We don’t give a rip what anybody thinks.

At the beach this week.

Rebologged from May 22, 2019.

I talked to my friend Lois the other day. She was telling me how she is orchestrating a skit for Talent Night at her church. “It’s silly,” she said. “It’s a skit that I have done years ago with my family.” 

What caught my attention was the fact that Lois is selling this idea to a group of similar older folks by asking, “Who can get down on their knees?” Only two out of 10 said they could get down on their knees (and, I suppose could get up again). Well, that was all Lois needed because the skit calls for two folks to be animals. She also told her church group that she is not telling them what the skit is about because they have to be “spontaneous.” On top of that, Lois is working on what the “Choir” will sing. I have the inside scoop that Lois is writing alternative rhymes to common ditties, such as Old MacDonald had a Farm.  

Now think about this, here is a group of elder church members who are willing to participate in a skit when they have no idea what it is about, agree to be spontaneous, get down on their knees in order to be animals, and sing farcical words to familiar melodies in front of the church congregation! 

Lois made the point that at a certain age it no longer bothers us old timers to join in comical entertainment. Why should we care how we are perceived at this late stage of our lives? 

So, when I read Tim Hoyt’s, latest story, Playing with Young Minds, under his weekday missive, Story with Morning Coffee, I thought of Lois and her giddy church group. Tim’s story is silly, too, but underneath the seemingly simplistic premise is a profound lesson about growing older.  

 

Stories for Morning Coffee and No Eggs

 

by Tim Hoyt

~Playing with Young Minds~

“Age is just a number.”  I hear that all the time, mostly from men and women who are doing pretty well in spite of knees that don’t think about running a mile any longer and chests that keep on pumping in and out figuring, with proper attitude, they’ve got plenty more good days.  

“Yeah, and it’s a big number,” I say back to anyone who implies that being eighty-six is anything like being forty-six.  Sometimes, I devise devilish mind experiments with them in giant glass test tubes.   

I understand attitude. Attitude is everything when you’re eighty-six.

I’m Samuel if you want to call me something.  Samuel Perkins.  There are a number of things I like about being old.  I like the respect I get from most young people.  They call me “sir.”  That’s kinda sweet.  In my twisted mind, which is short on synapses and long on memories, “sir” translates to “Yikes-a-geezer.”  But they mean well.  They offer to carry my groceries.  I let them sometimes. Occasionally, when one of their tribe is particularly obsequious, like they’re trying to earn a merit badge or something, I’ll hand them five dollars and say, “Here’s five dollars.  Go turn it into ten dollars.”  Everyone my age got that story beat into them in Sunday School. Youngsters under forty haven’t a clue.  But they leave me alone.  “Yikes-a-geezer” is in a foul mood today, they think, and they walk quickly away, probably rethinking the merit inherent in Social Security and Medicare programs.  

So, what do I want to happen today?  Today, being typical of most days.  I want most days to be atypical.  I want life to jump up and smack my behind and surprise the daylights out of me.  

This past Easter, Patrick, my buddy for so long, we forget how we met (not really – that’s just something we tell the Yikes-a-Geezer crowd) and I walked down Central Street holding hands.  Patrick wore his bunny suit.  He skipped and carried a basket of candy which he passed out to gawking little kids.  I was his handler. Patrick-the-Easter-Bunny, obviously, didn’t talk.   I would say, “Now, now, Easter Bunny, we must visit all the children before midnight.  Dad’s laughed.  Mothers just stared at us with pity.  Kids were delighted. 

Why on earth do we do things like this?  Because we don’t give a rip what anybody thinks.  That’s not entirely true, but it is pretty true.  Patrick and I made our marks.  Each of us got an education, made a good living, married, raised a family, paid the mortgage, volunteered for fund-raisers, and a lot more.  We contributed.

At eighty-four and eighty-six,  Patrick and I are secure in who we are.  The self-doubt boat docks in a younger neighborhood now.  

Now, we can be Easter Bunnies (I wore the suit last year). A few months ago, I was roaming through a re-sale store and spotted an old guitar missing some strings, and a damaged ukulele. Patrick and I put on a street concert.  Our sign said, “Lessons Available, Cheap.”  Such fun.  And no self-consciousness whatsoever.  That ship sailed long ago, too.

Patrick asked me if I would like join him and ride our bicycles in the Naked Pride Parade this year. He’s making that up and he knows I know he’s making it up, but I say, “Sure, what should I not wear?” 

