SO WHAT’S NOSTALGIZING?

Nostalgizing is a new word for me. I discovered it in a New York Times article: Tierney, John. What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows. The New York Times, 8 July, 2013.

I needed to re-read the essay for reassurance that feelings of nostalgia I’ve been experiencing with some frequency could very well be positive. (The Oxford dictionary defines nostalgia as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.)

Just the other day, I made the trip from my new home in Raleigh to Chapel Hill where we used to live, about half an hour away, to meet a friend for lunch. We moved three months ago, yet as I walked up the steps to the restaurant, memories flooded my mind. I recalled that I had sat at one of the outside wooden benches with a writer consultant that helped me put together a proposal for a grant I didn’t get. How enthusiastic I had been. And once an acquaintance stopped me in front of the counter with coffee carafes to tell me she enjoyed an essay I had published in the local newspaper—the closest I ever came to having a fan club.

When I left the restaurant, I felt a pull to return to my old home, to be back where the grandkids visited us in that tree-lined cul-de-sac. They graduated from babbling in strollers to riding tricycles, to skate boards and on to bicycles. They made friends with the neighbors’ children. Of course, I see them more often after our move since we live a lot closer but those remembrances doggedly follow me.

Tierney’s essay describes the work of Constantine Sedikides’, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology, a pioneer in the study of nostalgia. Sedikides’ findings show that nostalgia is a way of thinking about the past. “ . . . topics are universal—reminiscences about friends and family members, holidays, weddings, songs, sunsets, lakes. The stories tend to feature the self as the protagonist surrounded by close friends.”

“Nostalgic stories aren’t simple exercises in cheeriness, though. The memories aren’t all happy, and even the joys are mixed with a wistful sense of loss. But on the whole, the positive elements greatly outnumber the negative elements . . .”

Some positive outcomes of nostalgizing include feeling less lonely or depressed, “having stronger feelings of belonging and affiliation,” and becoming “more generous toward others.”

I was reassured when I read that nostalgizing increases with age and “helps us deal with transitions.”

An old friend is coming to visit. Our first houseguest. She is especially flexible, thank goodness, since our new home is in a state of disruption. I look forward to showing her around the neighborhood and the city. But what I am really looking forward to is our trips down memory lane covering 40 years of friendship. We will be nostalgizing together.

Afterthought: I have kept a short essay by Robert Oren Butler since 1994 that moves me every time I read it.

 Nostalgia by Robert Olen Butler

“A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable condition in the past . . .”

When the word came into common usage in America in the early nineteenth century, nostalgia, a sickness for home, was considered a form of insanity. This is not a surprising attitude for a new country driven to explore, to expand, to push on to a far sea—even at times conquering and dispossessing others in search of a new place. Now, after nearly two centuries have passed, we have settled into a sort of national middle age and nostalgia has become a cultural virtue. Golden-oldies radio stations and movie remakes, Elvis stamps and classic cars, the moral certitudes of the Gulf War and of Family Values: We have now institutionalized the backward look, the moist eye for where we’ve been.

But for me, nostalgia is this: When I was studying the Vietnamese language in an Army school in Arlington, Virginia, my teacher was a young Vietnamese woman who had come to America for the love of an American soldier. It was 1970 and she had grown up near the ancient city of Hue with the sounds of war thumping and chattering through most of her childhood like the angry ghosts of the tales her mother told. She was happy with her man here, happy with her job, happy with the televisions and the rock ‘n’ roll and the frozen foods and with her Ford Mustang convertible and with the night sky that would flare only with lightning. But when the sunset came and they fired the ceremonial cannon over at Fort Myer, she would weep. The sound of cannon fire made her think about Hue, and she would grow sick with yearning for home.

Self, January 1994.th-1

 

HOLDING ON

We met soon after my husband and I moved into a house in a forested community in Chapel Hill. Still working full time, I took my long walks over the weekend. As I trudged up a particularly steep hill, an older man wearing a floppy hat and listing slightly towards the right, ambled towards me. Happy to meet someone from the neighborhood, I stopped to speak with him. He told me that he was a retired physiology professor and strolled the neighborhood trails twice a day to “keep in shape.” When we parted, he touched the brim of his hat and said, “Good day.”

