22 posts categorized "Readers' Stories"

Reasons to Visit Australia

By Peter Tibbles, the TGB Elder Music Columnist

In this country we don't have any mammals that'll do you any damage. Okay, none that'll eat you, at least. No lions or tigers or leopards or bobcats. No bears. Nothing like that. Although, I wouldn't want to take on a big red kangaroo in a fair fight, or any fight if it comes to that.

There are some birds, though. Well, a bird. The cassowary. It's related to the emu, but it has a 6-foot long spike on each foot it uses to disembowel anyone it doesn't like. Mainly dogs and feral pigs, but people have been known to be attacked.

Then there are the snakes. This is probably what we're most famous for.

There are the prosaically named black snake and brown snake (but don't let their boring names fool you), the brown snake is especially venomous. Or the wonderfully (and appropriately) named death adder.

These all pale next to the tiger snake. People always say about animals that they won't attack you if you leave them alone. Not so with this bugger. They're just naturally aggressive.

They are also the most dangerous snake on the planet (talking about the venom), although some say the Taipan (another one of ours).

In the interest of this missive I looked up my book on dangerous things. It said there are more than 85 varieties of venomous snakes in the country (and 27 known venomous sea snakes). It's a wise thing to treat any snake as dangerous (even if you encounter one of the rare ones that isn't) as most of them are.

Okay, a topic I like to avoid – spiders. There's the red-backed spider and the funnel web spider that have both caused fatalities. And there's the white-tailed spider, which, although it doesn't cause fatalities, I believe those bitten by it wish it had.

There are others but I don't want to dwell on them.

There are many species of box jelly fish. They're all very nasty (and virtually invisible). Some can cause cardiac arrest in about 15 minutes. They've recently found another jelly fish that doesn't take anywhere near that amount of time to do the same.

Fortunately, for us folks down south, these only occur in northern waters, off the coast of Queensland, Northern Territory and the north part of Western Australia. It means you can't go swimming there between about November and April. Well, you can but you'd be pretty stupid.

We folks down south don't have that problem. Okay, there are sharks (and sting rays) down here, but they don't attack too many people so it's all right (apart from the people they gobble up, of course).

Let's not forget the stone-fish. These are found all around the coast and, as their name suggests, look like stones. They like shallow areas of the sea and remain stationary on the bottom until someone steps on them.

I defer to the book again. It says

"The stone-fish is the most venomous fish known. It immediately causes fearful pain and a person can become almost demented and thrash around in agony. A number die."

It also says that they can live out of the water for surprising lengths of time.

There’s the blue-ringed octopus which is very pretty. Its bite is painless and may seem harmless. However, the neurotoxins begin working immediately causing muscular weakness, numbness, cessation of breathing and death. This happens in minutes. There is no antidote.

Then there are the irukandji, sometimes known as “killer jellyfish”. There’s a good reason for that nickname. The problem with these is that they are tiny and essentially invisible. According to reports, irukandji jellyfish's stings are so severe they can cause fatal brain haemorrhages.

I won’t dwell further, you can look them up if you’re so inspired.

There are crocodiles, of course. Again, only in the north. It's only the salt water crocodiles that are a problem. They are protected, so they're having a fine old time breeding like mad.

They've been known to turn up in swimming pools in Darwin. That'd rather startle you, I imagine: wandering out of the house, diving into the pool and half way down thinking, "Oh shit".

The fresh water ones are vegetarians (okay, not really, and smaller – the salties are BIG buggers) and won't attack unless you annoy them, unlike the salties. Now, of course, who in their right mind would think "Lordy, I'm bored, I think I'll go out and annoy a crocodile"?

Ah, let's consider the plant kingdom. Not those poisonous berries and the like that every country has. No, we'll travel north (yet again) to FNQ (far north Queensland), somewhere around Cairns. I didn't know about these until about 20 years ago when I was up there.

We went for a trek through a national park. This had to be with a ranger. She pointed to a plant and said "Take a good look at this and don't touch it. I mean it. DON'T TOUCH IT".

It seems that it's an interesting evolutionary product. Its leaves are covered in tiny silicon barbs and you only have to touch them and they stick into your skin. They are apparently extremely painful. As they are silicon based rather than carbon they don't rot away and over time some people have been known to have them stuck in their skin for years, driving them crazy with the pain.

It's been said that it's a wonder that any Australians manage to live to adulthood.

After all this, I can see you packing your bags, ringing Qantas and winging off to try the wonderful adventures in the land of Oz.


By Mary

My husband turned 78 in the spring and as the weather warmed and the garden burst into bloom he got weaker and weaker. He was a man of great accomplishment.

He was illegitimate, born to a poor orphan who often couldn't take care of him and so would leave him with her older sister. Then she married an angry alcoholic who beat her and her children.

My husband longed for his real father to come save him from his poverty, from his loving but incompetent mother, from his shame at being a bastard, but to this day we don't know if his father even knew he was born.

So my husband battled his circumstances and used his sharp intelligence and his strength of character to drive himself through college and graduate school and into the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.

But his family history took its toll, and he was a heavy smoker and at times a compulsive eater. After two sons and a divorce, he decided to take a diet drug that ended up damaging one of his heart valves. And so began over 20 years of surgeries and worsening health.

Almost 10 major and minor surgeries and steadily worsening COPD and heart symptoms led to many hospitalizations and even more trips to the emergency department over the years. He started using oxygen all the time. His judgment showed some deterioration.

He refused home health care. He refused to discuss hospice. He hid worsening symptoms from me and his doctors. He developed occasional incontinence. Then he began to fall.

He wouldn't use a cane, much less a walker. "I don't want to look like some poor old guy", he said.

"But you ARE a poor old guy", I replied. He was not amused.

So he fell, and fell, and never hurt himself much until one night he hit his back on a wall on his way down. He had dreadful pain, but wouldn't go to urgent care until over 24 hours later when he just couldn't stand it any more.

We were the last ones in urgent care when they took him to be x-rayed and by then all the offices were closed. I sat in that huge waiting area watching a housekeeper empty trash and wipe off tables in front of the various departments. And I thought about what was coming.

I try not to cry in public. But I put my face in my hands and wept in that empty, echoing room. I tried not to make much noise so the housekeeper wouldn't know, but when she got close to me she said, "Señora, you ok?".

I answered her, saying for the first time, "My husband is dying". A few minutes later a man came by and asked if he could help me. I told him no, my husband was going to die a miserable death from COPD. He said that I was probably right.