Milestone Birthday

I celebrated my last milestone birthday ten years ago in Paris. I thought this current milestone would find me riding on an elephant like Gloria Steinem on her 80th. Instead, my husband and I will drive three hours to the North Carolina Coast and spend two weeks in an oceanfront rental on the beach. My immediate family: son and his significant other, daughter, her husband, and three grandsons (with or without their friends) will spend time with us as work and school allows. I won’t play host, cook communal meals, or direct social events.

Besides taking pleasure in my family’s company, I’ll take long walks on the beach, relish fresh fish dinners from nearby restaurants or cooked by volunteer family chefs, sit at the water’s edge reading or watch the sea gulls dive for fish.

In the evening, I shall sit on the open deck and count the stars while the ocean waves break on the shore.

I plan to bring my watercolors in case the mood moves me. Possibly, after my writing has lain fallow for the last few months, I might revisit my “second memoir.” Many memorable events, especially in my younger days, have taken place by the ocean. I’ll indulge myself with introspection by digging deep to uncover details of my past so I can smile, laugh, or perhaps cry.

While I’ll always have Paris, this milestone birthday celebration may prove to be more memorable.

Happy Birthday to me!

Art in My Life: Unfinished

As a child, I drew as I sat in the floral upholstered chair in front of our old 14-inch TV in the living room while I watched comedy shows like a popular sitcom, I married Joan.

I was encouraged by my freshman art teacher in high school to continue drawing. She told me to make sure to sign up for the art committee for the school yearbook. I did neither. 

I did draw several pictures for my Catholic nursing school yearbook: the Blessed Mother Mary, a student nurse holding rosary beads in one hand and a diploma in the other, and a caduceus.

When I went back in school to get my baccalaureate degree in nursing, I took two extracurricular courses: appreciation of art and clay molding. My clay dog was stolen in class as it was “drying out.”  While I admired the thief’s good taste in art, I never did another clay animal. 

When my two children were babies, I drew their sleeping faces. I kept notebooks filled with sketches as they grew. I took my first painting class—in oils. The class was held in a high school my children would both attend in a few years. We had a substitute. He was mostly silent except when we asked for help. Maybe he figured he would let our talent bloom rather than be stymied by instruction. I never went to the last class. I schlepped the 20 by 16 oil portrait of a nobleman though all our moves. His picture was from the cover of a magazine called American Artist, November 1965. I liked it. But I never finished it. 

Oils at that time proved too messy. I took a long hiatus while I worked full time as a nurse. Some time in my forties, when we lived in the DC area, I attended classes sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute. The instructors were impressive and talented. I was not. 

Soon after I retired, I took art classes at a Senior Center. The instructor played classical music while we students followed along by copying what he was painting. From his classes, I brought home partially completed canvases, mostly seascapes. I couldn’t keep up with the instructor, a former street artist in New Orleans, who put out ocean scenes with sea oats and seagulls gliding across blue skies. The hordes of passing tourists gobbled up his finished canvases. I had been planning to finish mine for years. But how many seascapes did I need? 

I have one good picture. It’s of apples. It took me a year to finish. The teacher, a man in his 80s, circulated among the students, individually giving instructions, or more often, sat beside us, took our brushes, and painted on our canvases while he told stories of his life in Budapest during WW II. Most times, I took the picture home with me and painted over his work. If he noticed, he never said anything. However, we all loved him. During class, as I waited for him to get around to me, I socialized among my fellow students. I took his classes for a year until he died. I didn’t finish another painting other than the apple painting, but I did make a lot of friends. 

I’ve never had a room of my own to paint in until five years ago when we moved to a town house. Now I have an office with a table on which I can leave a mess of art paraphernalia. My closet is filled with half-finished canvases, and blocks of various papers along with tubes of watercolor and acrylic paints plus pastels and charcoal, colored pencils, ink pens, many brushes, one standing and two table-top easels, and a portfolio carrier. I could give art lessons to a class of Kindergartners for a school year and still send them home with supplies over the summer break.   

I sit in my office finishing this essay. Outside my window, our neighbor’s crape myrtle wears its autumn coat of burnt orange leaves and brown berries. The bright sun makes diamonds of the leaves as they toss in the wind.

I decide that I’ll assemble my abundant painting supplies and capture the sight. This time I’ll complete the picture. 

Olden Days of Nursing: Navy Nurse

When I came across Navy Nurse: Memoir of a WWII Veteran, on Google, I said to myself: yes, finally a book about the olden days of nursing by a nurse who lived through the times. Helen Barry Siragusa was 98 when the book was published last year. A Navy nurse during World War II, she worked stateside in a Navy Hospital. Her remarkable memory and attention for detail is evident throughout her book. I bought the E-edition and read it on my computer over two evenings. 

