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by Julia Sneden

Historians have long had fondness for bestowing sobriquets on whole periods of time, like The Golden Age of Greece, or The Dark Ages, or The Age of Enlightenment, or even The Roaring Twenties.

With all that has happened in the past year, our modern era is in danger of being labeled The Age of Shrinkage, Not only has our economy shrunk (think shrunken retirement accounts and shrunken job opportunities and shrunken possibilities for obtaining a home loan): there has also been rapidly shrinking confidence in our ability to rise above the situation.

Shrinkage hits us from every side. Products on the shelves of our local grocery stores now come in smaller packages, but with the same price. When my husbands favorite ice cream suddenly went from $2.99 for a half gallon to $2.99 for 1.5 quarts, I was amused, but at least I could see the difference because even though the new box was designed to look like the old one, there was no disguising the fact that it was smaller. I figured that at least my breakfast cereal, marketed in its same large box, had not gone up in price — until I opened it and discovered that it was about half full. Someone should win the prize for cleverness in deceptive packaging.

Its a nuisance to re-think old recipes that begin Open a 15 oz. can of tomatoes or add one 15 oz. can of pumpkin, when those formerly standard can sizes now hold only 14 oz.

Even our clothes are suffering from the less-for-the-buyer-means-more-for-us people. Several years ago, French cuffs were dropped from most shirts, in order to save fabric. Then womens shirts began appearing without the traditional breast pocket, again saving fabric. These days, shirts are closely fitted to skim the body (nice, if you are a skinny 13 year-old), with concomitant savings for the makers. The only saving grace here is that I believe theyve gone about as far as they can go, short of year-round bikinis for one and all.

Its not fair, but my own body seems to be mimicking the trend. A couple of years ago, I made a startling discovery during my annual physical exam. I stepped up on the scale with trepidation, only to sigh with relief when my weight was actually a couple of pounds less than the year before, nothing too exciting, but still, not the slight gain I had dreaded. Then the nurse lowered the boom, which in this case was the metal arm over my head.

Five feet one and three-quarters, she said. I was stunned. I have been a proud five feet two and three-quarters since age 21.

Are you sure? I quavered.

See for yourself, she said as I stepped away. Sure enough, the numbers confirmed the disaster: I had begun the shrinkage of old age.

When youre only five feet two and three-quarters in the first place, and are used to looking up at everyone else, losing even a tiny bit of height is a terrible blow. I had a sudden vision of my grandmother, an adorable little woman, emphasis on little. By the time of her death at 97, she had shrunk from an original five-feet-one to somewhere around four feet eight. And by 94, her daughter, my mother, had shrunk from slightly less than 54 (she never admitted to that less) to slightly less than 410 (and this time the less was incontrovertible, since the top of her head reached only to my nose).

So it has started, I reckon. My spine has begun to collapse, and most cruelly of all, this is happening just as my granddaughter is starting her adolescent growth spurt. Soon she will be kissing me on the top of the head and, worse yet, noticing that my part isnt straight as she does so.

I have never been able to reach beyond the first row of jars on the second shelf of my kitchen cabinets, but soon even those will be beyond me. I have long depended on a roller-mounted library stool that I can kick around my kitchen, but fewer inches of me will mean Ill either have to grow longer arms or depend on a grabber inherited from my mother. Its a great gadget, but it doesnt have real fingers that can root around behind the Worcestershire sauce to find the elusive jar of capers. Id like to hire a tall kitchen maid, but my 401-K is more like a 201-K these days.

At least my spine is in tune with modern trends, as it echoes the economic shrinkage. Now if I can just figure out how to shrink horizontally as well as vertically...

©2009 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb


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