Getting Older

“Maybe this young lady will know…” he said, as an embarrassed looking shopper sped away.

People in Texas are very polite and it always makes me chuckle when they refer to me as a young lady. I mean, c’mon, I’m 58. However, this man was clearly in his late eighties or early nineties so to him, I suppose I’m a spring chicken.

Something that makes me feel sad is when someone like that shopper is embarrassed by another person who needs help and speeds away.

There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about aging. Not so thrilled with sagging skin, wrinkles, aches and pains, doctors’ appointments, etc. But there are some up sides and one I’ve been keenly aware of lately is our tendency to take care of one another, people we don’t even know, a lot better than we did when we were younger. Having the time and not being in such a huge rush all the time surely has something to do with it. But also, life experience, illness, surgery, loss and vulnerability create intense compassion.

I have a new friend named Kelly who I met at pickle ball. I don’t know her well but her sense of humor is infectious and for those of you who don’t know me, that is right up my alley. When Kelly and I are together much of the time is spent laughing. One day at Pickle ball when I first met her, Kelly fell down and hit her head on the gym floor. I rushed over to help her up, as did many people. I told her to sit and drink water and listen to her body and if anything felt weird, I would immediately take her to the emergency room. She said she was fine but would do what I said. Twenty minutes later she came to me and said she was feeling a little light headed. I said, “let’s go!!” I wanted my exercise and my fun that day at Pickle ball but this was more important.

Recently, Kelly blew out her Achilles and had to have surgery. She is on one of those scooter things to keep all weight off her leg. The other day I took lunch to her house. We talked and laughed and I helped her fill dog dishes with water, feed the fish, replace toilet paper in bathrooms and play with her adorable dog.

Today I was at Walgreens looking for beauty products for 58 year olds. (HAHA!) Suddenly I heard, “Maybe this young lady will know…..” I turned and saw a very old man with a shopping cart containing his folded up walker and some items he had chosen as he shopped. (The shopping cart provides the same support as a walker as I well remember from after my hip surgery.)

I did not hesitate. I walked right up to him. “What do you hope I know, sir?”

“Do you know where the hair gel is?” he said without hesitation.

“We are in the right aisle,” I replied, “this is the hair section. Are you looking for men’s or women’s hair gel?

“It doesn’t matter!!” he said sort of grouchily, which made me laugh because he reminded me of the character playing Winston Churchill on Netflix “The Crown”.

“Okay, let’s figure this out,” I said, “Is it for you or someone else?”

“Me,” he said, “I’ve got to control this hair when I’m at the office!”

“Okay, fine and by the way your hair looks great,” I said. “Now let’s look at some of these products. Here, let’s sneaky open this one, does this feel right?” I said as I put some of the product on his fingers.

He shook his head and looked somewhat annoyed. (Just like the cantankerous Winston Churchill.)

“My wife knows what it is, she bought it for me!”

“You should have brought the empty container then this would have been easy,” I said.

“I should have brought my wife!”

I laughed out loud.

Suddenly he said, “Here it is! This is it!” It was Suave $1.99 hair gel.

“Great!” I said, “I’m so happy you found it!”

He then proceeded to talk to me for about 15 minutes about his life. He is 90 years old, a molecular biologist who owns several small companies creating products I really didn’t understand. (A dressing for wounds which knows when to come off your body so that ripping the thing off doesn’t damage tissue, etc.) He has turned the company over to his granddaughter but still goes into the office every day. (Which is why his full head of hair needs to look so awesome.) I stood with him patiently and listened to him happily.

Out at my car, I worried a little about him getting his purchases and walker to his car. He was mentally completely there but he was fragile physically. I watched as he came out. It wasn’t good. He had the shopping cart in front of the walker and was trying to finagle both. I guess outside he felt he needed the walker and not just the walker folded into the shopping cart like he was doing inside.  I was about to park my car to get out and help when a woman my age saw what was happening and stepped over to help him. He immediately gave her the shopping cart and clutched his walker more tightly while pointing to his car. This woman stayed with him, with her own shopping bags in her hands, while he slowly got his stuff into his car and told her his life story. I stayed in the parking lot to watch. When he finally got into his car and the woman went on her way to her car, I pulled around to her.

“I saw that whole thing,” I said, “and so did God. Good for you!”

She smiled, put her hand to her chest and blushed.