Truth be told, I skimmed over the early pages of personal history about her grandparents and parents, and her life growing up in New Jersey—I wanted to get to the nursing stories. But I did stop to enjoy her recollections of visiting New York City as a teenager and dancing to the Big Bands of that time: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. Siragusa saw Frank Sinatra singing his first solo, (not a pretty first impression) Polka Dots and Moonbeams, with Tommy Dorsey’s band. 

While Siragusa is 20 years older than I, her vivid accounts of her nursing career were very real to me: bed baths, back rubs and the camaraderie among the nurses. She describes a Striker frame, a bed that was used to prevent bed sores for patients who were immobile. I, also, recounted the Striker frame in my book. I believe that advancements in medicine and nursing during the early part of the 20th century moved at a slower pace than they do today. 

Again, I was blown away by Siragusa’s memory. She listed all the 33 patients on her ward B-11, the spinal injury ward at Saint Albans Naval Hospital, by name and history. There were 11 quadriplegics and 22 paraplegics. Of course, she would get to know these men since most would’ve remained on the ward long term. At the time, quads had a life expectancy of 2 years and paraplegics had 5 years. She witnessed the first car that was adapted for use by a quadriplegic.

Helen Barry Siragusa’s life as a nurse was cut short when she married and began raising her eight children. However, she was always a nurse. In her book she gives us her experience of the development and contribution of nursing during the early 20th century. All her nursing peers have since died. I am grateful to her for telling her nursing and patient stories that are enjoyable, educational, and poignant. 

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Navy Nurse: Memoir of a WW II Veteran

By Helen Barry Siragusa

From one of the few living World War II veterans comes this personal, inspiring, and remarkably detailed memoir. Helen Barry Siragusa takes us from her childhood in New Jersey during the Great Depression, through her career as a Navy nurse in a ward for paralyzed soldiers during and after World War II, to raising her eight children in Massachusetts, and finally to her home in Maine. Complemented by her beautiful photographs, her vivid storytelling reveals her as both an eternal optimist and a steely bearer of adversity. Death was her constant companion, and she was its counterpoint.

About Helen Barry Siragusa

AFTER GRADUATING from All Souls Nursing School in 1944, Helen Barry Siragusa was faced with a choice: be a nurse and a nun with the Sisters of Charity or join the Navy. She chose the Navy, changing her life and the lives of many others forever. For five of her eight Navy years, she cared for the most-injured soldiers of World War II at St. Albans Naval Hospital on Long Island. She worked in the paraplegic and quadriplegic ward, B-11, where the hope and perseverance of the injured boys and men stayed with her throughout her life. Along with her faith, these strengths carried her through many losses: the deaths of her beloved patients; the death of her Marine fiancé George, just months before their scheduled wedding; and the death of her husband and life-long companion Gus, the goofy and brilliant Navy flight surgeon who courted her at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. Follow Helen on the remarkable journey from her New Jersey childhood during the Great Depression, through her Navy career, to raising her eight children in Massachusetts, and finally to her home in Maine. Helen’s vivid storytelling reveals her as both an eternal optimist and a steely bearer of adversity. One of the few living World War II veterans, Helen gives us this personal, inspiring, and sharply detailed memoir.

Photos of the Patients I wrote about in my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers

This past Saturday, I received a box in the mail filled with old photos. The nurse practitioner who took my place when I left the Senior Center sent this delightful surprise. “Rita Wisniewski” (I changed all names in my book except for my immediate family) said in her note that sending me the pictures of the patients we both took care of was “long overdue.” Rita had read my book but due to illness was unable to come to the various venues in Chicago where I promoted the book 2019. Between ill health and the pandemic, Rita had forgotten about contacting me. 

Rita read my book and recognized many of the patients I wrote about. Thanks to Rita, now I have pictures of those who appeared in my book. 