So dignified, I thought.images

The professor and I met sporadically until I retired. Now, each year, after the winter yields to spring, I run into him a few times a week. I know that he takes a different path in the morning and afternoon. Sometimes when we meet, he just tips his floppy hat as I pass by. Other times we stop to banter about the weather, or how fast I walk, or how slow he walks.

Once we strolled a while together as he spoke of hearing loss, memory problems, and stiffness in his joints.

“My neighbor always tells me to ‘take care.’ What do I have to take care of?” He laughed. “I’m eighty-eight years old.” He stopped to catch his breath and his smile faded

“Walking is a good way to slow the aging process.”

“Yep,” I agreed. His words unearthed my own fear of getting older. I wanted to hug him, pump him up with clichés of “use it or lose it” and encourage him to “keep on truckin.”

I did none of those things. I smiled and picked up my pace.

Somehow the professor’s longevity has become bound up in my own fear of deterioration. I want him to keep his mind sharp and his conversation snappy. I don’t want him to wear out.

Weeks pass by before I see his familiar shape again: a thin man listing to the right, trudging down the road. The signature floppy hat.

I rev up my pace. When I sidle beside him, he smiles his bucktooth smile. He dark face wrinkles and crumples his eyes into slits. He lifts his hand to the rim of his cap.

“I haven’t seen you for a while,” I say.

“Well, you know the weather has been cold and I’ve been busy with my income tax. Got to find all the information. Takes a while.”

“Guess I’ll see you more now that the weather is getting mild.” Before he can respond I add, as casually as I can, “By the way, we have been talking to each other for a few years now and I never did learn your name.”

His name is Joe. His last name is a string of consonants. He spells it out for me. I know that this is a name I’ll recognize if it appears in the obituary section in our local newspaper.

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Trotting along side of him, I note his slower pace. He looks a little thinner. He makes some comment about never being able to catch up with me. We laugh. I jog ahead as he trudges behind me.

Two days later, I spot the professor in Dillard’s department store on the arm of a white haired woman wearing a deep red jacket. Her lips match her coat. Her eyes are bright and alert. Her posture’s perfect. I approach them. He recognizes me. He smiles.

“This is my wife, Helen, she just had a bad fall and I’m holding her up.” This is probably a well-worn joke between them because they both laugh.

I tell Helen that I run into her husband frequently on either his morning or afternoon walk to different parts of the neighborhood.

“Oh, he walks the same path morning and afternoon now,” she says. “The afternoon way became too hilly for him.”

He nods. His eyes look unhappy. When did that happen?

After we chat a bit more, I say as I turn to leave, “See you on your walk later.”

“No” he answers, “This shopping trip will tire me out. I won’t be walking this afternoon.”

Again, I sense sadness in his voice, or is it my own sadness?

I circle the cosmetic counter so I can watch the professor and his wife clinging to each other as they saunter towards the men’s department. He lists towards her, their heads almost touching as they talk and walk. It disheartens me that aging is wearing him down but I’m glad to know that he has someone to hold on to.

WHAT I LEARNED

 

I am writing my memoir because of what I learned when I ran a clinic on the tenth floor of a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) high-rise twenty years ago. All my patients were over sixty years of age. I was an inexperienced nurse practitioner and new to working with older people.

I learned that older folks were generally accepting and forgiving.

old-man-drinking-whiskey-and-smokingI learned that a few drank too much, hired prostitutes, carried guns in their purses, and chewed tobacco.

I learned that some sold their medicine for street drugs or money and some were abusive and some were abused.

I learned that not all families wanted to care for their older members and that family members, who suddenly showed up when someone was dying, might not be family.

I learned that most of them enjoyed sex.

I learned that loneliness was the most pervasive condition among the group.

I learned 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.

I learned 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.

I learned 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.

I learned that a sense of humor was a requirement when working with the elderly.

And I learned that some of my patients were impossible to forget.

PF-Elderlybridge_1201447c

 

FEAR OF GETTING OLDER (FOGO)

 

FOGO

 

It isn’t often that I applaud a drug company. In fact, I can’t remember if I ever have.

Here’s to Pfizer for creating an initiative to stimulate dialogue about getting older, which was described in the New York Times business section this past Wednesday (Elliott, Stuart. Pfizer to Inject Youth Into the Aging Process. The New York Times, 16 July 2014: B9. Print).