________________________________________________


Orlando

 

I have a sister who may well become a brother. Seriously. My sister is what she/he calls “transgender.” She/he felt like a man in a woman’s body. She/he shaved her head and started taking man hormones. She/he pumps iron. She/he is actually very good looking as a man. She/he used to go by the name Siobhan (pronounced Shavahn) but she/he changed her/his name to Orlando…..something to do with Shakespeare I think she/he said.

My husband and I are updating our Will and Last Testament because things have changed in the last couple years. We’ve sold a couple properties, moved to a different house in Dallas and my sister seems to be transitioning into a man.

I have a brother, two sisters and Orlando. I didn’t know whether to have Orlando on my Will as “sister” or “brother” so I called to ask.

“Well, thanks for including me in your Will,” Orlando said, “but I hope you and Steve are around for years and years to come.”

“Thanks,” I said. “What do you think?”

“Well,” Orlando said, “I have not changed my gender marker yet (I don’t know what this means) so is “sibling” an option? That’s completely gender neutral.”

“Great idea!” I exclaimed, “I’m going to change everyone to “sibling” just in case anyone else decides to transition!”

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The Bike

 

I’ve always been generous and sort of acted affluent, even when I had close to nothing!! So weird. My stepfather put a roof over our head and gave mom a menial amount of money to feed us and that was about it. I’m grateful to both of them. They were doing the best they could. But if I wanted hair conditioner, chapstick, skin lotion or anything other than the utter basics, I was on my own. I started babysitting at 12 so that I could buy myself those things. I had major experience and credentials because I had a baby brother and sister born 8 and 12 years after I was who I helped raise so I was a successful babysitter from the start.

REALITY CHECK: In those days, I babysat for 50 cents an hour!! If a mother was gone for two hours, she would give me four quarters! And then I’d go buy my hair conditioner from Gemco!

When my brother Sean was 12, I was 21 waitressing making pretty good money for a young girl and it occurred to me that no one had ever bought him a bike. I paid my rent, my bills, my college tuition and my books by myself but I thought every young boy needs a bike. And if his parents aren’t doing it for him, I will! I thought.

So, I did. I went to Gemco, bought a gorgeous bike perfect for a young boy, the right size the right color and it cost me about $175. Big bucks in those days. I snuck it in on Christmas eve after the “kids” had gone to bed, put a huge bow on it with a card that said “Merry Christmas Sean!”

In the morning, Sean’s father (my step father) was very excited about this and took a little credit for it. This was a long time ago and memory is a weird thing but I remember Russ giving me credit but also taking some himself which struck me as soooo strange.

Sean never rode that bike once. He wasn’t a bike kid. I saw it rot on the side of the house. Maybe my Mom and stepdad knew something about Sean that I obviously didn’t. He wasn’t a bike guy!

Years went by but one time Sean said to me, “Yeah, but I remember when you bought that young kid that bike and wow, what that meant to that young kid!”

Even though he never rode it, the gesture made him happy and he never forgot it and that makes it all worthwhile.


Fun (And Funny) With Tim

“He’s going to have to close to perfect,” I told the owner of a dog walking service when I first moved to Dallas and was looking for help with my dogs.  “I mean, I’m going to have to be comfortable with him in my house, having a key and caring for my dogs.  I believe it is going to take a long time for me to find the right person, but you can send him over and I will meet with him, but don’t hold your breath.  Also, I hate hurting people’s feelings so when I call you to tell you he’s not right, please make something up so his feelings are not hurt.”

What I didn’t know is that Tim, a retired non-profit high level executive who had taken a part time job caring for dogs for pocket change, would be going on his very first meeting with a client.  He was brand new with the company.

The doorbell rang and I hesitantly opened the door.  The person who stood in front of me was obviously gay, had beautiful, piercing blue eyes, had amazing eye contact and I trusted him before he even said a word.  He was wonderful with my dogs and by the time he left, he had my house key.

Fast forward 2 and a half years or so….I stole Tim from the dog walking company to work for me and my husband at our home.  He is my best friend in Dallas and he does all our landscaping, helps with the dogs, schedules service people, stays here when Steve and I travel and much more.  In fact, he took care of me after my back surgery because Steve had to go on a business trip.  I wish I had on video the scene of him trying to get compression stockings on me in the morning and off me at night.  OMG!  I told him back then that it’s perfect that he’s gay because I am so Ir-friggin-resistible.  (hehe, I’m no spring chicken and I looked horrid after my surgery.)