My husband and I went home that evening and I tried to help him get comfortable in bed. The doctors would not give him any opiates for the pain of his broken vertebrae because they might adversely affect his breathing.

And so he suffered, and I suffered, and after two more ER visits he ended up in a nursing home, terrified that he would be neglected. But they took very good care of him there, fortunately. And I went to see him twice a day. He never wanted me to stay long.

He had another ER and ICU stay while he was in the nursing home, and then went back. In less than a week he called me saying he had begun to bleed rectally. I told him I would meet him at the ER.

As I stood outside the entrance waiting for him, I heard sirens as they drove up with him. They had never used them on any of his other ambulance trips. I stood aside as they unloaded him and told him I would see him inside.

Ten hours later he was dead.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.

A TGB READER STORY: Market Dynamics

By Jack Handley - Diplomate, Curmudgeonology

I live in a small town facing a big river. Until the middle of the last century it had been a busy river port for timber schooners and barges carrying hay, grain, fruit and produce downriver from Sacramento to the big cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

It has escaped total dereliction only by also being the county seat. It's a fine, old American small town with alleys, vacant lots, an operating train station and barking backyard dogs.

It is also graced with a farmers' market held on blocked-off Main Street every Sunday (year-round, this being the West Coast).

I walk the town nearly every day and one Sunday several weeks ago while zigzagging between the double rows of market booths, I witnessed this interaction at a fruit stand. I suppose it was an exchange, of sorts. But not nearly a transaction, of sorts:

Old man: “I'd like a pound of the sweet peaches, please.”

Booth lady: “You choose them.” She points to the tray, and ducks down below the market scale to attend to something beneath it.

Old man stares at where she'd been standing. Looks at market scale. Looks at peaches, then walks off.

The booth lady rises into view, looks after retreating old man, then turns to her booth partner and mouthed, “Crazy old geezer.”

Me: “I suppose he wanted to buy some peaches.”

Booth lady: “Well, why didn't he, then?”

Me: “I mean, I suppose he wanted you to sell him some peaches.”

She stares at me. “Say what?”

Me: “Sell, sell. He was expecting you to sell him a pound of peaches. Like weigh out a pound of peaches and exchange them for his money.”

Booth lady: “This is a booth. You pick what you want — it's your choice, that's the idea — and put them in a plastic bag. I weigh the bag to find out how much, you pay, I hand you the bag, done, yes?” (pause) “I guess he was confused.”

Me: “I think he was just trying to simplify things. He wanted a pound of peaches, perhaps he only had two dollars, anyway the scale's on your side, so he can't weigh out a pound, he doesn't know how many peaches to a pound. So he thinks that, rather than put a bunch of peaches in a bag and hand them to you, and you weigh it and take out some, and then hand him the bag and take his two dollars, he'll just give you the bills and ask you to put two dollars-worth in the bag. Done.”

Booth lady: “Are you pulling my chain?”

Me: “No. Look. You go to France. You visit a local market square. You see a pile of nice peaches in a stall and decide to get a few to taste, not too many. You don't know French, you don't know a Euro from a franc, so you point to the peaches and hand the seller a one Euro note.

“He weighs out a Euro's worth, puts them in a plastic bag and hands it to you. See? Easy. No hassle.”

She rolls her eyes and makes a face to her partner. She turns back to me. “This ain't France.”

I walk away. I feel foolish. I sense her mouthing, “Crazy old geezer!”

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.

A TGB READER STORY: You Want Me to Do What?

By Patricia Kelly

Years ago I had my vehicle in the shop for repairs and the only loaner available was a humongous van with several rows of bench seats and side opening doors.

I was not used to such a large vehicle and was a bit nervous about driving it. However, I did need to pick up my dry cleaning so I illegally parked in the fire lane to protect the loaner from crashing grocery carts and quickly ran into the cleaners.

I had the side doors open looking for a place to hang my cleaner bags when someone gently pushed me aside. Startled, I watched a little old lady climb into the van and sit down wearily.

Need to state here that at my age then, anyone around 60 was OLD. Today I look on 60 is a still a youngster. Back to the story.

My mouth was still hanging open when the next wave hit. One by one, five other seniors climbed into the van, using my shoulder as a hand rail.

"We missed the bus." an elderly gentleman informed me as he squeezed beside two ladies and looked for a place to put his cane. "You will take us home?" he partially questioned, but mostly stated.

I looked at my little group of passengers and tried to push thoughts of law suit out of my mind as I asked, "Uh, where do you live?

They were from Century Village which is a huge retirement village in Palm Beach County. The Village supplied bus service to grocery stores and shopping complexes.

This group had stayed too long and had been left on the curb. The last bus of the day was history.

Against my better judgment but not knowing how I could possibly throw six seniors back on the curb and still sleep at night, I made sure there were no more stragglers. I then told them to buckle up and headed for the Village which was several miles away.

I was curious why they had no shopping bags. Man-with-cane explained that they went a couple of times a week to the book store/coffee shop that was part of the strip mall, to read and sip while the rest of the bus load grocery shopped.

I asked where their books were and he explained that they never bought a book except as a gift. They just read inside the store while sipping coffee. They would then write down the stopping page on a piece of paper so they could pick up where they left off next time.

Being a book and coffee person myself, I could see where that might be the perfect day out for seniors. The price for their entertainment certainly fit into a retirement income.

Now Century Village has more than 2000 condos. It would have been nice if they all lived in the same unit but each one lived in a separate building. Kind of wondered how they all got together. Perhaps they met at Bingo.

At each stop, I got out to open the doors for the departing senior and was rewarded with a quarter and a sweet smile or nod for my efforts.

I tried to refuse the change but they almost got ugly insisting. I quickly learned that little old ladies will not hesitate to slap your arm with their bony hands if you don't agree with them. So I just took the money and shut up.

I was really getting tickled at the absurdity of the situation. However with each successful unload, I breathed a new sigh of relief. I was beginning to think that this might work out after all.

Man-with-cane was the last to depart. He demanded my name and address. He did NOT offer a quarter. I was tempted to give a false name but I wrote my real name and address on the piece of paper he offered.

Ah, I thought, here comes the law suit. Perhaps I had taken a turn to quickly and caused a whiplash. I was living by the creed at that time that no good deed goes unpunished.

I was delighted though in a few days for I got a lovely card from Man-with-cane. He thanked me very nicely and there were TWO quarters scotch taped to the card. No lawyers ever called.

Still today, 38 years later, that ranks as the strangest, scariest, yet coolest buck seventy five I ever earned.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.