Molly, a wiry, eighty-year-old woman with an Irish brogue, lived next door to Ms. Henry. She often dropped into the clinic to socialize rather than to seek care. She didn’t take medication, and rarely complained of aches or pains.  P 103

Jerry Johnson, mildly retarded, wiggled between us, (on the dance floor) gyrating and twisting with abandon. It was a raucous moment that transcended age and ability.  (At a retirement party) P 117

Lilly Parks, a strikingly attractive woman in her seventies, stuffed her shawl down the front of her dress, and staggered about the dance floor on her matchstick legs as if she was going into labor. I had heard she kept a silver handgun in her sock but that evening she must have left it at home since her slim ankles were surrounded only by her rolled-down stockings. She waddled around in the center of the room clutching her belly to hoots from an enthusiastic audience (same retirement party) P 117

Stella Bukowski: (Sitting in a wheelchair) A dirty blond wig sat askew on her head. Only one leg, which was covered with a wrinkled cotton stocking, extended past the skirt of her housedress, and her foot was encased in a heavy black orthopedic shoe.  She reeked of a sharp ammonia smell. Urine? P 144

A picture of me that I have never seen before. However, I remember the poster, which was one of my favorites. I don’t remember where the picture was taken. The picture is too faded to read the citation on the bottom of the poster. Maybe one of you older nurses will recognize the poster and get back to me with the answer. 

Health care today is changing

Today we need someone who can help us manage our health care needs in the hospital, the home, the HMO, the school, the workplace, in long term care and in the community. 

Today we need a provider who can teach us how to stay physically and mentally healthy and how to prevent illness and disease. 

Today we need access to specialty practitioners who can provide expert heath care for individuals and their families. 

Today more than ever we need an advocate who can deliver quality cost-effective care throughout all the stages of our lives.

Today, we need a Nurse

My Cousin Irene and the Bee Gees

My cousin, Irene, loved my post: A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently (June 6, 2017). In fact, she told me she occasionally watches the video I had added at the end, which is a Museum Workout at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art to the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. She loves the Bee Gees. Makes her want to get up and dance. And she has always loved to dance. She took dance lessons as a child.

She met both her husbands at a dance. When she lived in an independent living facility run by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, one of the nuns gave dance lessons twice a week. “Sister Denice had a life before she joined the sisterhood at 30,” Irene told me. Besides dance lessons, the facility held holiday dances with a live band. 

Irene recently moved to an assisted living facility because of mobility issues. She no longer dances but continues to watch the Museum Workout videoThe music makes her “dance in my head.”

When I talked with her a few days ago to wish her a belated happy 96th birthday, she suggested that I reblog that post. Truth be told, I had already reblogged the post under a new title: Time to Take a Break, June 16, 2020. It’s one of my feel-good posts. Music always takes me on a journey away from current reality. 

So, I’m reblogging A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently yet again for for Irene. Watch the video. Get up and dance. Or if, like my cousin Irene, you can’t get up and move to the music, dance in your head.

 

A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently

Originally posted on June 6, 2017

Yesterday, I went to the North Carolina Art Museum at 10 a.m. to move to music.

Two women led, followed by a man in a suit holding an open laptop channeling the songs that were mostly by the Bee Gees. The women, in sequined dresses and sneakers, stomped, marched, trotted in time with the music. Thirteen women and two men, ranging in age from 20 to 70 plus, followed behind, mimicking the women’s movements. We didn’t talk.

I felt exhilarated racing through the empty museum with music bouncing off the walls surrounded by other exuberant people. The moves were not stressful. I did most of them except balancing on one leg and I stopped halfway through the jumping jacks.

The group stopped intermittently in front of a piece of art: statue, still life, portrait, and continued to move/exercise in place. Short inspirational narratives, previously taped by Maira Kalman, punctuated the music. Normally, when I visit a museum, I would gaze at the art in quiet contemplation. This time my mind and body seemed as one, absorbing the stimuli transmitted from the environment, my thoughts suspended.

When the two women dropped to the floor, I felt as if someone turned off the lights. Lying among my fellow participants with arms and legs outstretched, I realized that fifty minutes had flown by.

Now the day after, the residual glow from yesterday remains with me.

My new goal is to have more days where I step out of the ordinary.

Thanks Monica Bill Barnes & Company!

Anna Bass,me,Monica Bell Barnes, Robbie Saenz de Viteri

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The first performance The Museum Workout appeared at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Check out the video of the performance. 

photograph by loulex for the New Yorker

Madame X, meet Ladies in Sequined Dresses and Sneakers. For “The Museum Workout,” which starts a four-week run on Jan. 19, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, Everywoman dancers of deadpan zaniness, guide tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before public hours, leading light stretching and group exercises as they go. Recorded commentary by the illustrator Maira Kalman, who planned the route, mixes with Motown and disco tunes. Might raised heart rates and squeaking soles heighten perception?

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Alphabet Challenge: F

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

F: France

For my seventieth birthday, my husband and I went on a Road Scholar trip to France. It was our second time to Paris but we had never been to Provence in the southeast region. 

poster hanging on our living room wall

Our travel companions proved to be a most congenial group. They all had traveled together on a previous Road Scholar trip and enjoyed each other’s company so much so that they signed up for another trip. We were lucky to join them.