So, anyway, last week we had a problem with the thermostat/AC in the master bedroom.  Yes, it’s still warm here but the humidity is really why you need the air on.  Tim was worried he couldn’t get the AC repair guy out fast enough and said, “Are you sure you’ll be comfortable this weekend?”  I said, “Yes, because I will be in a hotel in Houston and you’ll be staying here.  Will you be comfortable?”

The last time Tim and I took Haley to the vet we pointed out a weird growth she has on her head about the size of a pencil eraser.  They were all analytical and Tim was asking all these questions and then I said, “Hey you guys, about a year ago after 3 glasses of wine I pinched that thing right off with my fingernails and threw it in the bushes. She didn’t even wince so I know it didn’t hurt.   My mom did that to some wierd growth on the back of my neck years ago which is how I learned this technique.  Mine never came back, Haley’s has after a year but if you don’t want to complicate things, I’ll have 3 glasses of wine tonight and take it off again.”  Tim was hysterical with laughter, the vet and tech were kinda dear in the headlights.

A while back, Tim and I were talking and I mentioned a woman Steve and I know who Tim has also met.  “She’s gay, you know, Tim,” I said.  “Oh, she is?”  he asked surprised.  “Yes, Tim, everyone’s gay” I joked.  “Oh right, they just don’t know it yet…..” he replied.  We roared.

Tim and I have so much fun and he adds so much to my life and I’m so grateful for him.

Kona Died

“This was the hardest one,” an ape keeper named Tara at the Dallas zoo told me today, “the hardest one ever.”

Anyone who works in any capacity with the apes had sunglasses on today and were carrying much needed tissue.

Last night as I sat at dinner with my husband I kept hearing my phone tones for email and text.  I don’t work (I volunteer) so I don’t get as much activity on my phone as most people and the rate at which these sounds were coming in alarmed me a little.  “Excuse me please, let me check that,” I said to my husband.

I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I volunteer at the Dallas zoo two days a week speaking about behaviors and personalities of the apes.  I have come to know each ape intimately and some know and recognize me.  I love them deeply.

Andrea, it’s Julie at the zoo.  I know this is going to hit you hard and I’m so sorry.  I sent you several emails and I think Tracy did, too.  We lost Kona today, I read on text.  I burst into tears.  My husband was frantically asking what happened of course and I told him we lost Kona.

“Oh, the one who got his toe bit off by Juba?” my husband asked anxiously.

“NO!” I said, “those are the gorillas, Kona was the 7 year old Chimp!” I said as I sobbed.  I cried myself to sleep.

Driving to the zoo today was horrible.  I was so scared to see the keepers but even more scared to see the Chimpanzee troupe.  Cindy did a good job faking it at the Chimp Keeper Talk and then I saw Annie.  We embraced and I started to cry and she hugged me even harder.  Sweet thing, she’s only 28.

I am good friends with Kona’s main keeper whose name is Will.  Will is an emergency medical technician and is in Vietnam right now on a doctors without borders type mission with his father who is a surgeon.  I was so shaken up that I texted Will and just said OMFG and he responded and was an absolute wreck. Annie is his girlfriend and he asked me to take care of her until he could get back.  I told Will she’s a lot stronger than either of us, which is true.  Annie is not unemotional, she just controls it well.  When I told Annie Will texted me to take care of her she chuckled with tears in her eyes.

Later in the day I saw many other ape keepers and it was emotional.  Kona was one of a kind.  He was a rebel, a clown, a strategizer, a risk taker and his two and a half year old little brother Mshindi loved him to pieces.  In fact, at the zoo when an ape dies, they let the other apes in the troupe see the deceased body so they can process what has happened.  Little Mshindi was slapping Kona’s dead body trying to wake him up.  Gut wrenching.

No one knows exactly what killed Kona.  He had been a little lethargic and not eating well for a week.  When they brought him in and put him under anesthesia to try and figure out what was wrong, he just died.  Blood work and autopsy in progress but who cares, it won’t bring him back.

This morning when the keepers got to work there was poop spread on every wall, floor and ceiling of the indoor Chimp bedrooms.  Last night, the chimps protested.  It was the only way they knew how.  Today the Chimps were despondent and little Mshindi was trying to play the games on the ropes and climbing structures all by himself that he used to play 0n with Kona.  Gut wrenching.

konaresized

Sweet Kona

image-11-5-16-at-4-27-pm

Mshindi is going to miss Kona

So am I


Are You My Mother?

