Channeling Peggy Lee
by Liz Flaherty
There are times — long, achy days of a bad knee and raging sinuses and throbbing finger joints — when I resent that I’m 50some and tumbling inexorably down the wrong side of the middle age slope. Is this all there is? I whine, channeling Peggy Lee. Have I worked all these years so I could afford to go more places and see and do more things just to learn I’m too old, too sore, and too damn tired?
I have time, now that I no longer preside over carpools, hold down bleachers, or operate a short-order kitchen and 24-hour laundry, to read all I want to. I have stacks of books and magazines beside my chair, along with a strong reading lamp, a spot for my coffee cup, and a blanket to cover my cold feet. However, if I sit in one spot for more than 15 minutes, I fall asleep. Most of my reading these days is done in the car, where I feed CDs of my to-be-read list into the player and “read” all the way to work and back. I love audio books, and listening to them makes my commute downright enjoyable, but there’s something lacking without the reading lamp, the cup, and the blanket.
Now that tuition, six-boxes-of-cereal weeks, and expensive shoes and jeans are in my past, I could, if I was interested, buy much nicer clothing for myself. But gravity and years of eating too much and exercising too little have made buying clothes a nightmare instead of a pleasure.
At this stage of the game, we could spend our vacations in exotic places, where my husband could play golf as often as he wanted and I could lie in the sun reading and sipping drinks that come with straws, spoons, and umbrellas. Except my skin is already dry and taking on a leathery consistency and reading in the sunlight gives me a headache. Right before I fall asleep, that is.
There is time to write nowadays, especially in the lengthening evenings of spring. But I’m no longer sure I have anything to say. I used to think — only to myself, thank goodness — that I’d never have writer’s block because I was way too full of hot air to ever run out of words. But the hot air has flattened and stilled and, in full panic mode now, I’m afraid I’ll never get it back.
And then there are other times.
I spent a week in
with my son’s family. While my year-old grandson’s parents worked, I got to spend my days with him. We crawled around on the floor, played with noisy toys, and squealed with laughter at nothing and everything. I read to him and he listened and watched my face with his father’s bright blue eyes before falling asleep in my arms. I’d push back the recliner and pull the quilt his mother had made over us both and we’d nap together in warm and sweet contentment. Vermont
Another of my grandsons comes here on Thursday evenings while his brothers have Cub Scout meetings. He’s newly housebroken and toddler-verbal and has his grandfather and me firmly wrapped around his sticky little finger. The half bath in our house is now his, since it’s small and so is he, and the full bath is mine, which leaves grandpa without one. This is okay, though. Grandpa can use Nana’s. If he asks first.
Each day for the last week I have walked my couple of miles and my knee has not protested. My hands, though stiff and a little swollen, have not ached. The roar of my sinuses has quieted to a dull murmur. The finches are putting on their bright yellow summer coats as they jabber at the feeders. Everywhere I look, lilies and crocuses and spiky green shoots are lightening the landscape. They’re brighter now than they were in my 20s, when I was too busy to look at them properly.
This morning, as I drove to work, the quarter moon hung huge and orange in the eastern sky. God’s thumbnail. Beautiful. I opened the car window and breathed deep of the soft pre-dawn air.
I’m grateful one more time that I no longer smoke. It’s been three and a half years, though I hardly ever count anymore, and there is an almost spiritual joy in having beaten it.
It’s not so bad after all, this wrong side of the slope, where the colors are brighter and sharper and scents are sweeter and laughter is like music and grandchildren — anyone’s; they don’t have to be yours — are your reward for the difficult climb up the other side. Sometimes it’s almost … yes, it really is … better than it used to be. Yeah, Peggy, that’s all there is, and sometimes … most times … it’s enough.
Married for thirty-some years to Duane, her own personal hero, and mother of three and grandmother of six, Liz Flaherty has written a column from her Window Over the Sink off and on for over ten years. She hopes you enjoy her essays. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org