My (Very Loose) Plan for Becoming an Old Woman

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A mosey about the neighborhood with the real me; cannot keep me from daily power walking! (No, not my medium-sized mansion in background)

I was struck today by this thought: I may at times, with a sideways glance, look for a way around the inevitability of aging.

This lit up my thinking recently after trying to find a decent and authentic photo for my Facebook account. They tended to look a bit pasty, and as if some stealthy tilling was done along jaw, neck and eyes and then hadn’t tidied up well afterward. I gave up and used the one that is above. It’s authentic–I adore being outdoors! Plus I like seasonal photos. And it’s casual, my basic style these days. And not posed, really, a simple smile. I have a couple that I call my “semi-glamour shots” and they are kind of stagy/cheesy, as if I am expecting to appear on the jacket of a bestselling book shortly. I even took one of me at the computer. Well, that’s where I am much of each day, working on writing. (Pros must photograph those lovely other authors.)

But this was only the first of the triggers for my current ruminations about having once been younger (for quite a good amount of time) and getting older (I am so pleased I made it). And finally, what comes next (hold on awhile as I cram a lot more into my living). But I will get to the other reasons this matter visited me. (It’s not another essay on health issues.)

I realize this thought–that I may be avoiding the reality of aging–is not shocking in youth-centric societies. At least, US culture daily accosts us with a barrage of messages stating that appearing or even acting over the age of 30 or so (i.e., an adult)–or is it now 21?–is undesirable. Perhaps one day to seem more akin to a crime. This brings to mind the seventies film, “Soylent Green”, that disturbing sci fi story that determines various people quite expendable, primarily the aging. Charlton Heston did a bang-up job as our film hero in that year of 2022 (five years away…), a time when overpopulation, environmental crises, and food shortages are deemed of paramount importance. Sound familiar? I read there may be a new version coming out for our pessimistic pleasure.

We are, one has to agree, exhorted to be young– please fake the appearance. Until one’s dying breath, if possible. Our looks, habits, clothing, interests. People remain socially more visible until we start to age discernibly, so the goal is to fool the human eye. (Though I heard someone remark that by late thirties she felt already less visible, was called “Ma’m” as if verging on matronly so required the kid gloves of customer service reserved for older adults). But I am not needing or seeking public scrutiny so this is a relief in the end. I have shone and tarnished, have often rejuvenated and been laissez faire. It’s important how I feel about my life, not the best shot. Yet this culture insists that, as a woman, I am not expected to allow myself to age gradually, naturally and without rancor. It is admittedly a pressure I half-yield to some days. And then I consider that men have so few demands in this regard. I’m for a more level playing field. We are persons first and last, are we not? My husband isn’t forever young, either, and it doesn’t concern him much, if at all.

If it was only young people who were making these rules I might have more conversations with them about it all. I do recall once vividly thinking that “over thirty” was the end and there were moments I did not expect or desire to pass that line. Little did I know that this was the actual start of vaster and better beginnings. But I might ask today’s kids why age seems such a clear marker of human acceptability as well as desirability–and what do their ages actually mean to them in reality, and also to me? How does this impact our respective perceptions, except to bring into focus that we all are at blurred crossroads of one sort or another? But it’s not just young folks, it’s all of us. And it’s such big business, the attempt to stall one’s aging. Companies scheme and undoubtedly shout hurrah as they make their products a little more affordable to a greater population. I personally shop for bargains in face moisturizer but if Lancome (not even close to the most expensive brands) gets cheaper…well, there you go. If only we spent as much time on our insides as we do our outsides. Hopefully, we do, a vast amount more.

Growing up with parents who were older than almost anyone else’s when I was born was not a big deal.  I rarely gave their age a thought. They were busy, ambitious, thoughtful persons until they died at 83 (Dad) and 93 (Mom). I did feel there was a more “ageless” atmosphere at home than in many of my friends. It might have been also due to being last to get born; my oldest sister was thirteen at the time. The age span was fine; it was what I knew.

My parents entertained and my father taught private string lessons after his day job and Mom did alterations on the side so all ages came and went. I was as at ease with older people as I was with younger, perhaps more so. I early learned how to be conversational and courteous as I served coffee and cookies at bridge parties. But I also was included in discussions around a dinner table with astute grown-ups, many of whom were scientists, musicians and educators. Later, I could identify as well with them as with my funky or firebrand friends. It seemed a good thing. Adult interchanges were interesting, whether or not I agreed with or fully comprehended topics. I could ask probing questions; I could offer opinions and be counted.

