Daily dinners with our fellow retirees can be tedious. The elderly (and that includes us) tend to repeat stories of their not always-interesting pasts. But sometimes I am amazed by what I hear.
Last week, we had dinner with a statuesque 89-year-old named Elizabeth. She knew about my long career at Harvard’s Kennedy School so for starters, she told me that she had just given a eulogy there for Francis Bator, an economist who had advised the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was one of the School’s founding fathers. His office was down the hall from me. The memorial service was held in the School’s Penthouse where I had attended hundreds of events, including my own farewell party!
Elizabeth told us that she had got to know Bator while working for Walter Lippmann, newspaper columnist and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, but said little about herself.
Curious to learn more about this modest woman, I Googled her. Turns out that she was a producer for CBS News for years and the first newsperson on the scene after the 1972 Watergate break-in.
That evening, I couldn’t persuade her to write her story, but I’ll keep trying.
On Tuesday, November 30, 1999, The Boston Globe published a personal essay under the headline “Wife’s Ailment Brings Out A New Side of Husband.” In it, the author told how the division of labor in her marriage worked well until she was on crutches. Then she found out that her husband had no idea how to do the laundry so she had to stand at the top of the basement stairs and yell down step-by-step instructions for the washing machine. He couldn’t load the dishwasher efficiently either.
The wife went on to say that she’d better learn how to start the lawn mower, and un-jam the garbage disposal to be prepared if he should “step off the curb the wrong way some day”.
That article was written by me.
Nineteen years later, Peter “stepped off the curb the wrong way” and broke his leg. It’s my turn to take on his chores, and although I wish he hadn’t fallen, it’s my pleasure to return the favor.
This is the 1100th post of 70-something.com. When I wrote the first one more than ten years ago, I thought I would stop when I turned eighty. But somehow it’s become part of my DNA and so I keep going, at least for now.
I write to document my life and how it changes over my “bonus years”. I do it for me. Happily, I now have a lot more subscribers than the seventeen I started with.
Which brings me to a recent visit to Sumner Fitness, the gym where Peter sees a physical therapist. Because it is far away, I bring a book and sit in the waiting room during his forty-minute appointment.
Imagine my surprise when a fit, older woman approached me and asked if my name was Judy. An 81-year-old, she has been working out at the gym for years. More important (to me), she has been reading this blog for ten years. She knew that we had moved to Washington, and she recognized me from my photo on the website.
We chatted for a few minutes and she went on her way.
Peter and I have been classical music fans forever. Occasionally, while listening to music on the radio, we’ll hear a “warhorse” we recognize but can’t name.
The other day when we couldn't decide who had written a very familiar piece playing on the local classical music station, we decided we’d have to wait for the announcer to tell us.
I then had a vivid childhood memory.
I lived in a small two-family house in Cincinnati, Ohio from ages four to nine. Every Saturday morning I would lie on the floor in my parents’ bedroom listening to “Let’s Pretend” a then-popular radio program. At the end of each broadcast, the announcer would say “Next week on Let’s Pretend…” at which point, my older brother Don would magically appear, and fake a huge sneeze so that I couldn’t hear what was coming next.
It infuriated me.
So the other day, when the announcer was about to name the piece of music we had been listening to, I gave some thought to sneezing à la Don.
The torrential rain on Sunday flooded nearby streets, but thanks to my childhood friend who offered to drive and knows DC like the back of her hand, Peter and I were able to attend a benefit concert for Friendship Place at the French Embassy.
This was Peter’s first major outing since he broke his femur in February, and it felt very normal to have him by my side at a chamber music concert. Members of the National Symphony Orchestra donate their time to this fund-raiser every year.
The concert was preceded by an inspiring talk given by a vibrant and upbeat, formerly chronically homeless man who credits Friendship Place with saving his life. Drug dependent, homeless and despondent for years, he is now employed, has an apartment, a car and credit cards in his wallet. That morning, he reported, he had run five miles in the rain
The French Embassy is modern and vast. The barricades and security checks at the entrance were sad to see, but once inside, it didn’t matter. The players charmed the audience with their introductions to each piece, and their performances were delightful.
