A shadow of my future self
Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy the wisdom and dry wit of May Sarton, a woman whose books — particularly Journal of a Solitude, The House by the Sea, and Writings on Writing — have joined my collection of literary touchstones: volumes I find myself reading and re-reading multiple times.
And yet, another of her highly-praised books remained on my shelf for years, unopened and unread. It seemed appropriate to save it for a particular and quite special occasion. From time to time, I found myself thinking:
One day, I ‘ll be seventy. Then, I’ll see what May has to say about the experience in her book with the tantalizing title: “At Seventy.”
When the much-anticipated birthday came, I celebrated with a trip to the Tallgrass Prairie bottomlands, where I took my first, shadowy selfie.
Then, in the late afternoon, with bees buzzing about in the late gaura and goldenrod, and the Burlington Northern rumbling both south and north, I opened Sarton’s book. Continue reading
Colleen was our hand-waver, the slightly obnoxious one who bounced in her seat, caught up in the throes of enthusiasm. “Me! Me, Miss Hudepohl. Call on me!”
On the other side of the room, shy Valerie dedicated herself to perfecting the role of a disappearing third-grader. Content to remain in the back row, she spent her days sinking lower and lower into her one-armed, wooden desk until she resembled a puddle of Silly Putty, ready to flow away beneath the door, down the hall, and out of our lives forever.
Neither a shrinker nor a hand-waver, I asked for and received a place in the front row of desks. Since our teacher spent most of her time distracted by hand-wavers or trying to draw out the shrinkers, I rarely was called on. When it was my turn, I’d squirm a bit, pretending not to have heard. Sometimes, I’d shake my head and shrug my shoulders in a gesture of casual detachment, as if to say, “No, I don’t have the answer, but you already knew that, so why bother?”
I never expected my mother to live to be 80, let alone 92. As a matter of fact, my mother never expected to live much beyond 70. But here we are – mother turning 92 in a day or so, daughter 63 for a while yet – looking at one another cautiously over the dinner table, trying to understand how such a thing could have happened.
Luck played a role, of course. My maternal grandmother died when my own mother was only 16 and all but one of her sisters died young. The odds appeared to be against her from the start. But when the scourges of increasing age arrived and attempted to take their toll, they were beaten back. The surgeries healed. The heart attack responded to the stent and the congestive heart failure was remedied by the pacemaker. At 70, things were looking good. At 75, we were amazed. At 80, we sat at the dinner table with friends and laughingly agreed it was a good year for the extravagance of jewelry and gold. After all, as my mother herself pointed out with great realism and without embarassment, it might be the last year for gifts. Continue reading
It began quietly enough, with a certain restlessness, a reluctance to re-establish routine, an inability to focus on the tasks at hand.
I’d been traveling, wheeling across the Mississippi Delta for days, peripatetic as a dream, imbibing the sheer movement, the joys of impulsivity and intense expectation like some heady, intoxicating brew. Eventually, the party ended and it was time to sober up. Home again at my desk, I barely could turn to look out the window at the familiar view I love so much. During our separation it had transformed itself from placid scenery into a token of my discontent, a nagging reminder of how many paths remained to be traveled. Continue reading