That inter-generational style of living was repeated, though, in many friends’ homes, as well. We were not as segregated as we are now. Family dinners with as many as possible were common. The truly old were respected, beloved, looked after. They were not left to their own devices or shunted off willy-nilly. Who could afford fancy nursing homes? Who even sought them? They weren’t another part of the big business of aging yet. People took care of their own.

My parents seemed and appeared fine to me in their fifties when I became a teen and far beyond. Their hair was always grayer, then white by the time I hit 21–but there is an early grey-to-whiter hair gene. One niece had long, lovely and mostly white hair by late thirties or so. Others got a characteristic white streak in their twenties. That gene skipped me, the only one to yet have some auburn brown hair striated with silver. Siblings razz me about it. (And by the way, have others noticed young women are lately stripping their hair of natural pigment, then coloring it white-to-silver?–What is that about? A practice run? We older gals should be flattered to be so imitated.)

The parents we had did not grouse about aging. They did not tell me to beware the gnarly ills that awaited me. They were not complainers, true, but they also were lively spirits. I recall my dad sailing a small craft for the first time again in decades when in his sixties. He played tennis with me in his fifties. He took up photography when I was a teen, engaged and bored us with his indexed slide shows of travels they–and we–loved to take whether across the ocean or around the bend. They made music, designed attire, invented games, volunteered at church and elsewhere, went pop-up-camper-style camping until early seventies. I got breathless trying to keep up even though I ran close to the same pace. Their health was problematic at times. Heart disease is the family affair, but that didn’t slow them for long. And they remained lucid as they aged, luckily. How they enriched peoples’ lives, as their friends did, as well.

So what was undesirable, what was wrong with getting older? I truly didn’t see it a liability. We each had our own place, skills and talents and energy and caring to spread around. It wasn’t near what you’d term idyllic. I am not all that nostalgic; there were several trials and losses. They were people who carried burdens, too, as we all can do.

But now I am beginning to think of aging differently. For one thing, my husband has begun to speak of retirement, not yet but sometime in the not-so-distant future. Five years. Perhaps. I stopped working awhile back but he’s a tad younger than I am. It’s a shock to hear him say it, however. From the start of his then-unplanned career when only  20 and still in college he has had a passion for engineering, later landing in management with expertise in quality assurance. I’m not sure how he does the long hours he does. It can worry me. I left my career as a counselor at 63; now I am looking towards 67. It took us awhile to get here. We are supposedly going to soon just hang out together… until those sunset days and nights wind down? Seems like someone else’s story line at times–and will until it materializes in full. I am big on not borrowing from the future when we can inhabit only this moment.

I mentioned a second reason the light bulb went on about avoiding aging: one of our daughters just landed a nice chaplaincy job in management. It’s at a fine assisted living facility. It struck me that she is close to the age, early forties, when I finally left my position managing a thriving home care department in a senior services agency. Whereas she may be edging toward a pinnacle of her career. It seems funny it ended up like this.

I felt pretty young back then. My 350-plus older clients were often frail, with serious health crises and multiple life stressors. I had a calling for that work in much the same way our daughter does. But she is a chaplain while I was just a somewhat besieged mother and wife needing work, then discovered a knack for human services (but still wrote in ragged snippets of time). I fast took to the work as they were some of “my people”; i.e., familiar to me after years of enjoying many older aunts and uncles, my parents, neighbors and family friends. I found myself eagerly absorbing their colorful life stories and worrying about them after work. I wanted to help make their lives safer, more comfortable and valued so they could remain at home if they desired. It was a privilege and it altered my direction; it felt as if God had drawn me to service. My next work was with high risk, addicted, mentally ill youth and adults and it, too, was a passionate commitment. But I never forgot those older adults who gave as much or more than they required of me. I think of them, still, long after they’ve gone. Muse that I’m so close to the ages they were when I was with them.

Now here I am, smack in that part of the process forward and it is like entering some foreign portal I hadn’t mapped out.