Pfizer has set up a website, getold.com, with links to Facebook and Twitter. The main audience is those in their 20s and 30s. Topics revolve around the affirmative aspects of aging, like “Why sex can be better when you’re older” and a story of 90-year-old who runs marathons. Okay, I admit a bit sensational but the emphasis is on the positive.

I only hope Pfizer’s effort to portray the elderly in a flattering light will help diminish ageism which is so prevalent in our society.

Thank you Pfizer.

I challenge you to take the FOGO quiz.

Out of the Shadows by Marianna Crane

Wrote this for ElderChicks yesterday.

ElderChicks

Writing I love reading all the ElderChick posts by women my age. Such a varied, interesting and involved group. Many are writing memoirs as I am and if we all get published just think what an education we are giving the rest of society! No more “invisible” older women!

Ten years ago, right after I retired as a nurse practitioner, I began to take my “hobby” of writing seriously. I have been lucky to get some of my stories published. My memoir about my nursing career is almost completed. Now I am learning about the rapidly changing aspects of publication.

I am grateful for my energy, health and curiosity that permits me to enjoy this season of my life. (Feel free to visit my blog at https://nursingstories.org/).

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TIMING IN LIFE IS EVERYTHING

The policewoman at the Motor Vehicle Agency said she would make me look great. She must have read my mind. I was sick of having a drab face looking back at me whenever I took out my North Carolina Drivers License. Earlier that morning I had rummaged through a motley assortment of make-up supplies in my bathroom. After I applied blush, eye shadow, mascara and a bright pink lipstick, I left the house with a blue blouse and my best earrings. I was 70 years old, and I didn’t want to look it.

Government_DPMC-Motor-Vehicle-Agency_02_thumbThe motor vehicle agency near my home wasn’t busy. After I took the driver’s exam and vision test, the policewoman, short, thin and intense, lead me to a cubby in the corner of the room with a blue curtain covering the wall behind a chair. “Okay,” she said. “Sit up straight, shoulders back, big smile. I’m going to make you look great.” Had I wandered into a professional’s photography studio by mistake? She fussed at me like she had every intention of keeping her word.

I sat long minutes on a metal folding chair before the policewoman handed me my new driver’s license. In the picture my eyes were open and I had a sweet expression on my face. I did look great.

Like my husband, Ernie, always said, timing is life is everything. I wanted a good picture and here was a woman on duty that day just waiting for me to walk through the door.

“You did a wonderful job,” I told her.

As I ambled out, she called after me, “Keep all your drivers’ licenses so you can document the aging process.”

That did it. I would get older and my pictures would all be downhill from there. I decided to be proactive. Off I drove to the mall and marched into Macy’s cosmetic section where I balanced on a high stool while a pretty blond young lady slathered various cosmeticsliquids, pastes and powders on my cheeks, eyes and lips. Her enthusiasm and positive comments about my “good” skin soften me to buy a number of products that fit into a 3 by 5-inch cosmetic bag at a cost well over a $100. Not to worry, my husband would be appeased when he saw how beautiful I looked.

When I came home, Ernie was busy in the kitchen. He turned and looked at me. Nothing. Later we sat out on the screen-porch enjoying a glass of wine before dinner. His glance took me in. I was certain that my bright eyes, now lined with #10 dark chocolate eye liner and black lash doubling mascara would knock him off his wicker chair. Nothing. I put on the overhead light. “It’s a bit dim in here,” I said bending toward him, my face close to his. Nothing.

Finally, after we discussed various topics of mutual interest without so much as a raised eyebrow from the man, I said, “Don’t you notice anything new about me?” I smiled with #303 crystal pink lips outlined with #105 plush pink. Ernie’s face paled. He knew the ultimate test of a husband’s true love for his wife was his ability to detect what was different about her. Ernie stopped short of breaking into a sweat as he scanned me: feet to the top of my head.

“New sandals,” he said.

“No, I’ve had these for years.” I could almost see his brain shift to high gear.

“You have a new top?”

“No.”

“Earrings?”

“No.”

I decided to put him out of his misery. “I had a full make-up application. Can’t you see how beautiful I am?”

Without missing a beat, this seasoned husband of 40 years said, “But you always look so beautiful.”

I smiled at his response. Then I told him how much I paid for the cosmetics.

