Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Practicing to Be a Cool Old Lady

I don’t want anybody to be shocked when they see me when I go back to Jersey. I’ve really aged in the last year. It’s probably from the stress of losing my mother plus I turned fifty and I’m going through menopause. All of a sudden I have wrinkles all over the place and I’ve got this paunch in the middle that I see a lot of middle-aged women get. I’m not too worried about the paunch. I’ve watched all the women in my family get it when they went through menopause and then when they were done with the changes, a few years later, they got skinny again. I ride horses and take care of this whole farm myself so I’m not too worried about it. I’m very active. But the wrinkles. They’re not going away.

What bothers me about it is what other people are going to say. They will whisper, “Oh, what happened to Debi?” And “Debi looks terrible!” I know I look tired. I feel tired. I feel like I’ve been through the mill these last few years. If it wasn’t for what other people are going to think, I really wouldn’t care too much. It’s not like I’m going to let myself go. I’ll have blonde hair on my deathbed. But you can’t control everything.

The problem is, they haven’t seen me for eight years. We all age and I know they have wrinkles too. But they’ve seen each other regularly so I’m sure they don’t notice it in themselves like they’ll notice it in someone who they still think of as being forty-two years old, the age I was when I left. And then I’ll show up and I’ll be fifty. It’s like when someone dies. You always picture them the age they were when you lost them. But I’m coming back. And yeow! It’ll be a shock.

But who cares? I’m going to be a cool old lady. I knew this was going to happen sooner or later so I figured I better find a way to accept it. If I can’t look like a hot number when I’m old, at least I can be fun and make people smile. You know, like a Betty White type. So I’m practicing. One time I took a sip of water and spit it at Kelly. Got her right in the head too. I also race her up the stairs and I beat her because I cheat—the trick is I hold her until I get ahead of her. It helps if the dog’s involved because he grabs her by the ankles.

We talk with English accents. I encourage her to call me “Mum” and we stop whatever we are doing whenever Russell Brand comes on the TV so we can study him and make people chuckle. (They often chuckle in England whereas we Americans tend to laugh or giggle.) Today in Cato’s, Kelly held up a shirt and I exclaimed, “That’s quite lovely!” Kelly said, “I know Mum. It’s splendid, isn’t it?” Kurt told the clerk, “They’re not really British you know.”

I’ve also been practicing in Walmart. It’s so dreary in there—what better place to spread some joy? I always talk to everyone anyway. Now I go out of my way to do it.

I make a point of using the cashier’s name. “Thanks a lot Ruby. You have a great day.” They always look surprised that I read their name tag and used their name. Like it actually took effort. You get easy credit for this one.

I make jokes to strangers in the aisles. “Now if only I could hit the lottery I could buy some meat to go with all these snacks!” (We’re big on snacks in this house; hence the paunch mentioned earlier.)

I always stop and chat with the greeters because they get a bad rap. Like that’s an easy job. I’m fifty and I couldn’t stand on my feet all day long like they do. Most of them are senior citizens and they don’t even let them sit down. Why can’t they say hello from a stool? Why isn’t there a stool on the side so they can at least take a load off when no one comes in?

And I try to be helpful. “I get the store brand salsa,” I told a woman who looked confused, her hand hovering back and forth between the Pace and Chi-Chi’s. “The lime and garlic,” I advised. “It’s delicious and you get a lot more for the money.”

One time I had such a long conversation with a woman on line at the deli counter that I found out she’d lost a child and she was raising her grandchild, the state where she was from, the kind of work her husband did, her middle name and why she was named that, what kind of cold cuts she was buying and the theme for the party she was throwing on Saturday. She was wearing a butterfly pendant on a gold necklace. I didn’t tell her about my mother. You know, and how she loved butterflies. I didn’t have to because I felt so good making that lady feel good, that’s what I was busy doing. When she got her order, she reached out and squeezed my arm. “It was so nice talking to you!”

All day long I felt good. I noticed, when I looked in the rearview mirror driving home, that I was smiling. And there in the corner of my eyes were big crow’s feet. And somehow, they didn’t look so bad.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


All my flowers are blooming. The first one that came up was my mother’s. It’s a tulip. Jamie’s boyfriend Lou’s mother gave it to her when she was first in the hospital. She wasn’t allowed to have any plants or flowers in her room so she gave it to me because she knew I wouldn’t kill it. No one else in my family gardens. I carried it down to Virginia in its pot covered with crinkly pink foil. It was carefully wedged between a suitcase and a cooler filled with pork roll and cannolis from the Italian bakery. I planted it next to my back steps so I could see it all the time. It died right away. I thought that was a bad sign. And I was right. My mother died too.

The following spring I fixed up that little area by the back steps. I put mulch down and made a border out of Kelly’s collection of glass insulators. The colored glass looks really pretty when the sun is shining. I put an old tin watering can there that my neighbor from Jersey gave to me because she knew I liked old things. I put a metal sculpture of a grasshopper there that my mother bought for Kelly’s room when she was a baby. I added a couple of pretty rocks that I found, one with white streaks of quartz in the shape of a cross (I considered selling that one on eBay—“Woman sees Jesus on a stone!”), and another rock shaped just like Jersey. I put a dot on the spot where the winery house would be with black Magic Marker.

Then, when I was in Peebles, they had one of those fake rocks for sale that you hide your house key inside. I would never hide my house key in one of those because everyone knows what they’re for. Might as well hide it under the doormat if you want to be stupid. But I liked it because it had a copper plate in the middle with a picture of a butterfly on it. My mother loved butterflies. So I bought it and I put it right in the middle of the little plot of earth by my steps. Every time I go up and down, I look at it and think about my mother.

Last week I was on my hands and knees weeding when I spotted something green sticking out from underneath the fake rock. I picked it up. It was the tulip! Two springs have gone by since it died and here it was again, nosing up through the mulch, muscling its way from underneath the fake rock that was on top of it.

I took that as a sign. I really don’t know what kind of sign it is. Hope? A sign that my mother lives on even when I thought she was gone? A simple sign of spring? I don’t know. But it’s something good.