When I got the news of her great job I checked out the place she will be working. It looks swanky to me. It is very different from the places I saw while visiting various   homes to assess my clients’ needs. The text states it is “a life plan community”–it was previously called a “continuing care retirement community”. It serves a few hundred people. I studied the attractive grounds and wondered at the money it cost, marveled at the diverse services, the recreational options. The gym was chock full of cheerful persons with pleasing wrinkles and crowned with gleaming white hair. They looked classy on stationary bikes, vigorous in the bright swimming pool. The lawns are very green, houses and apartments uniformly in good taste–it’s clear why people gravitate to such a place. I can see how it might stay a fear of fragility.

It’s a great place for our daughter to work, I’m sure. Still, the lifestyle it espouses alternately fascinates, perplexes and repels me. Plus I could not afford it, I’m sure. But would I want to live there? Set apart from a greater cross section of people? In such an organized and pristine environment? My innermost being resists it. I would rather have a refuge of unbridled countryside and the grit and creative vibrancy of a city–each close to the other as possible, as it is now. Retirement community settings appear limiting to me–at least now– whereas to others they may appear to abound in happy, healthy options at one’s back and call.

But mostly, it seems exclusive and finally lonelier. I want to be all hands and feet in the greater realm of living until I can truly no longer be so. And then, who knows? I might even live in an RV, a studio apartment downtown or in a small room at the edge of a grown child’s abode. I hope to not be an aggravating burden to myself or others; I’d hate to leave this world with a bad reputation.

Alright, the rest of it may be that I don’t yet want to think about where this aging business will take me. It appears to be a bigger jog in the journey. I do know I don’t want to fake it. Nor make it more or less than what it is, another movement through a short time on a small planet. I don’t need to be anything more than who I am, just a better version, I hope. I barely feel much older than I did a couple decades ago except for a monitored, repaired ticker. Surprisingly, I even feel a great deal  better despite those telltale lines on my face that reveal my life. An elderly woman told me once that is a marker of aging: our deepest personhood not matching up with external changes.

I will get to the end, whatever that is.  Right now I never feel as if there is enough time to explore all that captures my scanning attention. There are people to admire and love and learn from, many of whom I do not even yet know. There are scads of books to read and stories to write (I can barely keep up with either), forest trails to hike, bodies of water to get wet in, visual art to make. Places that might use my hands, some care. And, ah, music to bring into heart and mind, to hum and sing. Today I bought two new CDs and played them at a good volume as I wrote, then danced about a few times. I have a mind to put on a long swingy dress and videotape the swooping about, pretending to be an interpretive modern (or let’s say “contemporary”) dancer again. For my children and grandchildren. So they’re assured I have always managed to have fun–and they remember to do so, too.

Life is a place I’ve made a decent, often very good, home and aging seems simply one more thing to accommodate. I am not one for the prosaic as much as for invention. I may not change much of anything. And I am more apt to plan for today, not tomorrow.  I have had personal experience with life being taken in a flash and then having it returned just in time. Best to take it a step at a time, see what unfolds, what I can do. Soul, heart, mind and health the priorities. Broaden those horizons as I move right along. Being old will feel like me, likely with all white hair.

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My sort of “semi-glamour” shot–ok, I know, it doesn’t qualify. There have to be more pretentious ones…(My Gravatar looks fancier!) But subject would benefit from retouch at the least; perhaps teeth capped, a vigorous hair brushing with full-on color, Botox, jawline and neck fix-all according to “Cease Aging Now” experts. I hereby protest! Will go on as is!
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Just kidding, here it is, a dubious semi-glam shot. Not so fancy! A bit of a hair trim (shows off the white; stays unruly by itself, just a tad snazzier. Fully 66. Cheers to all from the 1960s: we protested and braved new paths, fought, dreamed, achieved and stumbled, raised families, labored long and hard, and a great many of us have survived!
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Fave but current second best choice for fb picture, perhaps move to first choice if winter’s blast goes on: having fun outdoors, authentic while incognito. No ageism accepted no matter what faces I show! Let’s all just be people together. 🙂

Harry Brill’s Pants

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Harry Brill sometimes opened his door wearing nothing but a frayed button-down shirt, this time one with the thankfully longer tail. He leaned on his walker and squinted through the screen, breath leaking out in a plume of smoke. As Home Care Manager, I’d had very few complaints about Harry besides his sporadic state of undress, but that alone kept many personal care workers at bay. Many quit the first day. I drove twenty miles out to the small, dilapidated trailer park to check up on him. As Home Care Manager I investigated complaints and took action as needed, among other things. Once more I would remind him of appropriate ways to behave with his aides.

