Monday, October 24, 2016

On Becoming My Grandmother


 This morning when I woke up and caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, for a second I looked just like my grandmother. Not Gram when she was 20, in that pretty photo everyone always says I looked just like, but Gram from when I was a kid, when she was old.

 This isn't terribly terrible. She never had a ton of wrinkles that showed, even when she was in her high 80s. And her skin then was so soft, still fine-textured and beautiful. I don't know if she ever used moisturizer, as I have since the age of 12, but her skin was lovely, pinkish pale & fairly clear of spots, unlike her next door friend Mrs. Walters (Betty), who had age spots all over her arms and face in her early sixties.

 Gram's shape was barrel-like from having children well after her 40th birthday, but she was otherwise slim and what you could see of her legs below the hemline of her perpetual housedress was good, with well-turned ankles. And I don't have the barrel-- instead there's a small mail pouch of a lower abdomen, from having a hysterectomy at 49 when my organs and muscles were already loose/ damaged from my Dermatomyositis. I don't look exactly like her from the neck down. And on closer inspection, my face isn't really there yet, I just look tired.

 No, what shocked me when I saw this sudden preview of 15-years-forward, I suppose, was the resemblance of expression as much as the physical manifestation of age. While I don't go around thinking of myself as 20, imagining I have the social power and pull I had as a 20-something girl, I discovered as perhaps most 50 year olds do that that is still the age of the self inside of me, the self that dreams & plans and wants. When we're younger we expect that to change, and the trick on us is that it doesn't; we're left with young longings in a body and a society that prevent us from reasonably acting on our most youthful desires. I can handle that part since I've never felt the right age anyway, and have only just begun to have some friends that aren't either 10 years older or equally younger.

 But my memory says that Gram spent the last twenty some odd years of her life just waiting to die, and I don't want to show that, I don't care to feel that. I'd rather take after my mother, who is active, who has a ministry at each of her churches, who still picks up new hobbies and learns new skills. She still reads, she plays online Scrabble with me over her own netbook everyday, she knows how to post a picture on FB and she has been known to Skype with family in other states. She still experiments with makeup colors at 85 and has recently begun using Josie Maran Argan Oil moisturizer. That is an elder life I can understand. I've never seen myself as the old lady that spends all of her time sitting around worrying over nothing, or just sitting in a chair in the bedroom, as Gram did all too often.

 To be fair, when I was very little, and my uncle dumped my poor Gram on us because his wife was a stone cold bitch (She was; sorry Uncle Dex! Sorry, cousins!), Gram was more active. She went to church with us on Sundays and sang in the choir, which was a feat in itself, as the choir loft there was only accessible by a long, steep and winding stair such as you generally only see in a gothic horror movie, with the first victim lying at the bottom with a broken neck and a head turned all the way around, staring up in an expression of permanent terror.

 She also had friends, and cousins, that she'd visit from time to time, along with her hair salon. But gradually, as these folks died off, the invitations stopped and her world became smaller. Her cataracts got worse, and she stopped reading, then sewing, then doing her embroidery. She left our flat less and less. Her twice a year perms became once a year, and she needed more help getting up and down the front steps.

 To get her perm & haircut, I remember how she would always powder her nose and wear lipstick, dolling up to for the hairdresser and wearing her nicest dress. When she came back, we all told her how pretty it looked, but secretly I always felt she looked harsh and less like herself when she first came home from getting beautified. Only after she'd set her own hair again a few times did she become my familiar Gram, washer of dishes and maker of cookies. At the end of her life, that yearly salon visit was her one & only non-family-oriented social occasion. Most of the daytime, she just hung out with our cats.

 I don't remember when she stopped coming to midnight mass with us on Christmas Eve, but I know it happened. I know she was stuck with us, a growling large family of frustrated creatives still recovering from the influence and effect of an alcoholic father, and living on welfare for some of those years. She was put there by the son that had been the light of her life, too. Then she lost her ability to enjoy her hobbies through the simple accretion of bodily time.

 What I wonder is, was that why her approach to life, at the end, was just to wait-- was it because she was beaten down? Or was there a fundamental difference between her outlook and my mother's, whose attitude I hope to emulate; my mother who has had as hard a life as anyone and still works to savor her days by whatever means.

 I thought that I was naturally headed down the Mom path of continuing change and growth, but what if my nostalgia, and my own sadness and beaten down-ness, (for which this has been a banner year), has turned my feet onto the other trail, the one that ends with me sitting in a chair not thinking or doing, not learning new things, trying new recipes or enjoying any creative outlets anymore?

It's a chilly morning in more ways than one. Keep warm--

                                                                              Aging Ophelia


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