A TGB READER STORY: The Sunbonnet Crown

By Jannette Mountzouris

Our grandparents, known as Mim-Mim and Daddy Harry, lived on a ranch in Kerr County along Turtle Creek. Their modest home sat on a high bluff above the creek. Inside Mim-Mim focused on meals to be fixed, bread to be baked, firewood to be split for the cook stove, clothes to be washed and ironed and other somewhat mundane tasks.

However, outside she reigned as queen, wearing a sunbonnet as her crown while she cared for her flowers, maintained a garden, milked the cow and gathered eggs laid by her free range hens.

This was no ordinary jeweled crown for it was made of recycled feed sacks whose once vibrant colors were faded from many washings. Although our grandmother died more than 50 years ago, I can clearly see her in my mind’s eye – faded dress, old apron, and the sunbonnet on her head.

Her hoe became her scepter as she gently ruled her empire of flowers, garden, the barn, and all the nooks where the chickens laid their eggs. She carried the hoe not only to chop weeds but to address snakes that might cross her path. In the summer as she gathered eggs, Mim-Mim always had several visiting grandchildren in her entourage.

From the first frost-free mornings in early spring to the last golden days of autumn, Mim-Mim donned her crown and nurtured all things growing in her outside domain. I do believe she was happiest wearing her sunbonnet as she planted, weeded, and watered her flowers and the garden.

She loved flowers and it was evident they were happy in her hands with the green thumbs. They were pleased to show off along the fence or in any cranny where they were planted. There were no brightly colored fertilizer bags with instructions about where and how the plants were to be placed in the soil. Yet the zinnias, bachelor buttons, and shrimp plants along with others grew taller than any I have ever seen.

She always seemed to choose flowers that ethereal creatures like hummingbirds and butterflies loved. To my delight one summer morning, she pointed out a hummingbird nest in a huge oak tree which served as a canopy over a portion of the yard.

While I certainly don’t remember the names of all that she planted, I am sometimes amazed when I realize I know something about a particular plant I could only have learned from Mim-Mim.

Besides the flowers, there were the staples of the garden: squash, beans, onions, and of course, tomatoes and pole beans. At one end were little hills of cucumbers which would become crisp pickles during canning season. A spot was always saved for dill which released a piquant fragrance in the heat.

While others might complain about getting up at sunrise, Mim-Mim seemed to relish going out to water the flowers and vegetables before the sun advanced too far in its ascent.

Even after they moved to town for Daddy Harry’s failing health, Mim-Mim continued to don her crown as she cultivated a much smaller bounty of flowers and vegetables. It must have felt unnatural to be outside without the sunbonnet.

Our Aunt Dorothy told me that her memories of the sunbonnet centered on her mother always heavily starching the bonnet and ironing it. I was curious about why Mim-Mim took such meticulous care of it. Aunt Dorothy said the starching and ironing were done so that the brim would not sag over Mim-Mim’s eyes – the pragmatic memory of her daughter versus the sublime memory of her granddaughter.

Today when I hoe the good earth, recollections of Mim-Mim in her sunbonnet always come to mind – sacred recollections of the mind and heart.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.


By Jeanne Parvin

My husband and I brought our new baby home to our little furnished apartment. We were inexperienced – how to lay her down in the crib, how to cover her properly. And she cried so loudly.

I paced with her in the middle of the night to keep her quiet so my husband could get the sleep he needed to get up and go to work the next day. The visiting nurse said she had strong, healthy lungs. (Loud!)

My mother-in-law came by to pick up the baby’s laundry and brought it back all clean and fresh. She loved folding those tiny garments. She loved her first grandchild.

Now my mother-in-law is dead. My husband is dead. My first-born daughter is in her 50s now. She gives me hugs on a regular basis to make sure I still feel loved.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.

A TGB READER STORY: The Big Yellow Pot - A Story of Love in the Kitchen

By Trudi Kappel

We met at a party in July. By October, my birthday month, we were an item. My birthday was the first traditional gift giving occasion of our relationship. Knowing his thrifty nature, I wondered if he would buy me a present or even a card.

I was delighted when he invited me out for a birthday dinner, recognition of the occasion. He arrived at my apartment carrying, not only a card but also a large heavy wrapped package. WOW! A restaurant dinner, a card and a present! This was special.

When I opened the box, I was nonplussed. It contained a big yellow enamel cast iron Dutch oven. I saw myself as a career girl, not a homebody but I thanked him with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

I doubted the relationship would last, sensing our different views of my life plan. After five decades we are still an item and we still cook in that Big Yellow Pot. The pot is a metaphor for the relationship - durable and don’t be stingy with the spices.

We are showing some wear. Grey hair for us, chipped enamel for the Big Yellow Pot. We endure and we cook together!

A TGB READER STORY: The Elusive Monster

EDITORIAL NOTE FROM RONNI: Well, aren't you a prolific bunch - there are now seven months of reader stories backed up which takes us through winter, spring and into summer. You know, I may not live that long.

I try to publish your stories more or less in the order received and although a number of you have sent two or more stories, I don't publish a repeat author until everyone else has been published once. The list is getting too long to easily sort through every week, so if you could hold off sending any new stories at least until spring, I would greatly appreciate it. I'll let you know when I'm running low.

* * *

By Darlene Costner

There's a specter living in my house and his main purpose is to drive me insane. He is an evil prankster bent on making my life miserable.

I first noticed his presence when he made all of my kitchen cabinets higher so that I can no longer reach the top shelf and even reaching the middle shelf forces me to stand on my toes.

Then he must have howled with laughter as he knocked things from my hands, forcing me to clean up the ensuing mess. That wasn't enough fun for him so he lowered all the floors in my house.

Of course, this means that I am unable to use my thumb and must try to retrieve the item using my two longest fingers. That is a very difficult tactic, let me tell you. That gave my ghostly housemate such a good time that he now performs that prank many times a day. Such cruelty!

He has other tricks up his sleeve (Do ghosts have sleeves?) He is constantly moving things from where I know I put them. I have to spend hours looking for that note that I had just minutes ago.

That must have given the spectral imp so many laughs that he does it more and more often now. Not only does he move them, but he puts them where they are right in front of my eyes but impossible to see.

I don't have a clue how he manages to mess with my mind but this trick gives him the most glee of all. He erases words from my memory. It's really maddening to be having a nice conversation and suddenly my ghost yanks a perfectly ordinary word from my vocabulary causing me no end of embarrassment as I frantically look for a substitute word.