I’m not sure I can top that trip for camaraderie, great food, magnificent sites and pastoral, relaxing scenery. However, it’s not too soon to think of my next milestone birthday In 2022. Maybe something a little more adventurous than a placid trip to the French countryside. 

Gloria Steinem, my idol, went to India and rode an elephant on her 80th

This is what 80 looks like.

Alphabet Challenge: E

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

E: Eckhart Apartment

In the mid 80’s I worked in a clinic on the tenth floor of a subsidized building for the elderly on the west side of Chicago. The twenty-story apartment building proved to be a training ground for me: an inexperienced nurse practitioner and new to working with older people.  

I learned:

            that older folks were generally accepting and forgiving. That they enjoyed sex.   Some of them drank too much, hired prostitutes, carried guns in their purses, and chewed tobacco. Some sold their medicine for street drugs or money. Some were abusive and some were abused.

            that not all families wanted to care for their older members. That loneliness was the most pervasive condition among the group. I learned that family members, who suddenly showed up when someone was dying, might not be family. 

            how to plan a funeral, hand over firearms to the local police precinct, how to put folks in a nursing home, transfer them to an emergency room, and commit them to a psychiatric hospital.  

            to listen to a person’s story before I examined her. And that making a home visit told me more than I could ever learn from an office visit.

            that I didn’t need the support from a highly educated and professional staff but from people who were caring and didn’t walk away from a problem. And I learned that a sense of humor was a requirement when working with the elderly.

Letting It Go

I connected with Antoinette Truglio Martin over a year ago when I sent her a text to learn about her experience with She Writes Press and finding a publicist. She was so helpful. And I have since spotlighted her book: Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer.
I enjoy her Sunday posts: Weekend Coffee Share. I join her at her kitchen table while she shares her feelings and life events of the past week. She seems like a friend whom I have known for years.
Her most recent post spoke of her decision to let her hair go natural. Since I am a strong believer that women of a certain age shouldn’t try to emulate youth but serve as role models showing that aging is not a negative life stage, I am reblogging her post.
I hope you enjoy her post, Letting It Go, as much as I did.

Stories Served Around The Table

Frozen | Let It Go Sing-along | Official Disney UK

Dark and generously thick hair is a dominant family trait for the women on both sides of my DNA tree. But as years tumble forward, our heads fade to gray well before the mindset of middle age. Each generation of women had their method to combat and come to terms with the inevitable. My maternal grandmother enjoyed regular salon visits when she retired. Her hair looked like a blue helmet. The steeliness of her hair color was evident even when she twirled and set pin curls in a net for the night. My mom fought the gray with home dye colors. Her choice was a flat black, very close to her natural color but without the light brown tints. She spent the evening with her head covered in a plastic bag and scrubbing the drips of excess black streams off…

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An Unethical Question

You May Be Only as Old as You Feel was a thought-provoking read in the New York Times on Tuesday October 22nd by Emily Laber-Warren.

Warren noted that studies show “(W)hen scientists ask, ‘How old do you feel, most of the time?’ the answer tends to reflect the state of people’s physical and mental health.”

Therefore, folks who feel younger are usually healthier than those who feel their age or older. Not surprising. On a lark, I asked Helen, whom I wrote about in my last blog, how old she feels. She just turned 80 and looks much younger, is exercising, and now doesn’t need her blood pressure medication anymore. She said she feels 50! Again, not surprising.

Then I felt guilty asking Helen that question because Tracey Gendron, a gerontologist, questions subjective age research. She thinks that asking the question is perpetuating our cultural bias that aging is fundamentally negative.

The essay stated that in some “cultures where elders are respected for their wisdom and experience, people don’t even understand the concept of subjective age.”

Furthermore, Dr. Gendron suggests that “the study of subjective age may be inherently unethical.”  She goes on to say, “I think we have to ask ourselves the question, are we feeding the larger narrative of aging as decline by asking that question? Older age is a time that we can actually look forward to. People really just enjoy who they are. I would love for everyone to say their age at every year and  celebrate it”

I agree with Dr. Gendron. There are so many subtle “beliefs” in our society that undermine positive aging. I revisited a past post of mine Rethinking How to Handle this Age Issue. I wrote that post not only to promote being proud of our age—at whatever age we are, and as a reminder not to support the premise that old age means decline.

I listed on the Rethinking post a wonderful resource that I will again cite: Old School: An Anti-Aging Clearing House that educates about ageism so we know ageism when we see it.

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