Just heard from my Mom. To me, she is the funniest person on the planet.  From the time I was one and a half years old and could understand what she was saying she has always made me laugh.  This is classic Mom:

I went in yesterday for a flu shot. They were giving them in the lobby of Kaiser which is big. I registered, waited my turn and was ushered to table number 3.
The pretty nurse said “how old are you?”
“I’m 80,” my mom said.

“Are you allergic to eggs?” she was asked

“No,” my mother replied.

“Have you ever had dizziness or disorientation?” pretty girl asked.

“No,” mom said.  “I mean maybe four times in my life when I drank too much champagne!”

“Normal,” pretty girl said.

“Do you have allergic reactions?” 

“To certain people,” my Mom replied.  (To those of you who know me, if you think I’m a rebel, you should meet my mom!!)

“Have you had any incidences lately with pests that felt disturbing in your life or left you feeling anything less than healthy?” pretty girl asked.

“Yes!” Mom said a little too loudly.  “There were deer on my redwood forest property in the last several days and they ate the flowers I JUST planted! SOOOOO frustrating!!”

“We’re almost done here.  Do you feel safe at home?”  

“Uh, I live in the middle of a redwood forest that is very isolated.  Are you referring to the person I live with or anxiety in general.  Are you a therapist or a person who gives a flu shot?  This is getting a little wierd….”

“Okay, final answer before I give you your flu shot. Are you or do you plan on getting pregnant in the near future?”

“Yes, as soon as I can.


Amazing Sacrifices For Those We Love

I didn’t write this, looks like it’s from People Magazine but wow!

After eight-year-old Gabriel Marshall underwent surgery to remove a tumor in his brain, the large scar left in its place “made him feel like a monster,” Gabriel’s dad, Josh, tells PEOPLE.

“He was very embarrassed about the scar – he wouldn’t even leave the house without something covering his head.”

“He said that he felt like everybody was staring at him and it made him feel like a monster, which broke my heart because to me he’s the most beautiful thing,” says Josh, 28.

Dad Gets Scar Tattoo to Match His Son's Brain Cancer Surgery Scar: 'I Wanted to Take Away Some of the Stares'| Cancer, Health, Bodywatch

Josh and Gabriel Marshall

Josh wanted to make his son feel better about the procedure, especially once Gabriel’s tumor – an anaplastic astrocytoma that had metastasized to his spine – was showing no signs of regrowth. So Josh decided to get a tattoo to match Gabriel’s scar.

“I asked him if it would be okay if I went and got his scar tattooed on my head if that would make him feel better, and he agreed that yes it would,” Josh says. “[I wanted] to take away some of the stares or attention from him.”

“He was very excited when I came home and showed him that I’d gotten it done. He said, ‘Wow that looks so realistic.’ ”

With his dad by his side, Gabriel learned to appreciate his scar.

“He’s now very proud of his scar because he knows that that it means that he was tougher than [the tumor] that tried to hurt him,” Josh says. “He calls it his battle scar.”

It’s been 15 months since Gabriel’s tumor was removed but doctors are monitoring him closely before officially saying he’s in remission.

“There is still some tumor in there, but his last sets of scans have shown that there is no new tumor growth,” Josh says. “The tumors are stable, so right now he’s just on watch with MRIs every 6 to 12 weeks.”

And on June 13, Josh, Gabriel and their matching scars made the news after Josh entered the annual Best Bald Dad contest, put on by St. Baldrick’s, a childhood cancer charity.


Scary

“You have to be strong,” the woman in the waiting room at the oncology radiology facility said. “My husband has lymphoma everywhere in its final stages and we are cheerful and optimistic. It’s what you have to do to be with cancer.” Her husband will probably die. He is completely hunched over by what I suppose is osteoporosis in addition to the lymphoma his lovely wife told me has taken over his entire body.

That first day we went for Steve’s radiation treatment, I noticed a bell on the counter with a ribbon tied to it. On the ribbon it said I made it the whole way! I was so new to this idea of my youngish husband having to go through radiation that I didn’t quite get what that was. Then, when Steve was in treatment, someone walked out, picked up the bell and rang it. Everyone in the waiting room applauded and some jumped up to hug the person who had just completed the grueling months long, daily treatment of radiation. I suddenly got it and of course, was one of the jump-up huggers. But I was also in tears.