He threw me a look of irritation, motioned me in and bumpily turned his walker around to move forward. I let the flimsy screen door slam, not from a fit of rudeness but because he’d once told me it always comforted him to hear it; his wife had let it slam on purpose each time returning home. I waited for him to back up and sit in the frayed blanket-covered easy chair, then sat across from him. I tried to breathe lightly. The air was slimy with smoke and bacon or sausage grease.

“Why gracing me with a visit so soon, Cynthia?” he asked with a barely disguised growl.

“Good morning, Harry, where are your pants today?”

He rubbed his sparse white hair. “Maybe in the bathroom. Sometimes they just stay put.”

“So I understand. But they need to come along with you to the living room and front door, remember?”

He gave me that look that said even dolts knew that but he’d consider it further.

“Ain’t always easy to get ’em back up, as you know.”

“That’s why you have help.”

“They ain’t always here, are they?” He pulled another cigarette out of his shirt pocket and stuck it behind his ear. “But now you’re here you can help.”

“Of course, Harry, as always.”

I entered the bathroom, retrieved crumpled black sweatpants from the bathroom floor. Harry pushed the walker aside so I could better pull them over his purplish feet, up over rough shins and knobby knees toward his hips.

“Your turn, hike them up the best you can. Got a hold of them now? That’s it. You’re better able when sitting here, I think. Maybe the back of the sturdy chair helps.”

“Yep, I guess, got ‘er done.” He grunted as I sank into the couch. I opened a folder of notes on clients I’d be visiting, taking my time.

“It’s hardly worth the effort some days, if you want to know. And my legs ain’t too bad-looking, are they? Just a little weak-kneed.”

“So you say. Now we can better chat. How is that Georgia working out three days a week?”

He leaned forward. “Well, she tattled on me, I see, not so sure. But she can cook the out of beef stew and chicken wings and fried taters. And she’s real clean, likes to polish.”

The main room didn’t look any different than before Georgia started working there. It was in colorful disarray: a few shoe boxes of snapshots and cards, old magazines and mail teetering, discarded cigarette packages. Two used bowls with big spoons along with mugs were on a side table where dust gently accumulated. The lamp bulb was dim but I make out the oval mirror behind Harry, a smudged, streaked glass. It wasn’t at all good for his allergies but the smoke was likely thicker than dust.

“She was last here Friday, Harry. That’s three days. The dust still gathers in random piles– if you even look for it.”

He sniffed. “Well, last week Georgia brought her son and we played instead.”

“Ah.” I wrote a line or two. Georgia and Terrance/confer with Boss Marcia– or not? “What did you play?”

“What d’ya think? Checkers! I beat that squirt and her. But nice boy, maybe five, minds his mom.”

I considered Harry as he looked out the door, then took the mashed cigarette out, lit it with his red Bic lighter. Inhaled, coughed, inhaled again. He was eighty and had had both hips replaced, the last surgery not as successful. His one living daughter was in Texas. His nephew came around every couple of months with extra food and a hundred for utilities, sometimes stayed for a quick chat.  The nephew cared but he didn’t have time; he had his own life, as he reminded her when she called with an update.

Harry had had five personal care aides in the past seven months. If it wasn’t his smoking, it was his pants left behind; if it wasn’t surliness, it was his Meals on Wheels deliveries spoiling on the counter.

“I don’t know. I want you to stay here, too, but you sometimes get in our way…we have to have a sound strategy.”

“Yeah, guess that’s so.”

The cigarette was held up in front of him between index finger and thumb. He studied it as if it held an answer, then took a long drag. I waited from him to exhale; sometimes he’d hold it in an extra few seconds as if challenging me to say something. I didn’t. I knew he’d smoke until he left us behind. He had told me time and time again that his father and grandfather had smoked right up until ages 90 and 94. “It’s a genetic thing,” he’d say. “We got stronger lungs than most, nicotine sets with us just fine.”This despite his worsening cough for which he would not see a doctor.

He forced out the smoke between pursed lips, hacked once. “But what d’ya expect? I’m used to my own ways.”

“True. Well, do you want help or do you want something else?”

He narrowed his rheumy eyes at me. “What’s the ‘else’ part?” He stubbed out the cigarette. “Not my nephew again…”

I took a deep breath. I had not been looking forward to this moment. “A referral to other housing. That retirement place he had mentioned. He’s got the money to help out, as you know.”

