[EDITOR’S NOTE: A new story, Some Contradictions of Being Old, has been posted at Blogher.]
For as long as I can remember, elders have been demeaned and demonized for talking about their ailments. If those who find it irritating are referring to the ones who think “How are you?” is not a greeting, but a request for a list of aches and pains, I agree.
But so many elders have been cowed by ridicule heaped upon them for not being young anymore that there’s hardly any information – in print or daily life – about what to expect as one’s body begins to balk at things it has done without a squawk for a lifetime.
I’m not talking about serious conditions and diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, loss of hearing and whatever all those prescription drugs advertised on television are for. I mean, instead, the minor speed bumps that begin to plague ones’ days as the years pile up.
For me, one area of difficulty is food:
As far as I’m concerned, and not counting ice cream (although who knows, it might work) a dish without onions, garlic or both is almost not worth eating. But in the past few years, onions – raw or cooked - upset my stomach. Not every time, but regularly enough that it’s an annoyance.
And although I’m not much of a red meat eater, about twice a year I get a big-time jones for a rare, char-broiled steak. It produces the same problem as onions only more so. I know I’ll pay for that steak for 24 hours, but so far it hasn’t deterred me.
Also in regard to food, I can no longer eat more than half of what I once considered a full meal. Take Thanksgiving dinner as an example. Yes, I know, it’s more food than we normally eat at one sitting, but it’s only once a year and spread out over a couple of hours. I’m accustomed to having the turkey, cranberry sauce, creamed corn, string beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, regular turkey dressing, oyster dressing and miniature slices of three kinds of pie.
Ha – no more or, rather, no more than one or two bites of each dish unless I want to lay groaning in bed for the next few hours. That’s an extreme meal, but even the rest of the year, unless the salad is tiny (ever try to make a small tossed salad?), I can eat greens or I can have a serving of fish or chicken – both at one meal are a stretch.
And wine. I mean, what’s a meal without a glass a wine. But these days I can’t predict what it will do to me. Sometimes, one glass gives me a hangover in the morning; other times, I’m fine the next after drinking through the evening. And forget having a glass of port after dinner. It’s possible now only if I don’t have wine with dinner.
But all the food changes together aren’t as annoying as stiff muscles. You’d laugh your ass off to see me when I get up the morning, flannel granny gown and gray hair flying while I hobble into the kitchen. It takes about 30 seconds before I can walk upright and I’m grateful every day there is no one around to see me until the blood is flowing in my calves again.
And it’s not just mornings. My legs stiffen up too when I sit too long at the desk and in a restaurant or movie theater.
These days too, my feet get tired when I walk. No matter what kind of shoes, after two hours, the soles of my feet hurt. That never happened until the past two or three years. I might have been tired at the end of an entire day on my feet, but there was no actual pain.
None of this important. It doesn’t impede my life; it’s just new, different and mildly irritating. And it feels damned good to bitch about it once in a while.