I’ve been given clearance so here’s my story.
“Roberta’s weird,” my friends and family say. “Congenial enough, but she’s like a hermit crab. Never leaves her house.” And that is true.
What I think it all boils down to is preparation for the inevitable ‘alone and forgotten’ stage of life. It strikes me that I should let Hub know what I’m thinking but he could neither accept or understand it, so why bother? Besides, my philosophical imaginings drive him to distraction without adding more. And so, without adequate explanation, Hub fits into my hermit-crab venue as best he can while he and the kids mutter among themselves about my mental state.
And then occasionally Hub gets all geared up to drag me along on a wild and woolly day of shopping, visiting, or driving about, and that’s when I say to Hub with sympathy in my voice.
“I know we haven’t gone anywhere for a long time. I know you appreciate me coming along, but honestly, there is no way to avoid it. I have to bake bread today.”
And I promptly pull out the flour canister and bread pan and set to work. It’s a devious political move. He is a practical man and in this way I can minimize his feelings of rejection by masking the situation in practical necessities. (Bread-making part of a political relationship? Who would have thought?)
And so Hub’s enthusiasm comes to an abrupt end. The labor of bread baking is a reality he discerns. He is well aware that after the mixing, there will be a first rising, a second rising, putting the stuff in pans, a third rising, then baking and cooling. The whole business a long stretch that will completely lap up the special outdoor pleasures of the lovely day so ardently beckoning to him to ‘come and play’.
And so I bake bread with as much sticky guilt in my mind as sticky dough on my rubber gloves. Guilt that perhaps my stubbornness has wounded not the man, but the little boy within. I find it truly quite amazing the way men retain the ‘little boy’ within. I see the little guy peeking out often through my husband’s eyes. I don’t think the same can be said of women. But that’s another thought for another time and so to return to my story.
So, despite Hub’s preference for home-made bread, I believe there are days he would gladly eat store-bought bread even though it promptly turns to dough when touched by saliva and glues itself to his upper dental plate. Still, some days that would be better than once again having the excitement of his plans postponed.
I can relate. I understand how he feels. I know well from my own experience that as I get older it is seldom that unexpected vigor strikes. But unfortunately, despite all the time Hub and I have been together, his desire and my desire at any given moment, seldom mesh.
I know too that I should be more flexible. And I find it puzzling that I am not. I don’t fully understand my wish for solitude either. I often think it might be the result of the fate of elders I have observed over the years.
I remember a sad old fellow down the road, showing me a large calendar where he marked the sparse visits of family members. The moon waxed and waned more often in a month than his family.
And I remember the neighbor who consistently sent her old father to his room where he was forced to dine alone whenever she had company. And I remember a visit to a retirement home. I remember a female elder there displaced from a Stony Indian Tribe.
She could speak no English. From morning till night she rocked frantically in her chair canting rapidly in a foreign riddle of sounds magically formed without lip movement. But mostly she wept without ceasing. The story told to me is that she was found in the snow, abandoned by her Tribe and left to die when old age made her more of a liability than an asset. And the other surprising thing an Attendant at the Home told me is that speaking with lips of stone is what led to the Tribe being called the Stony Indians.
And what I also remember is the chill of a tangible fog of loneliness duplicated in each of the circumstances I have mentioned. For some it was emotional rejection, for the Indian woman, physical rejection, but if you group them all, and condense them, it all boils down to the same thing. Old people will eventually find themselves alone and forgotten!
So in reflection of all this, I tend to frequently ponder the choices I need to make now to cope with that impending stage of life. And what seems most obvious to me is that I can minimize the insidious attack of old age and the chronic grouchiness steamed by self-pity that goes with it. All I need to do is practice and perfect until I like it and get it right – the craft of being alone and the art of being forgotten.
And yes, right now I know what you are thinking and of course you are right. If you were to ask, I am totally convinced my children will always care for me and be there for me. The irony is that my parents said the same about me, but I didn’t do so well.
So I ready myself for the inevitable. Pondering the things I will do with dimming eyes, feeble fingers, and wasted limbs. It seems more sensible in the context of ‘alone and forgotten’ to think about things I prefer to do without interruption and things that at the same time will give me constructive purpose and gratefulness for solitude.
The plan must have a sensible evolution and it does. If my sight fails, I will move from fine crochet to bulky knitting and if necessary from that to the larger work of hooking fabric strips. If my limbs fail, I will paint even if I have to move from realism to abstractions with a brush in my teeth. And if finances fail, I have a grand stash of materials waiting to fit into usefulness in some other evolutionary form. And if I can no longer drive, it will be no big deal. Whatever occurs, I am envisioning and preparing for it.
The most surprising thing in all this wild philosophy is that up until now, ‘plan’ was a dirty four-letter word that I never used. Up until now, spontaneity was all. But I’m not convinced spontaneity will work for the ‘alone and forgotten years’. I fear that for this final stage, the irony is that it is ‘spontaneity’, rather than ‘planning’ that jumps out unexpectedly like an evil Jack-in-the Box. And then JB jeers, winks, and nudges while delivering a homily cleverly disguised as dignified thinking about a dumb and stupid and unnatural way to end it all.
So I plan and practice loneliness in my readiness for perhaps not a long time, but a good time, when I am faced with the eventuality of being alone and forgotten.