THE BIASED EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

On Monday mornings I flip the pages of the New York Times past the international and national news to the New York City Metropolitan Diary. Here stories are written by New Yorkers about happenings in their daily life. The stories make me laugh, cry, or shake my head—only in New York.

This story, written on November 14 by Susan Heath entitled, Beauty on the Bus, delighted me. So I decided to refer to it on my next Post.

This is the story:

A few mornings ago, our 86-year-old neighbor, elegantly dressed and perfectly made up as usual, knocked on our apartment door. “This is for your wedding anniversary,” Ruth said, and gave me one of her wonderful light-up-the-day smiles, an enchanting orchid plant and a big kiss. (My partner and I got married a year ago after 23 years of living together, and that day Ruth gave us a bamboo plant in an elephant pot, signifying long-lasting happiness.)

We chatted for a minute and then, her bright blue eyes twinkling, she said: “May I tell you something? I’m just a bit embarrassed about this, but I have to tell someone.”

It had happened that weekend. Ruth was on the M104, going up Broadway, sitting in one of those front seats they keep for old people. A youngish man came forward and stopped right in front of her.

 “Can I ask you something?” he said. “Do you know how beautiful you are? Your hair is so gorgeous, and your outfit is magnificent. May I take your picture?”

 Although Ruth was a little disconcerted, she said yes and the stranger took her photograph and (somewhat to Ruth’s relief) got off the bus.

 Then a young woman a few seats away called out, “I agree, you’re perfectly dazzling,” and several people shouted from the back, “He’s right, you know.” And suddenly everyone in the almost-full bus was shouting agreement and clapping like mad!

 “I’ve never seen anything like it,” the bus conductor told Ruth as she got out at her stop.

 And I said to her: “They’re right, you know. You are stunningly beautiful. New Yorkers always know best.”

 

Then I searched for pictures that would represent older, well-clad women I could use for my post. Most were from Ari Seth Cohen’s book Advanced Style.olderwomaninblack (Maybe he was the youngish man on the bus?) I had written about him in a past post, Sob Sisters.  His book showcases extremely lovely older women.  But when I tapped into pictures of less stunning women, run-of-the-mill women and 5372301-very-old-woman-face-covere-with-wrinkles-closeup-photosome very wrinkled old women, I became uneasy.  Were these women not lovely in their own way, too?

Are we trapping women in a category? Women of means who buy up-scale clothes, apply make up perfectly and walk down 5th Avenue to be seen. A small cache of exceptional older women that the rest of us women of a certain age should emulate?

I remember the ‘50s.  All women clumped together as an entity.  Dress alike. Act alike. Accepting the direction by a paternalistic society: make babies, the harder a wife works_nbake bread, and not worry our pretty little heads about anything important—leave that to the men.

Thank goodness for women’s lib of the ‘60s. Women decided that the yardstick for success should be determined by the women themselves.

I think we need another round of consciousness raising.

Getting Older

I promptly lost my first Medicare card. When I opened the envelope and saw the red, white and blue border, I was reminded of the elderly I cared for over twenty years ago when I was a gerontological nurse practitioner. I ran a not-for-profit clinic in a converted one-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of a senior citizen highrise in Chicago. How many times had I asked to see someone’s Medicare card? Most of my patients were poor, illiterate and had multiple health problems. So when I first looked at my card, I could only remember loneliness, despair and disability. This couldn’t be happening to me. And, poof, the card was gone.

Slowly other patients strolled into my memory. Mildred, blind and lived alone, always asked me to put her kitchen cabinets back in order after her daughter visited. Margie, ninety-something with an Irish brogue, came down to the clinic, laughing as she told us how she chased away the prostitutes with her broom. The prostitutes frequently slipped into the building to solicit and rob the older men.

But Helen was my favorite. She lived in an apartment next to the clinic. She dropped in when I wasn’t busy. She called me Kiddo.  She had one son who hardly visited but I rarely heard her complain—about anything. She was the one who taught me not to be uncomfortable talking about death.

Of course, I know older people live longer and are healthier than years ago. I now have the time to write, paint and play with grandchildren. I would like to go back in time and share my experiences of aging with Mildred, Margie and Helen. These resilient women would laugh when I tell them how I lost my first Medicare card.

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