Oh how I am becoming so exasperated with my infuriating spectral visitor.

He must find that watching me fall is hilarious because he shoves me down at the most unexpected times. That's his most vicious trick. Even though my hands are on the walker, he finds a way to give me a backward shove and I end up with the walker on top of me. He has no thought for my feelings at all.

I am sure that he has other pranks that he intends to play on me in the future. At times I think I see him watching me through the crack in the door and is plotting his next move. Reminding me of the little poem:

I saw a man upon the stair
And when I looked he wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he would go away.

(Variations attributed to different poets; Mearns and Antigonism, among others)


By Kate Gilpin

Like a lot of people who live alone, I have always kept cats. I have one now and his name is Tribble. I've been living with him as long as I lived with my parents, and a lot more comfortably. He got his name because he fit furrily into the palm of one hand when we met.

Trib is a big, gentle, smoky Persian and in his prime he looked like a cross between a large muff and a Sumo wrestler. He kept me company through a divorce, watched me quit smoking, helped me landscape the yard and saw The Shining with me at home in a terrified embrace one Halloween night.

When he was much younger, he stole a piece of raw liver as long as his body off my kitchen counter and clenching it in his tiny teeth, he fled through the house, out the door, around the back and front yards and into the house again before I caught up with him.

He still had the liver in a death grip when I pried it loose. I had it for dinner, and so did he.

Tribbie shouldn't have lived past about three. He showed early signs of feline leukemia and was expected to die within a few years. He suffered from an intermittent series of fevers, tonsillitis, rashes, abscesses. In between weird ailments, he had a wonderful time but almost every month I hemorrhaged money at the pet hospital.

When he was seven he got cancer on his back. The veterinarian excised it and Trib mysteriously quit getting sick after that. It was as if he and the virus had been fighting up till then and he finally won. Last spring he turned eighteen.

He's lost a lot of weight and about half of his hair is gone. He fetches up those horrifying inexplicable yells that old cats all do and he sits for long periods in one spot, looking vague.

He has taken to using the back part of the living room as a litter box. His hind legs don't work properly any more and this summer, I found out his kidneys are beginning to fail. He's not likely to see nineteen.

When I hold Tribbie and stroke him now, I can feel every bone under the skin. His fur is dry and stiff, what there is of it. His abdomen is swollen and doesn't feel quite right. I pop two or three pills into his little gap-toothed mouth daily, and give him an injection every other week. He goes to the doctor twice a month.

There has been talk about having him put to sleep at some point but so far he's still happy to be here, and he still loves yogurt.

The thing is, I feel bad about it all the time. The other day I realized that I am angry with him because he's leaving me. It was the same feeling I had when my mother was in her late eighties and I noticed that she had quit being interested in things.

You know what I mean, they're not gone, they're just not really the same person any more.

Well, of course, we're not any of us the same person any more and in my mother's case, it was in some ways an improvement. But Tribble is my cat, which means my feelings about him are not very complicated: they are simple and sweet, like him, and seeing him gradually disappear is so painful that I'd rather not watch. It makes me cry whenever I think about it.

So I find myself avoiding it. I've gotten into planning ahead. I've decided to scatter his ashes in his favorite part of the garden. I might hold a wake for his friends.

I expect to find another cat in a year or two and I'd like to get a dog. I've wanted to have one for years but couldn't because Trib would never put up with it. I'm going to get a big dog, some kind that has the same tank-like, fuzzy charm as Persians.

Then it's time to feed Tribble and hold the back door open so he can walk into the yard. The cat door is getting hard for him to climb through. It's November now and we're having a warm spell. Sunday afternoon. I'm watching him hop slowly down the steps. He's going to patrol the territory.

He starts at the lobelia bordering the dead vegetable patch, pauses to yowl at the bench in the corner by the yellowing grapevine. He limps with dignity to the far path, stopping by the early camellia, sniffing a persimmon fallen among the bright leaves of its tree. He's sitting tall on the grass now.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB READER STORY: The Pier, the Birds and the Moment

By B. Henry

An airplane sneaks through the fog over Lac St. Louis.

Canada geese sing homecoming harmonies.

I'm in my car, staring at the lake where we swam as kids.

The lake ice has melted.

The water is high.

Another plane tiptoes in.

A man sits in his car, reading.

We're two cars, side by side, on the pier.

He looks at me, nods and smiles.

I smile and nod back.

I sip my coffee and think about a jumble of senior words overheard at the local coffee spot.

Words like this:

"My friend is in the hospital. She can't move from the neck down. She may never walk again. The doctors are doing tests. I call her every night. A nurse puts the phone by her ear."

"He's 94 years old, driving without a license. His doctor refused to sign the paper. I should notify the police. He's going to kill himself or someone else. If the cops pull him over, it's gonna be game over. Maybe it's just gossip. What should I do?"

"Her world has become smaller since she moved into that senior home."

"No car. No visits. No garden."

"Everything is in the past."

v"So listen to this: My three neighbours help each other, even though they are not related. One woman cuts lawns, the other one cooks and the boyfriend repairs stuff. They found a way to age in place."

"Ah, I know who you mean. She walks the ILR halls and knocks on doors. Sometimes she puts her thumb over the peephole so you can't see who is there. She's losing it."

A ship passes. It's going somewhere.

But where are we going?

More words:

"I'm not sitting there."

"I don't like that man."

"I want to bop him one."

"Now Sam, you know a bop too far becomes a boom."

"Yeah, I know that."

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB READER STORY: Medical – In the Beginning and Near the End

By William Weatherstone

In 1941, I had my first operation - for tonsillitis. I could not enter school at that time unless they were removed.

In 2017, (near the end of my life now at 81 years old), I had open heart surgery to hopefully extend my life-span.

As a child, it was a horrendous experience to go through.

When my wife entered the nursing home in Blind River, Ontario, I moved there from Elliot Lake to be near her.

During the couple years that I was living in Blind River, I had a small apartment over a commercial store in the downtown strip. I would at times drive the 40 miles back to Elliot Lake for food supplies as well as visit with friends. Returning home, I would have to carry bags full up 15 stairs and down a long hall to the apartment. It would take three loads to empty the car.

During the transfer, I found that after each trip upstairs, I would have to sit down for a few minutes to regain my breath.

After my wife died, I moved back to Elliot Lake.

It was getting worse, the breathing and tiredness. Just walking from the car to the building entrance, I would have to stop twice to catch my breath again. From car to building was about a couple hundred feet.