Harry lay his crooked palm against his chest. “It’ll kill me. He’s always sticking his nose where it don’t need to be stuck… but I won’t leave. Georgia is pretty good, we can make do. I’ll keep my pants handier, I’ll figure out how to get ’em on, I’ll try to smoke less, I’ll eat those–”

“Hang on. You’ll smoke less? Is she that good?”

“By Jiminy, she’s great!” he said, mugging surprise at his confession. “She can cook, she can play a couple of games, she has a kid who laughs–what more could I want?” He shook his head and his brow wrinkled more. “But, that’s right, she can’t clean worth a damn! Maybe we can get someone else in for that if it gets too bad, huh? Gotta keep the nephew happy, okay?”

He tossed me a look. There was a glimpse of his sometimes hidden good nature beneath the bluster and pout. His color, I noticed, was better than last month. He sat up straighter with bony shoulders thrust back as if to convince me of his vitality. The truth was I already knew he was more hearty than most his age. That’s one reason I was fighting so hard for him to just stay put. Marcia was getting on me since we’d had complaints that he was not keeping clean enough, too often without pants, difficult to manage, whatever that meant. He took only a blood pressure pill and one for his stomach, something for pain on the few days or nights his hip felt too bad. His mind was working overtime from what I could tell. I saw no reason to recommend pushing him out his door but Marcia saw things in a different light.

“Georgia was well recommended by another client before… she… passed.” I looked right at him to see if that bothered him but he just nodded. “She’s a hard worker, but I didn’t know she didn’t clean well. That’s sort of important, Harry, hygienic conditions. You seem to manage, anyway, but she needs to step it up.”

He nodded again. “I do manage. I’m getting old, Cynthia, I don’t need perfection. But I’ll talk to her and Terrance, they’ll help me out.”

I considered if I should tell him her son was actually her grandson but did not. I had met the young one;  he was big hearted, spirited but well-behaved. I knew the rules, but Terrance liked the old folks, Georgia said. I had told her to not mention her grandson going with her. I knew it might cost me a reprimand or worse but it just made sense. Most older adults enjoyed kids around a bit. It was a win-win as I saw it; I was trying to develop more inter-generational events at the senior center.

“Okay. I’ll talk to Georgia about a few things. Maybe she can come earlier in the day, get you dressed, make breakfast, too. We’ll see how you both do the next three months. And then I’ll be back, if not before.”

“Now don’t go hard on her.” His voice lost its edge and I paused. “You have kids, Cynthia?”

I put my folders into my briefcase. “I do. Five.”

“By Jiminy, lady, that’s a bunch of crazy kittens to let loose! How you manage all this?”

“I muddle my way through, Harry, just like everybody does.” I sighed to emphasize. “We each have our work cut out, right?”

“Well, you seem to do okay, I’ll say that. Maybe I like your stopping by.”

“You might? Harry, watch it now, you’ll go dewy-eyed on me.”

Harry picked up his crumpled cigarette pack and pulled out another cigarette, lit it with his trusty Bic and puffed. “Worse can happen to a man, I guess.”

“But you really need to keep those pants on if you can, Harry, it’s not so much to ask. It can scare people sometimes.”

“It does? Huh. I’ll do my best, that’s all I can do, they just sometimes slip away. But Georgia–will she come back?”

“I imagine so. I’ll call with our decisions about everything soon.”

When I stood up, he did, too, slow but certain, then shuffled behind me to the battered screen door. I pushed it open, took in a chest full of fresh air but carefully so he wouldn’t notice how much I needed to breathe it in. I needed to quit smoking, myself; the thought of being his age and still smoking like a chimney, playing with fate, was too much to bear.

I stepped out to the weathered landing of the wooden front steps, surveyed the trailer park slumped in another day’s slow ending. Half a dozen of them, all filled with older people, with their travails, longings and keepsakes. I knew them all and would be back.

His face on the other side of the half-opened screen brightened as I turned to say goodbye.

“‘Til next time, Cynthia.”

“Until then.”

I ran down the steps and got in my car, started the engine and slowly started down the semi-circular dirt driveway. Harry was still at the door, waving. I stuck my hand out the window and gave a neat wave back. Afternoon light slipped through oak tree branches and made a shining path through fallen leaves. The scruffy, narrow yard lit up in a soft blaze of color. Harry’s door closed with an agreeable bang.

