This week I’m walking in tropical sunshine with my spouse, eating delicious food (cooked by someone else), jumping into the blue ocean wearing a cute polka-dot swimsuit, and exploring ruins much older than I am.
My birthday is this month–the penultimate before my 70s. Hope I have another 30 good years ahead.
Three weeks ago, I attended my fiftieth high school reunion and it was amazing. Simply amazing. Amazing that it’s been fifty years since graduation. Amazing to reconnect with those friends. Most amazing though, was that despite my advanced age, the friends I made at Valencia High School are still teaching me things or at least reinforcing lessons I’ve learned along the way.
For over forty years, I have lived in Northern Nevada (near Tahoe, not Vegas) and 500 miles from my home town of Placentia, California just east of Los Angeles. However, because of the internet, I could serve as part of the “virtual” planning committee. I helped with social media posts, emails, and some cyber-sleuthing. I learned to search county assessors’ records for addresses, proving that you can indeed teach an old dog a new trick.
As plans progressed we were excited to reconnect with long-lost friends and enjoyed many virtual reunions on Facebook and via email. You see, some of us had started kindergarten together when our little town was a sleepy place in the heart of Orange County, surrounded by orange groves. Our downtown boasted a packing house next to the train tracks and a Rexall drugstore with a soda fountain. The population was less than 2K in 1950. By 1968 it had grown ten times to over 20K. Much of that growth was due to the burgeoning aerospace industry for which Placentia became a bedroom community. Today the population of Placentia is about 52K.
And while I’ve been gone from Southern California for decades, others never left. They are still friends with and see each other in real life—not just on Facebook. A few married their high school sweethearts.
Over one hundred attended the party. Some flew in from across the country. One flew in from his home in Denmark. I’m sure there were many bionic hips and knees, and some spinal fusions and cataract surgeries, and surely a few heart attacks, strokes, and cancer scares. Still, it was surprising–given we are all the same age–the range of how old we looked. Some were still rockin’ on the dance floor–and playing in the band!–until midnight. Others used a cane or a scooter to get around. Some had changed so much that I could have passed them on the street and not known them. Others retained so much of their youthful selves that aside from wearing glasses and a few extra pounds, I would have known them anywhere. A few looked 45 at most. (I’m looking at you, Theresa, Judy, and Gail!) Some looked 80. Happily, I think I was somewhere in the middle.
I’ve learned that how we age is not only the choices we make. It’s not all about sunscreen, exercise, and low-carbs. It’s a matter of our genetics, what life throws our way, and how we weather those challenges. Illness, family tragedies, financial stresses, and access to healthcare all work to age us and make us look and feel older than we are. I know I’ve been lucky and am grateful.
I have to admit some trepidation about how we’d get along for an evening, consdering the horrific, hateful state of American politics–and the presence of alcohol. This was Orange County, after all. Reagan Country and the home of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. But I shouldn’t have worried. No one talked politics, at least not in my presence and I hopped from group to group all night. We were simply so happy to see one another that potential bones of contention just didn’t come up. Go figure.
Happily, I discovered that I would choose many of these people as friends again. They are still smart, kind, compassionate, and funny—the same qualities I look for in new friends. I had good taste, even in high school. A prime example is my long-time, long-distance friendship with Bruce who was one of my two handsome and charming “dates” for the evening. The other was my brother, one of my favorite people in the world.
I also learned that reminders of our mortality are everywhere. Of the nearly 400 members of the class of 1968, thirty had passed—that we know of. They had succumbed to the Vietnam War, suicide, AIDs, cancer, heart attacks, and accidents. Given our age, this will become much more common. In fact, three classmates have passed just since the reunion. I know there are more goodbyes in our future.
My biggest regret however, was that the reunion was simply too short. There wasn’t enough time to sit and visit with more than a few people. The cancer researcher who was in my wedding. Two retired nurses who moved across the country to live near their children. The she who used to be he. The surfer girl who settled in Idaho. And a dozen more…
Sadly, this reunion will likely be the last for many of us. Maybe we shouldn’t wait ten years to get together again at our 60th. At our age, just being alive is something worth celebrating, right? I think 55 years sounds good. Or maybe 51.
Thinking about my 50th high school reunion this weekend.
“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”
This is a dear little book that has been making the rounds among my friends and acquaintances of a certain vintage. Many of us have begun downsizing, distributing, and divesting. My husband and I did so when we moved to a smaller house three years ago. Margareta Magnusson gives gentle tips for making the process easier and more pleasant. Her reasons are simple.
“I have death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me.”
“Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish—or be able—to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.”
She recommends not starting with photographs or papers. Start with furniture and clothing. And invest in a shredder.
“In general, when death cleaning, size really matters. Start with large items in your home and finish with the small.”
“Now that I am the oldest person in my family, if I don’t know the names of the people in the photos, nobody else in the family is likely to. More work for the shredder.”
The best bit of advice is to ask yourself, “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this? If after a moment of reflection I can honestly answer no, then it goes into the hungry shredder, always waiting for paper to chew.”
This is not a sad book. Much of what Magnusson suggests reminds me of the common sense and generosity my family–including my half-Swedish mother–practiced. Share what you have with those who need it. Let your old things start new lives and form new memories with a new family. It is a gentle, sometimes humorous reminder that someone will have to deal with all our stuff one day. If we love them, we should make it as easy as possible. Recommend.