My next medical was in a few days and when I got there, I explained to her what was happening and right away she started tests and made an appointment with a cardiologist in Sault Ste. Marie for more testing. It started with a complete stress test and then an angiogram.

That appointment was strange. They started with a nurse coming in with a shaving kit to clear out the crotch area, for going through the groin with a camera to fish its way to the heart exploring the damage.

Once on the table, the surgeon checked my wrist vein for size and took that route up through the arm artery and into the heart.

I was wide awake through the whole process and was waiting for them to start. After a while I was wheeled back to my bed area wondering why they did nothing. To my surprise it was done completely. It was so smooth and totally painless and hard to believe.

If going up through the groin, you would have to wait for four to six hours with weighted bags on the groin incision to close & heal, whereas the wrist job is about 45 minutes to an hour waiting time.

So far, this procedure was easier than my first tonsillitis operation.

The results were sclerosis of the aorta heart valve. (The opening was closing.)

For my next appointment, he sent me to a heart surgeon in Sudbury for a final interview. During this meeting, he explained all the procedures required. On his desk were models of the replacement aorta valves, a pig valve, a cow valve and then a metal mechanical valve.

A couple of days later. he gave me a call and said that he found a new type mechanical valve that he was going to use. I took the information as I would now be an old guinea pig to test these new devices.

The date was set and I blew into Sudbury the day before checking in to the motel right beside the hospital. I showered with antibiotic soap and was on the gurney by 6:00AM, rolled into the O.R. and promptly put down.

I had mention to the surgeon during our interview that if I woke up and had hoses or anything down my throat, I would panic and throw a real sh*t fit and would not take any responsibility for my actions. He simply responded with, “Tell it to the anesthesiologist, okay?”


Just as I was going to be put down, a doctor of some sort looked at me looking as miserable as one can at six in the morning. I asked if he was the gas man. Yes. I told him about the waking up problem, then I was gone into the blackness of the afterlife – or so it seemed.

When it was over, I had two quick chokes to fight off and then all smoothed out. (I’m alive, I think.)

Nothing like my 1941 operation where my guts were throwing up all over the place and my first real pain experience like my throat being torn from my body, headache like never before and, finally, only being soothed with ice cream, the medicine of the gods.

This time, I was moved into ICU (without the ice cream) but still painless and wondering what would happen next?

Shortly (I think) afterword, my two buddies arrived after a 400 mile drive to see if I was still alive or not. I think they felt obligated somewhat because I was there for both of them when they had their bypass surgeries years ago.

After the visit, I was transferred to a semi-private room with one other patient. It was on the top floor and just under the helicopter roof pad.

We seemed to get along quite well, but in a few hours, he was being released, leaving me in privacy.

Not being geared for long stays in a bed, and with too much sleep, I became wide awake at 2:30AM. What does one do now? Fortunately, I had the bed beside the window, so became a star gazer.

All of a sudden, there was a great whirling sound. I looked up above and saw three great big bright floodlights coming down on me with this whirling, beating sound. I was mesmerized, just waiting any moment for Scotty to beam me up into the Enterprise or perhaps worse, could be the Klingons?

It wasn’t five or 10 minutes later that the paramedics brought their passenger from Timmins into the empty bed, letting me know that I was safe and not going to be beamed up anywhere. (Oh, darn.)

We got along fine especially since I knew his part of the country intimately.

His problem wasthat he'd had stents put in that failed and then had to be rushed back. For warranty, I assumed.

I was pushing to get out early, at least by Sunday, the fourth day. Unfortunately, my surgeon was off on Sunday but had planned for another heart surgeon to take out all the stitches and any attachments, such as the colostomy bag. Only a heart surgeon is allowed to do this.

During this process everything was going along fine while I still had the intravenous plunger in my left wrist. While everyone was shooting the crap, his assistant took out the intravenous attachment and was hanging onto my wrist thinking that he was holding the blood flow closed while it sealed itself.

While totally in conversation with the (gorgeous) nurses (to make an impression), I started to feel my wrist and up my arm getting extremely warm. I looked down and the artery was spewing blood out like a firehose, with no fire to go to.

There was blood all over the place. The assistant holding my wrist started to throw a fit and was totally caught off guard. The heart surgeon was Joe Cool. He came around the bed and promptly put a stop to the blood flow. All he said was, “Damn, need a clean shirt.”

Me, in the meantime had thoughts of having to stay over for a new blood supply. Not so. Joe Cool said I could still go home. Ha-ha, bravo, I’m on my way before they change their minds.

Comparing my first encounter with the hospitals, painfully removing my tonsils, with this new encounter, cracking my ribs open and throwing my heart out onto the workbench for a valve job - it was totally painless.

A great amount of progress has been made since 1941. Thank God.

THE END (Hopefully not)

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB READER STORY: What's the State of Your Mind?

By Jean Shriver

When does a person cross the line from graceful aging into the land that’s labeled old? It all depends. On what? On your genetics, on your eating and exercise habits and maybe on your luck.

In our seventies my husband and I took a bike trip to southern Tuscany and as we pedaled away, the word “old” never crossed my mind. We zipped along quiet roads, ate lunches in picturesque hill towns and slept in inns that had once been aristocratic homes. It was a blast.

But you know what they say, ”seventy is the new sixty”. Right? And then do you remember the next line, ”but 80 is still 80?” Which has turned out to be true in our case.

For instance, I went 80 years without breaking a bone and then in the span of three years broke my shoulder and then my pelvis in two places. I recovered well but running to get the phone is no longer an option. Now I walk sedately to answer its insistent ring no matter how long it takes.

What other changes have crept into my lifestyle? I write down things that are too important to forget. I ask a younger person for help when I want to thread a needle so I can sew on a button. I wear hearing aids. I get help in carrying heavy boxes I used to tote without concern and I am increasingly hesitant to drive the freeways.

But I count it as a plus that I am still upright and still driving. My husband, who has spinal stenosis, is now in a wheelchair.

And as my body moves more stiffly, I work hard to keep my mind agile. I read the newspaper daily and force myself to explore areas where I am not comfortable like science and philosophy. I read some mysteries for fun but I try to sandwich them between meatier fare like The Written World, about how stories have influenced history across the ages.

Last night I read how the Maya developed a writing system totally independent of those of Europe and Asia which reminded me how we once climbed Mayan pyramids in Mexico. Before falling asleep I often revisit good times in Europe, Turkey and Nepal when we could travel anywhere we wanted.v vFriends, old and new, are an inspiration. Through church and through writing groups I am able to exchange ideas with people of different ages who have different viewpoints than my own. This, I find stimulating.