******

Notes on this post:

You may think this fiction, but it is loosely based on one of many real experiences; it fulfills criteria of (quite) creative non-fiction. That’s how I’ve chosen to categorize it, anyway, at this time. I have and shall change all names (most I have forgotten) and identifying characteristics. I’ve created scenarios that are amalgams of a few certain years and places that made up my experience. The elderly people I served are long gone now; it’s been thirty years.

I was employed by a large senior services center in a suburb of Detroit for a few years. Starting as a part-time Adult Care Aide, I progressed to Home Care Assistant and then became Manager. It was an even bigger job than I had thought. There were 350 homebound clients on average who required hot meals delivered as well as personal care services. All this so they could live and, perhaps, die in their own homes as they desired. I assessed and checked in on them, meditated family conflicts and provided resources. I hired, trained and managed 150 aides. Though it was a demanding job, I had a passion for it and missed it after moving to a new city where I began a different career. If there had been a comparable position, I would have continued in the field of geriatrics. (The need for income was paramount and addictions and mental health services offered more abundant work at the time. That turned out fine, too.)

I was told the place I once worked is no more, undoubtedly replaced by a larger building and better diversified programs overseen by county and state. But I hope to write of more personal experiences. The center was a unique place, and being of service for so many in need–who yet had much to offer, too–made a profound impact on my thinking and on my living.

Earley Waits for Mail

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Earley waited for the mail all afternoon like he did every delivery day, with the patience of Guernsey cows, which he’d loved as a child on the farm. His grandson would take issue with that idea, tell him, Cows don’t know enough to be patient, but that’s what Earley thought of when faced with the occasionally slow passage of time. Cows liked to eat, rest, socialize, all with a deliberate pace and acceptance. It seemed a good lesson. Being human created issues with time. For Earley, time generally was dashing away. As far as the postal service went, he was just grateful he still got it. What sort of life would it be without a little junk mail and a letter or package now and then?

Sol was too smart sometimes, explaining calculus and reading thought-provoking passages from his contemporary novels. Earley had patience with his grandson, but who cared what sorts of odd tricks numbers got up to at this point in his life? But the books he liked, or rather the being read to, especially when it had to do with a little love or a lot of history. One stimulated the other in the world, he thought.

When his son, James, was at work and Sol was at school he had some waiting while he did chores and puttered. Today was–he checked Sol’s calendar on the fridge–computer club. Three days a week the boy had obligations he said were fun. Earley had neither for the most part, unless you counted being a grandfather.

“You have to get a hobby, Grandpa. Ever since Grandma passed you’re just waiting all winter to garden. I know gardening is your thing but really. You need more than that. Maybe like playing Sudoku or checking out that new fitness club. I saw one of your friends over there. What about your woodworking?”

“I’ve made enough stuff, why do I need more? I do my crosswords and word searches so I don’t get soft in the head. I walk everywhere. Cook. Do laundry and pay bills like when Nana was alive. Plant my garden in spring. What more? You have hobbies, I get some free time.”

Sol and James looked at each other, eyes rolled. It made Earley think a bit. He did get restless at times. Then he saw the ad and put in an order.

For the last week he’d been watching over Sol by himself. It wasn’t hard but it took a little more out of him. Worrying and making sure he did all that homework, catching up with him more than usual. No James as a buffer or disciplinarian. It went pretty well.

James had gotten to Florida on Tuesday. He was supposed to have have come back home by now, not that Earley was anxious for it. It was never much real hardship being there for Sol. James called twice, once when he got to Miami and once when he found out he would be back a few days late. James was a fully degreed person, a writer and a construction worker, which Earley didn’t quite get, but the building trade usually worked out better. Bills had to be paid for three people.

James had this desire to swim his way into that smallish pool of people who might find their stories on shelves. He had been working on a psychological thriller for four years and it was almost done. Earley hadn’t read it yet. He wondered if it would scare him; the thought of that captivated him. Well, in good time.

James poked his head out of his office door one morning.

“I’m going to Miami, you guys! Kevin was hired as editor of Killing Justice, that new thriller and mystery magazine I mentioned, and said I’d be a good addition. But I have to do a formal interview. We’ll all move there, start fresh if this works out.”

