[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Nancy Leitz, who does not blog, but is a frequent contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place.]
I will start by saying that I will be 80 years old in two months. EIGHTY! That can't be. I am only a young girl in my mind.
But, Ronni wants us to start at the beginning of what they say is old age (60 years), so I will do that.
In 1988, I was 60 years old and had been selling real estate for years. I was a bundle of energy who could go through 10 houses in a day; up the stairs, down the stairs, through the garage, pet the dog, thank the owner and on to the next place.
I worked seven days a week when necessary and many evenings were spent writing contracts and negotiating sales. When that got too much for me I began working for a large builder selling beautiful new homes. The commissions were nice and because I was getting a bit older than I was when I started in this business, I took a partner to ease the burden of working every day of the week. That worked out well because my husband, Roy, and I loved to travel and this gave me both the time and the money to go wherever we wanted to go.
So, now you know that I had a job, a husband and, last but certainly not least, four married children and eight grandchildren, two brothers (one, the former pope), a sister and a large extended family of mostly nieces and nephews.
I just reread that and ended by singing “and a partridge in a pear tree."
The one thing that we had that was most valuable to us was a sense of humor. We could find something to smile about in almost any situation. It's a good thing, too, because we fell back on that humor many times. In our darkest hours, and thank God there weren't many, we found something to laugh about.
Because of my working arrangement with my business partner, I had time to read and
travel. I had loads of energy and devoted most of it to family affairs. I knew everybody's birthday and anniversary and never failed to send cards to all to let them know I was thinking of them. My health was excellent. I belonged to the health club at our local hospital and did aerobics three days a week, but I was starting to feel older and made jokes like saying my Social Security number was 3. One of my younger associates joked that when Moses came down from that mountain, he was carrying the Ten Commandments and my real estate license.
One big change in my life came in my early 60s. All my life I had been very thin. No matter what I ate I could not gain a pound. THEN, Ta Da, after the big Six O, I began to gain weight. My metabolism had retired! It was gone; forever, I eventually found out.
One Mother's Day, a package arrived from our daughter, Carol. It was a gift for me and it was a very pretty top and shorts set. I took the shorts out of the box and held them up and Roy and I started to laugh. They were GIGANTIC. I said, "What is our Carol thinking, sending me these shorts? Look at the size of them. They would fit an elephant."
After we had laughed for awhile at the huge shorts I went upstairs and tried them on; they fit PERFECT!
Fast Forward: 1993. Five years later. I am 65 and collecting Social Security. Roy and I are still traveling; he is still working. This year we took a cruise through the Panama Canal and loved it. Absolutely no health problems on my part but Roy's diabetic symptoms are starting to become more evident and we take extra precautions to keep them in check.
Roy's brother died and left us a small cottage on the Perkiomen Creek. It was in shambles. We had built a cottage on the same property when our kids were little and that one was in excellent condition, so we started fixing up the one we called "Ernie's Place" after his brother.
We scraped and painted and lugged old furniture out and new stuff in. It was hard work but we were both up to it and enjoying every minute of the challenge. It took us more than a year but in the end, the place was really spiffy and the whole family spent weekends there boating, swimming and eating. Still remembering everybody's birthday and now had a great place in the country to have a party for birthdays and holidays.
1999: Six years later. Roy has retired and the circulation in his right leg is slowing. He is very compliant with the diabetic rules the doctor has ordered and he tests his blood sugar several times a day and eats and takes insulin accordingly. We are still traveling and have discovered that cruising is the best way to travel. We went all over the Mediterranean in 1995, and in 1997, did all of Scandinavia and Russia on Royal Caribbean.
By now I am having trouble both with my thyroid and high blood pressure. I have a wonderful doctor who tried out several medications to correct both ailments and by taking two pills and two vitamins a day I am in good shape but definitely slowing down.