At this stage in life, we often lose people who are important to us and need to make an effort to stay in touch with others lest we become isolated. My husband and I are lucky to have family nearby which gives us contact with several generations.

Last week, a woman I knew in high school invited me to New York to meet with several others we both knew in college. Suddenly I am examining my wardrobe with a critical eye, checking out theater offerings in Manhattan and feeling extremely sprightly.

Though the four of us are all 85, we burble like girls as we call and write about our upcoming trip. We have ambitious plans for museum visits, evenings out and walks in Central Park.

Hey, maybe age is just a state of mind after all.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.


By Fritzy Dean

Every Tuesday I get up and hurriedly get dressed and go to my writing class. No body makes me go. No body cares if I go. Still. I go. Winter and summer, spring and Fall I go every Tuesday to writing class.

On a Tuesday when I must miss class, the whole day feels “off kilter.” in fact, it affects the whole week. It has become integral to my life, to my routine.

Why do it? Well, I really like my class members and I really respect our instructor. He spends a good deal of energy prepping for this class. He gives of his time. He also gives us funny prompts and unusual subject matter. He makes me think and I like that. Well, mostly I like it.

There are several poets in our class and while they are not able to be there every time, when they are there I never fail to be amazed by the words that show up on their papers.

Sometimes I am even amazed at what shows up on my paper. I never thought I had what it takes to pull characters out of the air and transfer them to the page. This class has shown me I can. Not always prize-winning prose, but still I’m doing it and I like the challenge. Well, mostly I like it.

After our first writing exercise, we discuss the work. We tell the class member what we liked about the piece. Sometimes we offer gentle suggestions for how the piece could be better.

I do like that. I want to be a GOOD writer - not an okay writer, not a passable writer. I want to be Good. It is the single thing I strive for in my life. Don’t care about finding a husband, have no interest in traveling the world, will never appear on a best dressed list and don’t want to.

Have no interest in a new car or meeting a celebrity. BUT, I desperately want to be good at writing.

Why? Why this and not yoga? Or cooking classes? Or flower arranging? Why do I write?

Because I have to; something inside me compels it. Because I gain clarity; I learn how I really feel about things when I get the words down. Because I don’t want to forget. I think every life matters and I want mine to be documented.

Because writing changes my perspective. My childhood looks very different through the lens of a narrator than through he lens of a victim.

I write because I have something to say. I want others to hear it. I want someone to benefit by my experiences. I have learned much in my decades here on planet Earth and I want to leave a record. I was here and this is what happened to me.

I write because I must.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.


By Sylvia Li

"You're not going to remember this."

I was five, going on six. Our family was moving out of the top-floor Montreal apartment that was the only home my younger brother and I had known.

Our belongings were packed into boxes already, including my favourite doll Gloria. Mummy had done that quietly behind my back. Gloria's once-shimmering dress was not so glorious as when she'd been new last Christmas. Her real rooted hair was tangled now, impossible to comb and to tell the truth, my efforts in that direction had made her a little bald. Her blue eyes still closed when I laid her down. I'd have been worried about her if I'd known she was all closed up in a box.

The moving men were coming and going, nearly done taking the furniture and boxes down to the truck. It was time to say goodbye to this place.

Daddy took us down the long hall to "the Bobs room" at the far end, where my Uncle Bob had stayed when he didn't have any place else to go. Uncle Bob was married now.

Robby had sometimes slept in that room and sometimes I had. Sometimes other family members had stayed there when they visited but for us, that room's permanent name was the Bobs room.

Daddy, Robby, and I made our way back, hand in hand, room by room, kindly acknowledging each one because we had been happy here, while Mummy dusted and swept.

When we got to the front living room, Daddy took the phone down from the waist-high telephone shelf and set it on the floor. The phone was black, of course. All phones were black in those days and they all belonged to the telephone company. The shelf was a tall niche built right into the wall. It had always held the phone book and the telephone and nothing else.

Daddy lifted each of us up to sit on that high shelf where we had never, ever sat before. "You're not going to remember this," he told us.

But we do. Both of us do.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.


By Mary Symmes

In 1975, I was studying Arabic at the Foreign Service Institute. The last part of the course was at the American Embassy in Beirut and I duly arrived, age 25, with the rest of the new class of Arabic students.

I had spent a good part of my childhood in the Middle East so I had an idea of what it would be like to live in Beirut. But in August 1975 Beirut was full of unrest and violence and on the verge of civil war. (Fortunately I was immortal at the time).

Shortly after we arrived, old friends of my parents invited me to dinner. I love Arabic food and ate heartily. I knew that uncooked fruits and vegetables would probably make me sick but because these were urban, educated people, I had no qualms in eating whatever was presented to me. Somehow it would be sanitized.

Later that night, I woke up with nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. I walked several blocks to the embassy the next morning so I could see the embassy nurse and prayed with every step that nothing would happen until I was near a toilet. I was lucky.

After another attack, I walked back to the hotel with Paregoric and instructions about what to eat and drink. I really felt ill and weak and I knew the Paregoric would make me sleepy, so I called the wife of one of my fellow students, who was staying in the same hotel, and asked her to call me every day to make sure I was okay.

I spent the next two days mostly asleep, and then arose feeling almost human.

As I was getting dressed to go to the embassy cafeteria, I realized that while I was so sick the maids had cleaned the room and stolen two purse-sized perfume dispensers I had left out of my locked suitcases.

There was nothing I could really do about it so I didn't even tell the management. And I was so lonely and relieved that I was better that I just wanted to be around other people again.

I got to the embassy and was eating dry bread and drinking tea as various people I knew came by, all telling me how awful I looked!

I went back to class that afternoon and eventually moved into my own apartment until all nonessential personnel were evacuated from Beirut that October. But that is another story.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB Reader Story: Who Am I?

By Rosemary Woodel

I am a woman who no longer has her own washing machine.

I am very lucky to now live close to well-lit places I want to visit because I should no longer drive certain places at night.

I am a photographer and a writer.

I am a person who cries in public but likes to make people laugh.

I am no longer well organized. Where are the framed photographs I took in Ukraine? Did I give them away? Why?

I am someone who just found a comforter under the bed in a box I hadn’t seen for seven months, who “found” a drawer in the bureau which I hadn’t opened for six months. Apricot sheets!

