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Septendecimania

by Julia Sneden

 

All right, so it’s a made-up word, a combination of “septendecimal,” an adjective meaning seventy, and “mania,” meaning – well, you get my gist.

On Columbus Day, I entered another yet decade.

“What the heck,” I told my family, “it’s just another day.” That was, of course, a shameless attempt at denial.

But my 50th high school reunion was two years ago; my drivers’ license (on a 5-year schedule) needed its 11th renewal; I have developed arthritis in about five new places, and my husband, who is six months my senior, turned seventy in April. So there’s no getting around it: I am 70. Why does it sound so much older than 69?

The woman at the DMV just smiled and said: “You do use your glasses all the time, don’t you, honey?” I do. The bifocal line falls just in the middle of my speedometer. She doesn’t need to know that, although it might explain the speeding ticket I got four years ago. My kids have called me Granny Lead Foot ever since.

When I was a kid, my older brother, never one to miss the chance for a sibling put-down, often referred to me (born in 1936) as “the dying hope of the Depression.” I was too young to think of the perfect comeback, which was, of course, that he (born in ’33) was the depth of it.

My mother and both grandmothers lived to their late 90’s, and Great Aunt Julia almost made 100, so I have always believed that I am doomed to a ripe old age. In view of that projected span, turning 40 (a Chinese dinner with best friends) or 50 (my father sent a computer-generated, 10-foot banner reading “Happy Birthday for the 50th Lovely Time”) or even 60 (lunch in my classroom) was no big deal.

Those long-living genes sounded like a blessing back then, but nowadays I’m beginning to wonder. As the little creaks get creakier, and the need for replacement parts becomes urgent, and my supply of energy begins to wane, it occurs to me that growing really old may not be so great. After all, I’ve seen what happens to women who are the last of their generation. I’m not at all sure that it’s a triumph to outlive the lot.

Lately, I have begun to look for relatives who did not see 98, in the hope that there could be a few mitigating genetic factors.

One time, when I was groaning about my battles with weight, my father opined that I was built like (omigod!) his Aunt Reuby, who dressed well but had the dimensions of a Sherman tank.

It was a truly unforgivable remark. But Reuby did have the grace to go out while she was still vigorous and compos mentis and playing a mean game of bridge. That seemed like a reasonable kind of demise, something I might shoot for. I couldn’t remember exactly when she died, let alone when she was born, so I looked her up in a family genealogy. She was born in 1893, and she died in 1963, at — eek! — 70. Obviously, this was not the alternative of choice.

Surely there could be a happy medium for me, somewhere between great aunts Reuby and Julia? Preferably after writing a best seller, but before I grow weak or sick or addled? Perhaps just before I am too old to drive (my mother gave it up at 89, under protest).

I’m nowhere near ready yet. There’s too much fun to be had, too many more sown oats to harvest. And I certainly need to be here to find out what happens to Harry Potter, if the seventh book ever comes out.

A few of my friends have ventured that being seventy is better than the alternative, an old joke that holds more than a kernel of truth if you don’t believe in an afterlife.

If you do believe, it pays to keep in mind my grandmother’s wise words about death: “If you knew that the next room was full of people you loved, would you be afraid to go through the door?” For her (97), there were surely more of those in that “next room” than there were on earth.

Since I doubt I’ll have control over when I die, I don’t worry about it except insofar as my death will bring grief to those whom I love. I hate the thought that my grandchildren will feel the way I did when my grandmothers died. But that is a part of life that they will have to learn, and unfortunately there’s no other way to learn it. Kids, don’t blame me for the painful lesson; you’ll do it to your grandchildren, too, if you’re lucky enough to have any.

In the interim, I’ll stick with the words that Don Marquis wrote for Mehitabel the Cat, which went something like: “Toujours gai, that’s my motto. And there’s a dance or two in the old dame yet.”

Cha-cha-cha.

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