A wine reception followed the concert with beautiful fruit and cheese platters and a smattering of French being spoken.
Peter and I came home and wrote a check for Friendship Place.
Last week I spent four hours sorting and shelving mystery novels at Carpe Librum, a new bookstore. Like me, you may have said that when you retire, you’d like to work surrounded by all those books that you wished you had read. And now I am.
I am volunteering for Turning the Page, a non-profit organization that sells donated books in pop-up stores for a fraction of their cover price. The proceeds fund programs that bring parents and their kids into DC schools for enrichment programs. Turning the Page is the creation of a charismatic Georgetown Law School graduate whose talk about the organization’s remarkable accomplishments got me to volunteer.
During my weekly four-hour shift, I am surrounded by wonderful books, all donated, none selling for more than $5.00. Customers in this newly-opened store say how thrilled they are to see a book store opening in the same mall in which a chain bookstore had closed a couple of years ago.
After my first day, I noticed that my thigh muscles were complaining about having been used in unaccustomed ways as I sorted and shelved books.
A small price to pay for the pleasure of working for a good cause.
Every once in a while, I love a book. It’s even better when it’s a book I read almost by accident. And that’s what happened with Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.
In a hurry, I grabbed the book from the library simply because the cover noted that it was a Politics and Prose (a wonderful independent bookstore) “Staff Pick”. I now know that it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography in 2016.
The book is about trees and plants (Jahren is a geo-biologist) and about the author's relationship with her lab partner and best friend Bill. She alternates between a few pages about her work (I will never look at a tree the same way) and a few pages about her life. She makes the science easy and the personal parts compelling. Her complicated story made me laugh out loud at times. At the same time, she captures the poignancy of her life and its challenges.
This blog does not pretend to be a book review, but sometimes you gotta share.
On June 29, 1981, Peter and I arrived in London, with our eleven- and nine-year-old sons in tow, cranky after their first overseas flight. We were trading houses with a family in Blackheath, a London suburb, for a month. It was a momentous occasion, not because we were arriving, but because it was Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding day.
Twenty-nine years later, Seth, that cranky eleven-year-old became The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, and over six years, he wrote about seeing the world on a budget from fifty countries.
This week, Seth launched a YouTube channel, Globally Curious. The first five videos are up, and there will be a new one every Thursday.
Have a look comment, subscribe and share with a friend.
Rock Creek Park is one of the treasures of our nation’s capital. Located in northwest Washington, DC, the 3100-acre Park was designed by Frederic Law Olmstead.
Before last week, I had walked a Park trail for an hour or so a couple of times, and I had driven through it on my way to downtown DC. But I really came to appreciate it on an early Saturday morning Audubon-sponsored bird walk.
The two-hour walk started at the National Park Nature Center about a mile away from where I now live. The participants, except for me, were seasoned birders, and they saw more migrating warblers than I did. But a beautiful Barn Owl just feet away staring right back at us was what made my morning. I also loved the majestic trees, the cyclists whirling past in their multi-colored shirts, and two handsome stallions out for a spin.
It’s probably too late for me to start a life-list of birds that I have seen, but it was a delightful way to spend an early spring morning in Washington.
It’s three months since Peter broke his femur in a devastating fall on the campus of American University. The orthopedic surgeon who put a three-inch rod in Peter’s thigh warned us that many people his age do not survive such a traumatic event. He added that Peter’s having been on the treadmill just hours before he tripped was a good sign because survival depends largely on the patient’s condition before the fall.
We saw his surgeon last week. Peter negotiated the trip from the curb to his office with the help of a cane. Six weeks earlier, I had to push him to his first post-operative checkup in a wheelchair. The doctor was pleased with his progress. The appointment lasted five minutes.
After five weeks in the hospital and six weeks of being confined to our apartment with rehab at home, we are on a good trajectory. We go out for physical therapy now, and last weekend we had pizza with our grandkids (and their parents) in a restaurant.
My amazing husband has rarely complained about his situation unlike his grumpy caretaker (me). He is optimistic. He is determined. He’s also eighty-eight.
I am so proud—and so relieved.
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