I am the kind of person who spends an hour trying to fall asleep, ashamed of being grouchy to two people. And when I call to apologize, they didn’t think I was grouchy at all. I am a person who has forgiving friends.

I am someone who gave away nearly all the Christmas decorations I had in my big house and now misses having some of them in my small apartment.

I am a person who was highly regarded at white-water rafting this summer but two months later flunked out of the low-ropes course with leftover tendonitis and a possible meniscus tear. For at least four weeks I have to walk up steps with my left leg leading.

I am someone who likes living in a dormitory for old people. I am now a person with a Talbots credit card. Talbots?!

I am a person wondering how long I want to live.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB Reader Story: The Grapes Aren't Sour; They're Just Not on the Menu Often Enough

By officerripley

I managed to strand myself in my old age in a conservative area and am feeling left out because I'm left of center compared to nearly all the gals in my age group who only seem to be concerned with grandkids, God, gardening and gun "rights."

The few gals in my age group with whom I do share political, social, and world views seem to find me "dull" because I have way less education than they do. (Although they'd never in a million years admit that they're even just the teeniest bit prejudiced against my "sort.")

After trying everything - book clubs, meetup.com, even the few supposedly liberal churches in the area - I keep running into the same old, "Oh, you ONLY have a high school diploma? I see. Well, we only take women with degrees in our feminist group." Or "You CHOSE not to have kids?! I see." Or "You know, you'd probably be happier in or near a large city. What's that? You can't AFFORD to move? Oh, I see."

(And the look on their faces when they say that stuff? Don't get me started.)

Then I did finally find a group that was on the same political/social page as I, a group that I really enjoyed; finally, people that think and feel the same way I do!

I can let my hair down around these gals, yay! Then I began to feel weird about how much I looked forward to this one hour a month, about how I'd daydream about what I'll talk about at the next meeting, stuff that I have no one else I can talk to about.

I wondered why I was feeling worried about how much I relied on this group and realized that that's why I was right to worry: I was relying too much on this group. Even after some attempts on my part, no friendships developed even after two years, which is understandable since the gals in the group are at least 25 years younger than I.

The group was composed of young, still-working, busy gals who also had elderly parents to take care of; they didn't have time for anything else in their lives.

I finally began to see that me looking forward to that one hour a month was not enough. I realize that a lot of people - namely young people - would see this as akin to "sour grapes" syndrome: oh, you're mad at the world because you don't get to have this fun all month long, so you're throwing a tantrum like a bratty kid and saying "well, then, I don't want any fun!"

And I really soul-searched to see if that was what I was feeling, but I really don't think it is. The way I feel is that this is a way of protecting myself; that one hour a month is such a small "helping" of fun and good feelings that it makes the rest of the month that much harder to bear.

It feels like being hungry all the time and once a month, you get one bite of something delicious. After a while you being to realize that the one delicious bite makes the watery soup you have to eat the rest of the month that much harder to put up with.

Therefore, my goal is now to get myself used to the loneliness of spending my old age in an area where I don't fit in. It's cold comfort, but I keep hearing that it makes me a member of a very large club.

Also, maybe this will help anyone younger who happens to read this, or any of you high-energy, busy-all-time elderly – how the heck do you do it?! Espresso or what?! - understand why it seems as if some of us elderly have "given up." Self-protection; that's all it is.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.


By Melanie Lee

”Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
        - Rumi, poet

After retiring from university teaching at 70, my husband Louis and I moved to Sedona, an artist’s colony and nature paradise in Northern Arizona.

Settling into our new life as aspiring cultural creatives, we studied up on the original inhabitants of this ancient Colorado Plateau region. I became fascinated with the Navajo concept of Hozho, which loosely translates to beauty.

Hozho is a way of life encompassing harmony peace, peace of mind, goodness, ideal family relationships, beauty in arts and crafts, and health of body and spirit.

A certain mindful focus on beauty has its rewards. And takes a good bit of patience. But fortunately when you reach a certain age (“wisdom's edge”) that becomes more available. Courage too.

I’ve a deep admiration for people who’ve fiercely devoted their lives to beauty like Navajo (Dine') sculptor Larry Yazzie. His sculpture Surrender is the embodiment of Hozho, and his creative process adds gravity.

Surrender by Larry Yazzie

Yazzie begins each new piece never knowing what it will become, the stone itself decides what it will be. Yazzie has said if you know what you're going to do next, then your creative process becomes just a job.

Sometimes, for inspiration, I think about Yazzie and his process. I get up in the morning, make a coffee, sit down, switch on my electric candle (symbolic, handy, economically sensible and besides I'm Aquarius rising), then deliberately start my day by surrendering to beauty.

Turning eyes right, a view beyond my small, lace curtained window appears and behold, Hozho!

Hozho  beauty

Intriguing chunky textures and shapes, a sturdy pink stone wall, a full cascade of English ivy with deep green leafy variations, caressed by an endless expanse of golden sunrise. Hello out there, you big old beautiful world, what's out there for me today?

I’ve come to see that life is awash, just drowning in possibilities for walking the Beauty Way, for the sacred experience of Hozho, not only the visual but also the intangible and spiritual – a wish for someone's well being, gratitude for comfort and safety, gladness for old friends.

Oh, I know. You’re skeptical. "What, sun, lace, rocks, sky, ivy? Oh please, that's nothing to get worked up about."

No, I reply, a thousand times no! It's everything to get worked up about, because in this present moment I am spoken to about beauty. I am breathing, safe, grateful and blessed. I’ve learned, being here in Sedona, how to move into this optimistic and welcoming inner space, no longer trying to force awareness or awakedness.

My part is only to allow the curves of the soul to lead me, listening to the Saguaro cacti, speaking to the gnarly old junipers, saluting the stirring sunsets, marveling at the charm of hummingbirds, honoring the magnetic red rocks turned into enchanted cairns living along well used hiking trails.

Purposely focusing on the Hozho of the present moment as a singular beauty in itself is a way to honor life for what it is now and for what it might yet become.

At 73 years old, I fully understand life should, and can, be more than just a job. Like artist Larry Yazzie, I think life can be a work of art. Maybe you do too.

Here’s an idea for how to begin the day with Hozho: Get up some morning, greet the promise of the day and surrender to beauty.

Muse on a moment when you encountered something in nature so beautiful that it brought you close to tears with its near-perfection. Don't forget the sensual details, sight, sound, taste, feel, smell.

Remember an inspirational person you admire (real person or fictional character), someone who first gave you a sense of beauty and awakened you to the possibility of being so present, that life could be experienced on a higher, more creative and fulfilling plane of existence.