Sal frowned and considered. He was fifteen. He had a small, well-defined life that he liked just enough. The house they shared with grandpa was big and had a garden he helped tend. He wondered how his grandpa would manage down there. He did want his dad to be happier. Sal could try Florida after ten years in Omaha despite leaving his best friend. The thought of tan, beachy girls and large reptiles soon held him in thrall.

As it lowered, the sun shot out pink and orange rays behind houses across the street, making half-halos about trees and rooftops. The sky warmed up like a tropical vista. Earley wondered what it would look like in Florida. He watched out the bay window, then saw the porch bathed in a glow despite a deep chill he kept at bay with the heat jacked up too high. The mailman–well, mail woman now– should have been there long ago. It annoyed him despite his resolve. So much for Guernsey patience. He wondered about James coming back late, what that all meant. His stomach growled as he glanced in the refrigerator. Leftover meatloaf when Sol got home.

He grabbed the seed catalog and sat in his worn, smooth leather chair. When he turned on the light and opened it to the first page pictures dazzled him with their lushness, as always. He could hardly stand that he had months to go before the planting.

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What would it be like to grow things all year long? he wondered. Florida looked like it sprouted life without any effort. It unnerved him a bit. The winters in Omaha were a good time to hibernate, which he liked. He might have to wear madras shorts in Florida, learn how to swing a golf club well, use terrible smelling sunscreen all the time. Or stay indoors even when there was no snow and no rain because of that heat. He wanted his son to use his degree in English and Sol to be able to try other things, but this was a lot to ask. If it was to be asked. He breathed into the gathering dark, a ruffly sound making its way down his commandeering nose. What if James thought it was time for him to join the others over seventy in those cramped places they pretended were communities? He had one already, right here, on this street, in this house. It had been good enough for forty-five years. The house had conformed to him and he, to it.

The front opened, then slammed shut the same time his cell phone rang. Sol tossed a package on the rectangular table in the foyer. Earley got up, then looked at his phone.

James. He answered.

“Hello? Son?”

“Hey, dad. I’ll be home tomorrow but I wanted to talk to you guys. Is Sol there yet?”

Earley beckoned to his grandson and he came over.

“We’re both here.”

Sol put the phone on speaker.

“Sol?”

“Hey, dad! See alligators yet?”

James laughed. “Not yet. But we might sooner or later.”

“We? You got the job, dad?”

“I did. They liked me and I like them. I’ll start in May.”

Earley walked to the table where the package lay. He could hear the two of them talking, excitement tinged with disbelief in Sol’s voice. He shook the package to confirm it was his order for sure, then went back to to his chair and sank down in the old cushion, box in hand.

“Hey Dad? You there?”

“Yes, I heard you.”

“Are you glad for me?”

“Happy as a clam.”

“Grandpa, clams aren’t even close to being smart–”

“You don’t know that, Sol. We don’t know every single thing.”

“Dad, I have to get going. Kevin is taking me out to dinner to celebrate. I’ll tell you everything when I get home.”

They hung up. Earley fished his Swiss Army knife from a back pocket. Sol had sunk into the couch, his jacket still on, backpack at his feet.

“Florida… sweet. I think.” He sat forward, hands clasped together between his knees. “What do you think, Grandpa? Oh, you got a package. What’s in it?”

Earley cut through tape, tossed the paper and pried open the box. Inside were neatly bagged pieces of wood. A whole ship.

“Behold, Sol, the Santa Maria. The largest ship of the three sailed during Columbus’ voyage. Modest, really, especially by today’s standards. About one hundred tons of her. Deck was 58 feet. A good seafaring ship until she shipwrecked in Haiti.”

“Nice! A wooden model. So that’s your new hobby?”

Earley smiled. “Could be.”

They looked over the plans and talked about history until Sol said he was hungry. At the table over meatloaf sandwiches, they were quiet awhile. Then Earley spoke up.

“You think you could head down to Miami, then? Or would you want to stay here?”

“We’re all in this together! Dad’s taking me and you if you’ll go and I’m sure taking you, so we’re going together. Right? Florida, like it or not, here we come.”

Earley wiped his mouth and sat back. “Well, it could be a good place to make and sail ships. But I’ll get back to you after your dad gets home and we talk. I’d have to have a garden. At the very least.”

Sol agreed; no garden, no move. He put the kettle on for tea and got out the organic peppermint teabags. That’s what his grandpa liked after a meal. That’s what Sol would always make him.

Monet in the Garden by Monet
Monet in the Garden by Monet