The first thing to go was the birthday and anniversary cards. I began to forget dates and spent a lot of time apologizing for not remembering birthdays. I solved that by having the whole family to the cottage for a giant birthday party for everyone. It was fun and it took off all the pressure I had to remember dozens of dates every year. I am still exercising and feel terrific if a bit slower. Don't forget I am 71 years old now.
In the year 2000, we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary by taking our four children and their spouses and children on a cruise to Bermuda. It was an inspiration to do that because we had a wonderful time and everyone was delighted to have a whole week to be with each other.
There were 19 of us in our group including my sister. The younger folks rented scooters and went snorkling and visited the pink sand beach. Roy and I didn't do any of those things. We visited the historic places and hired a guide to take us around the island.
Sometimes we forget how old we are and think we can do the things we used to do easily, like ride a bicycle. I hopped on one in Bermuda thinking I could ride along on it just like I used to do, but it only took two minutes for me to realize that was not true. I jumped off just short of falling. I won't do that again. Another fun thing bites the dust!
After the trip to Bermuda, we found out that the kids and spouses had planned a wonderful 50th wedding anniversary party for us and our friends. We weren't expecting that, but were delighted. It's a good thing it was not to be a surprise because we had booked a 10-day bus trip through several national parks and the tour started the day after the party.
So, we flew to South Dakota and the tour began and so did the trouble with the circulation in Roy's right leg. His leg ached constantly and he had to sit down quite a bit. Then, getting on and off of a bus 10 times a day and walking a lot took its toll on both of us. I was astonished when I realized that I was getting tired after walking only a short distance. I was used to walking for miles and this was something new. Both the circulatory problems in Roy's leg and my blood pressure were becoming more of a concern to us and to our doctors.
In 2003, my health was under control but the senior moments were happening more frequently. I could never think of the person's name I wanted to mention. I learned that the best way to deal with that was just to stop trying to think of it and the name would POP into your head about two minutes later when you weren't even thinking of it. But it was, and still is, very annoying.
And there was no point asking Roy because the minute I said, "What was that fellow's name we met at the hospital?" poor Roy would go white under the pressure of the moment and the name was lost to him, too. What a pair we were becoming. But, this was minor compared to what was to come.
The pain in Roy's leg was getting much worse as the circulation decreased. His doctor put him on new medicine that was supposed to help with that but nothing worked and the pain was worse. We were sent to a vascular surgeon who did not offer much hope but did suggest several things we could do.
They took a vein out of the top of Roy's leg and put it in the lower leg hoping to improve the circulation but that didn't help. The next thing was called interventional radiation. In that procedure they tried to open the vein and insert a stent to hold it open but that was not successful either.
Nothing we or the doctors tried helped in any way and the leg just got worse and more painful as the circulation went down even more. In the end Roy's right leg had to be amputated below the knee on New Year's Eve 2003. By the time he actually lost the leg, the pain was so intense he said the amputation was a relief.
Now it is 2008, and we just had a party to celebrate our 80th birthdays. Roy was 80 in January and I will be 80 in December so we settled on July for the celebration. We invited 100 people to a luncheon buffet and dancing and were very pleased that 96 people attended.
Our health is very good. Both of us have slowed down considerably but we haven't stopped. Roy walks in his artificial leg so well you would never guess he was disabled. He had his car modified so that he could still drive it but with his left foot. When we get in the car the first thing he does is take his leg off and put it in the back seat. This means that when we stop I have to go around and get his leg and take it to him.
You should see the looks I get as I walk around the car with his leg with a shoe and sock on it. I see people looking and I just smile which lets them know that it is okay to ask me about it. People are so nice. They all want to help but we don't really need any help.
We are both still very active and happy and live in the same home we have been in since 1965. We pretend it is a condo and put away the maintenance fee we would pay at a condo every month and with that money we hire people to do all the things we are not up to anymore. Grass cutting, snow removal and painting, etc. That works out well for us and we hope we stay in this phase of our lives for at least a few more years. So far, so good !!!!!!!
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins is back with another poem, September Twins.]