Finish this Hozho greeting by recalling a story (could be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essay) that was so viscerally powerful that, after you’d finished reading it, your life was changed forever in a positive way.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB Reader Story: Hope On Top of the World

By Gloria MacKay

I still hope: for sunny days; for my other pearl earring to be in the drawer; for my doctor to say see you next year; for my hair to perk up. I know how to hope, but never with the abandon I would have allowed myself if I had not grown up with that woman looking down on my head.

Hope hung in the living room over the couch for so many years she made her mark on the wall, framed with burnished wood finished to look like metal she was an eerie sight: a woman draped in sepia, olive drab and slate gray, head in her hands and legs sprawled over a big, equally sepia ball. I would glance up every time I walked into the room.

I watched when my mother lifted Hope off the hook and set her on the floor, leaving a clean rectangle on the wall as exposed as a patch of skin after you rip off the band aid. I crouched on the carpet as she turned the picture over and pointed to a sticker embossed with fancy gold letters. Hope On Top of the World she read as she turned to me. “This is what Hope looks like.”

I jumped up and ran to my room, my mother’s voice following me. “Don’t be silly, She’s not real. She’s just a picture.”

I was the age when Santa Claus lived within me in the comfortable limbo between real and make believe but I could not be this accommodating with Hope even when she lay face down on the carpet with her sticker showing. Credentials or not, I kept one foot in my room and peeked out the door until I saw her back on the wall where she belonged.

My second encounter with hope happened on one of my early birthdays when I was called upon to blow out my birthday candles all by myself with no help. I felt a circle of tense faces coming down on me as I took a big breath and let go.

I don’t remember how many candles were on the cake but I blew them all out and everyone clapped. “Don’t tell what you wished for or it won’t come true,” someone hollered. Right then all my hope went up with the smoke. I had been so eager to do a good job I had forgotten to wish.

I still don’t like people staring at me. I don’t like it when I sit in the corner of my doctor’s office, for instance, engrossed in a magazine and the nurse blurts out my name so loudly I jump.

All eyes are looking at me as I gather my belongings, straighten the magazines, stand up, sweater dragging, purse unzipped, and head for the open door. I get so rattled that I forget to hope for the best.

Wishing on a star was my next experience with hope. My mother and I would chant “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might get the wish I wish tonight.”

She reminded me, every time, to look sharply because it had to be made on the very first star. I must have wished as many times as stars have twinkles but I can’t remember for sure if any of my wishes came true.

In time I replaced this childhood chant with a more sophisticated song. It begins “When you wish upon a star” and ends, “your dreams come true.” In between it gives us permission to wish on all stars, any stars, any time, any place.

I don't have to strain my eyes in the twilight searching for the very first flicker - any old star will do. And I don’t have to blow hard and not tell to make my birthday wishes come true. And even if I forget to whisper the wish to myself, it is in my head and that just might be enough.

These days when I find one of those touristy little wells sitting in a patch of grass collecting money and wishes I am always surprised at the carpet of coins at the bottom.

If no one is watching I might drop in a coin and make a wish of my own, as though I were Hope on top of the world and the face in the ripples is someone I’ve never met.

Hope On Top Of The World

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.

A TGB READER STORY: The Fine Art of Dying

By wisewebwoman

Now it's Terry. Terry was knocked down in the middle of the night. Not by a car or anything like that. Knocked down by herself.

She ignored symptoms of all that was going wrong in her body, the pain in her abdomen. She'd chew Tylenol 3s like candy and we'd all given up on telling her to get to a doctor.

So she barely managed to call me on the phone at an ungodly hour screaming in pain and I followed the ambulance into the Health Sciences. Terry was one of those brilliant people who could work anywhere and did actuarial work from her home on the ocean.

Her clients were from all over the world. Funny thing, she hasn't met most of her clients; it was all done on the internet.

So like I was saying, Terry: there's never been anyone like her. She was riddled. First thing they did was take half her bowel away and give her a bag. Then they MRId her and Catscanned her and found more tumours. But Terry? She never let on to her clients she was in hospital. She carried on working with tubes and bags hanging off her. And saucy? You haven't seen the like.

She knew more than the doctors. And the funniest part? When a doctor or a nurse or a visiting specialist or students gathered around her bed she'd take notes in a thick journal she asked me to buy for her.

She'd write down all the numbers involving her condition: the date, the time, her sugars, her blood pressure, her white cell count, her urine output, her blood pressure, for Terry loved numbers.

And then, working backwards in the back of the journal, she'd make notes of the offhand remarks these medics tossed at each other so cruelly and casually, thinking she was asleep or distracted. Or deaf.

Did you see she had Botox on her forehead? And veneers on her teeth?

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, my mother knew her in school, an awful bitch, thought she was better than the rest of them.

Betty, if you give that one an inch she'll take a mile.

Complaining to the head nurse about her wet diaper! The like! Let her stew in it for another four hours!

Did you hear Lou-Ellen gave her an extra hard jab with the needles last night?

Leave her private room door open in spite of the stupid notice she's got pasted on it. Privacy she wants, ha. We’ll show Lady Muck who’s in charge!

I should sue their effin' asses, Terry said to me, elder abuse! And I go in to her just about every afternoon and she reads me all the latest pages from the back of her book in these funny voices.

And we'd laugh and laugh and laugh.

I don’t want my parents to know, she said one day out of the blue. The pressure is on to tell them but I can’t. They won’t be able to take it. Dad just turned 92 and Mom is 90 and it’s a long journey from Florida.

It’s your decision, Terry, I say softly.

You know something? She looks at me, her eyes steady. You’re the only one who supports me in this.

Another day she talked about the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was 18. Her parents never knew as she moved off island for several years.

I found her, she told me, You know me and hacking the internet, But she doesn’t want to see me.

She showed me photos on her iPhone. She was Terry’s double.

I told Terry I would take care of her, she would move in with me, I'd make sure she ate and walked and took as long as she wanted to recover.

But I knew.

She knew.

It came in the middle of the night; she was alone. I had seen her that afternoon and we had joked about designing a bejewelled colostomy bag for her. She would wear it with pride. Show it off. I would knit bag covers in psychedelic colours. We would start a cottage industry in fancy colostomy bags.

We laughed, but her laughs were weaker.

In her will, she left half her estate to the daughter who refused to see her. Her friends shared the rest.

But the real gift she left me was the smile I get every time I think of her.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

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