The recycling bin was especially heavy this week after I went searching for space in a file cabinet in which to file a few hard-copies of drafts and other pieces related to my current writing project. How-tos on scene building, character development, querying, and the like were tumbling off my shelf in our office. What I discovered was an entire file drawer filled with outlines, overheads, and handouts for presentations I’d done as a literacy coordinator and teacher consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. All neatly tabbed, sorted, and archived. Mind you, I’ve been retired for over ten years and in that time, NO ONE has asked me to present. No one.
Yes, I had spent hours developing this pile of stuff. And it was all good. Really. But it has nothing to do with my life now. And no, burdening some young teacher with my old stuff would only add to their work. And it didn’t contain the current buzz words—Common Core or Standards-Based—which would be necessary for inclusion in today’s classroom. So yes. It all went.
De-cluttering has become a habit.
Two and a half years ago, when we moved from our BIG house (basement, attic), to a medium house (no basement, no attic) we tossed or donated about half of our worldly goods. The purge continues. These days, I keep a bag in the sewing/model train room to collect small items as I continue to edit my collection of kitchen utensils, bras, shoes, picture frames, baking tins. jewelry, scarves, doodads, and what-nots. When the bag is full–at least once a month–I drop it off at the nearby donation center. This week my donation will include two large wooden, thirty-year-old dollhouses and tub of furnishings. My granddaughter–the reason I saved them in the first place–says she’s outgrown them.
Nonetheless, some things—like my grandmother’s 1910 Queen Anne sofa with its down cushions—are pretty and useful and comfortable. But I recognize that there will likely come a time and place when having that and her cute old Singer sewing machine (in its cabinet!) are simply too much. And the jam-packed curio cabinet and Hoosier with my collection of Depression glass and vintage snack trays? That will have to go too. But not yet. They still make me happy, although less so as time goes on.
You see, I don’t want to burden my children with too many of these “treasures.” What 30/40-ish person wants three cut glass relish dishes? Certainly no one I’m related to. So, I keep whittling away at my material wealth. Perhaps by the time I am ready to move into assisted living (or am taken to the big garage sale in the sky) there won’t be much left. My daughters won’t have to worry about what to do with all my crap. I won’t be cluttering up their homes. And I hereby absolve them from any guilt about what they must give away.
Serendipitously, many of the meditations in my yoga classes lately have been about de-cluttering our lives and our minds to reveal what is essential, to find focus. I’m finding that particularly apt these days, not only in my physical environment, but in other aspects of my life. I’ll be focusing my posts on that for a while. Have you tried de-cluttering as a habit? What have you discovered?
Against all advice to the contrary, I very occasionally read the comments on political threads on Facebook. Surprise! Most of the time, I discover trolls–hateful, mean-spirited folks who seem to delight in starting and stoking fires. But a recent post on my local Nextdoor bulletin board caused me to wonder if many of us hadn’t become so accustomed to seeing only what we agree with that when something pops up we don’t like, we feel compelled to speak out against it.
If you’re not familiar with it, Nextdoor is an app that allows neighbors to find lost pets, announce garage sales, make restaurant and repair recommendations. They ask about strange noises or warn others about local vandalism and theft.
The point is it’s neighborly, not political.
Here is the official statement from Nextdoor:
“Posting about local events on Nextdoor is appropriate, even if these events are related to the election or other national issues, as long as it is done without campaigning…. It’s not appropriate for a member to make arguments either for or against…particular polices. “
Recently, someone posted this announcement for a crab feed called, “Crabbin’ with the Democrats.” Clever, right? Unless you’re a certain type of GOP (Grumpy Old Person), that is. Then you come out of your shell just long enough to make some snide remark or protest the absolute gall of the person posting about such an event. What was the response? No surprise, the comments got increasingly snarky, breaking the very rule they were so intent on reminding us all of. Wisely, the comments were closed before an actual war broke out.
Nevertheless, the brief kerfuffle got me thinking about how we consume our news. What comes into our view? How is controlled? And by whom?
If you use Facebook, as I do, you need to understand just how narrowly curated your news-feed is. When we habitually “like” pictures of puppies and kittens, we see more of them. When we “like” the ACLU (or the NRA), Facebook uses that information to send us more of that point of view. And of course, because it’s a social medium, we feel the need to “like,” “share,” and do whatever else we do with that information. We also get used to spouting off without fear of backlash because almost everyone and everything we see aligns with our own beliefs.
The trouble is, I think some of my Nextdoor neighbors simply forgot where they were. They also forgot common courtesy when interacting with other humans, even on the internet. I doubt they would have said anything face-to-face.
So, here’s my advice, especially to those in my demographic–those who are over-sixty-five, retired, and use the word kerfuffle. The next time you see something in your news-feed, imagine you are seeing it in an actual newspaper. Remember those? Is it so inspiring (or funny) you’d cut it out and mail it to your best friend? Would you pin it to your actual bulletin board next to photos of your favorite niece? Or is it so void of thought and human decency that it’s worth an actual letter to the editor? If not, kindly (and quietly) move along. The world doesn’t need more hate. We’re full up.
If you’d like to do better, here’s an acronym to remember while on social media or IRL (In Real Life). Simply hit your “pause” button and THINK.