A couple weeks ago was Steve’s last radiation treatment for a mild recurrence of prostate cancer. MILD? Can you really even say that if its cancer? You really can’t. It’s cancer. In his case even though his numbers are low and very encouraging, you get only one shot at radiation. One. You can’t do it again because radiation causes cancer. What? We are trying to solve cancer with a cancer-causing agent? Yep. OMG.

On Steve’s last day I was in the waiting room, waiting. My husband is a very subtle and humble person. He is not a person who has a need to bring attention to himself so I wasn’t expecting him to ring a little funny bell. I just assumed he would want to get out of there and put it all behind him while we wait and wait for results of radiation.   He walked out, made eye contact with me, picked up that bell and rang it loudly with a huge smile on his face. I burst into quiet tears; I try not to be a spectacle either. People applauded, jumped up to hug him and it was a demonstration of how beautiful people can be when we realize we are all in the same damn boat. Cancer levels the playing field.

 

 



Pacemaker

 

“I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work,” George’s daughter Melissa texted me.

Pickle ball has changed my life. After back surgery for a herniated disk, my husband was worried I’d not be able to play tennis again and he found this new sport for me. Pickle ball is played in a gym on a badminton size court with a whiffle ball and a paddle and it’s a game of mixed doubles. Men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages all play together. It is a fast, aggressive game combining tennis with badminton and some people say Ping-Pong. I don’t see the Ping-Pong part of it. It’s an incredible work out but also an amazingly fun and addictive sport. I now play between 5 and 6 days a week for between 2 to 3 hours. It’s like my job, that and speaking about Gorillas and Chimps at the Dallas zoo 2 days a week. Lucky me. My recovery from the surgery was so excellent, I could easily play tennis, but I have no desire! My new love is Pickle ball.

I have met so many people and I have many very close friends in Texas as a result of Pickle ball. I am in awe at the support and camaraderie this PB community provides.

Not long ago, several of our Dallas police officers were shot and killed in a race relation issue. The next day at Pickle ball, one of the players called us all together and asked that we bow our heads in a minute of silence for the men who died. You could have heard a pin drop in that gym. It was powerful.

A couple months later right before we began play, a woman asked us to gather as she had a sad announcement. One of our dear Pickle ball friends Sarah, we were told, just lost her 48-year old daughter a day or two before. Again, we gathered, bowed our heads in silence and surely a lot of prayer for one of our own. Then the coach, Dave, went to get a bereavement card, which we all signed and he sent it. Sarah is not back yet but our community is there for her when she is.

Recently, one of our wonderful friends, George found out his heart rate was way too low. George is very athletic and otherwise a very healthy 72 year old, but his doctor was insistent on a pacemaker. He was going back and forth, stressing out about the decision because he felt so good and was playing Pickle ball several days a week aggressively. He was finally convinced it was what he needed to do.

George had the surgery to install the pacemaker on a Monday morning. Most everyone in our Pickle ball community knew. Shockingly, on Tuesday afternoon George sauntered in to the gym. He didn’t have his paddle with him and he didn’t intend on playing but he felt great and wanted to see us. Here is what I texted his daughter later, of whom I am very fond even though I don’t know her well.

Hi Melissa!  I wish you could have seen the scene when your father walked into the gym today.  The only word I can think of, and I don’t think I have ever used this word before, is “Fellowship”.  Several women jumped up to embrace him.  Our coach then went over to give him a hug and handshake and brought him a cushioned chair so he wouldn’t have to sit on the hard bleachers.  Then as games ended, men began walking up putting their hands on his shoulder or shaking his hand asking about his procedure and how he was doing.  He was the prince of the ball and everyone was quietly rejoicing in how well things went and how fabulous he looked.  Then a much older man than George took the padded seat and your father, of course, didn’t say a word and sat on the hard bleachers. He’s a special man and I know losing his wife was devastating as it was for you losing your mother.  But as a family, you have each other, and now know you can take comfort in that your father is a beloved member of a huge Fellowship of Pickle ball people.  Love, Andie

Here is Melissa’s response:

I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work. What a wonderful thing to read. Thank you. Thank you again and the Fellowship of PB’s for caring about him so much. I’m so glad you’ve all gotten to know the awesome man I’m lucky to call “Dad”.

I’m kinda starting to like Texas….