until then.”

“The Father’s Day cards?” Again, Mary has a look of utter confusion on her face.

“Ugh! No. Not Father’s Day cards. Graduation cards.”

Why did these wrong words keep rolling out of my mouth? It was starting to scare me. Now granted, we were both tired and had just finished a grueling holiday season that ran from Valentine’s Day, to Easter, to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Graduation. We’d had more hours than either of us liked for the past four months and we were exhausted.

But, still…

I’d love to pass it all off as exhaustion setting in and my numb brain was feeling the effects. But what made it scary for me is my family history of Alzheimer’s, or Dementia. I know that there’s a medical difference between the two. I tried to look it up one time. I remember that one is treatable and one is not. However I don’t think many people understand the differences between the two and both diagnoses are used interchangeably in society in general, along with our own personal family.

One or the other, whichever one it is, all I know is that three of my four grandparents suffered from it, along with Papa Goss, my great-grandfather – Grandma Jones’ dad.

I was around eight years old when Papa Goss died. A year or so earlier than that, he’d had to be put in a home, because his mental condition had deteriorated so badly. Being so young, I don’t remember the particulars. I only remember the joking about it, about ‘going to Norwalk’, which was synonymous for ‘going crazy’, or ‘losing it’, having to give live in ‘the looney bin.’ When I think of it now, it seems callous and cruel, yet I know that wasn’t the intent. A devastating situation had intruded upon the family, unasked. There were two ways to react – we cry or we laugh. The family chose laughter. That was our coping mechanism to deal with something that none of us would wish on another living person.

Years later I heard stories about Grandma Cline, in her last years. I heard about the time there were guests in the house and Grandma entered the room stark naked. Now this was Grandma Cline we’re talking about. The woman who never showed more neck or arm than she had to. The most modest woman I’ve ever known. If it were earlier years, she would have been one that wouldn’t have dared show an ankle in public.

It took Grandpa Cline years to catch up with her. He lived until age 97. Unfortunately, his mind slowed long before his body stopped. I remember visiting Uncle Arnold’s house one weekend in Arizona, when Grandpa Cline was there visiting from Indiana. As I left the table to use the restroom, I overheard Grandpa asking Aunt Phyllis, “Who is that woman?”

Aunt Phyllis answered, “Why, that’s Patsy.” I wasn’t crushed, because I understood that Grandpa’s mind hadn’t been his own for quite some time.

And then Grandma Jones began to follow in her father’s footsteps. We could tell when Grandma’s mind began to slip. Fortunately it wasn’t in drastic ways and she was still able to live alone, independently, until her last stroke a few weeks before her death at age 85. But we could see the progression worsening slowly.

So, yes, when I stand there and mix up my months, and several minutes later mix up a holiday event, I panic.

I can guarantee you, when I get emails from my all-time favorite doctor, Dr. Andrew Weil, whenever they mention Alzheimer’s or Dementia…I open those!

I want to live to an old age – 85 to 95 sounds just about right to me. But I want to do in a healthy body, with full mental capacity.

So when a wrong word slips out of my mouth and I throw my hand over it, just ignore me. I’m trying to embrace life, all sixty years of it, and I want to stay sharp as a tack for the next twenty or thirty years too. Even if I end up joking about it ‘losing it’…because that’s the Jones family way…we’ll laugh ourselves out of anything.

October 2018
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