Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is 90-year-old Leah Aronoff. Here is the short bio she sent to go with this story:
Born 1918, in New York City. Daughter of Russian immigrants. Hunter College graduate (no tuition!). Latch key child, both parents worked in garment industry. Our social life was in the arts and theater.
Grew up, more or less, and married a Cincinnatian, which meant moving to Cincinnati. Fish out of water. Work experience: from NYA to car hop to dental assistant to University of Cincinnati Art Librarian, to faculty member in the Graduate Department of Community Planning, University of Cincinnati.
Retired and stopped smoking at the same time. Two grown (of course) children. Grandcats and granddogs.
Current activities: reading, museums and galleries, politics, theater. Also interested in modern dance, masks, and, in the past, did a lot of spinning, dyeing, weaving.
Trying to deal with a diagnosis of stomach cancer, and not looking forward to a late January operation. I mention this only because I’m trying to find people with a similar experience with whom I can feel free to chat about related issues, and this seems a straw-grasping opportunity.
Being ninety is what others make of you. It is not necessarily what you are. This leaves you free to be whatever you want to be.
Time and timing take on extra significance. You think you did or said something five minutes ago, when actually you did or said it five months ago - or weeks, or years. When the discrepancy is noted, you weakly respond, “Oh, yes,” with an expression on your face that you hope looks less foolish than you feel, or sound.
Mentally, things are just a wee bit worse than they were at 89. Fortunately, the downward progression is gradual for the most part and barely noticed, certainly by the 90-year-old. The drawback? The person who catches one in a memory lapse is likely to say, or think, “What else can you expect of someone that old?”
This 90-year-old feels wistful about the future, which could be next week as well as six months from now. There is a definite uncertainty about just how much future lies ahead.
Some things lose relevance to a greater or lesser degree. Take the AARP publications, for example. For some years you’ve been letting your anger build up at the belief that AARP and its writers have no understanding of the differences between 50 (the age of membership acceptance) and 70 and above. Many over seventy are not only unable to manage the physical accomplishments of their 50-year-old selves, they completely have lost all physical resemblance to the vibrant, slim, full-haired overachievers pictured in AARP publications.
At 90, the sight and contents of these newsletters and magazines cause the reaction, “What the hell does all that have to do with me?”
(I personally believe AARP should split in two and thus be more appropriately able to serve the two separate age groups in every category, including finances and health. For instance, at 50 your financial efforts are certainly more lively than at 70, at which time you are more than likely retired, or unable to work. And how many 50-year-olds are helped by the advice to take their multiple pills in pudding?)
A good part of being what you are at 90 is, as noted, is what others make of you. As described above, according to those younger than you, you are probably dragging a bit mentally. It takes a little longer to get the right words out, but you do eventually manage, either by yourself or with the help of your listeners.
Does this make you more stupid than you were? I don’t know, protestations of my grown children and my younger friends notwithstanding.
Physical incapacities are definitely assumed by everyone in your immediate vicinity. Not necessarily noted, just assumed. That is, the 90-year-old is distinctly viewed as incapable, true or not. Offers of help come pouring out from friends and strangers alike. “I’ll take that.” “Let me carry that.” “I’ll do that.” Hands grab for elbows - “That’s a curb.” “That’s a step.” “I’ll open that.” And there’s the generic, “Let me.”
I am offered the most help by an 88-year-old friend who is no more capable than I. Perhaps it’s the maudlin tenor of the voice that disturbs me most. I’d be so much happier if people waited for me to ask for help, which I would do without qualm if I felt the necessity.
If, at 90, you enjoy being catered to and waited on, be my guest. I suspect your slothful ways may work against you - keep you from doing things for yourself when the capability is there, and no one is around to give you a hand. It is easier to lose your self-sufficiency and capability at 90, when it is downright refreshing to be able to say, “I can do that.” “I don’t need help,” I often feel like shouting. I don’t feel the need to make other people feel better at my expense.
Fifty- and sixty-year-olds of my acquaintance don’t need help opening jars and cans. Eighty- and 90-year-olds pour over self-help catalogs with the same enthusiasm once reserved for Esquire and Vogue. Gadget manufacturers take notice!
Fifty- and 60-year-olds can still afford to be adventuresome in their dining habits. My taste buds seem to have been eroded sometime within the past few years. I, who couldn’t prepare food without garlic, can no longer taste that necessity of life. Food no longer tastes as good, and we don’t seem to need as much of it. (Could all the medications we consume be replacing part of the pyramidal food chain?)
Finally, I, for one, am quite a bit easier going than I was and don't get so upset by behaviors and comments that once drove me nuts and kept me awake at night.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sydney Halet gives us a poem of childhood, Goin' Fishin'.]