Monday, March 04, 2013

The Shinier Side of the Golden Years

If you're a frequent visitor here at Velvet Sacks, I have good news for you: You can save yourself ten minutes by skipping this post. This is what I wrote for homework for my second Life Writing class, and most of what's in it you already know. Oh, it's all been totally rewritten, so it isn't as if I'm serving up leftovers. It's just that there are no new dishes on the menu. 

On the other hand, if you want to check it out anyway, maybe I can spice it up for you by adding some links and photos to the text I read aloud in class. Here goes:


To my mind the phrase "golden years" implies that if we only live long enough, we’ll reach a point at which we’re free to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Frankly, I find this stereotype offensive. This is exactly why so many young people view us as selfish old coots, dilly-dallying our over-extended lives away on their FICA-tax dollars. There’s so much more to us than that. What about the person who ends up being a full-time caretaker for a spouse afflicted with Alzheimer's? What about the elderly couple who find themselves raising grandchildren because their own grown children aren't stepping up to the job? What about those who worked hard all their lives at low-paying jobs, unable to save for retirement, and now live at or below the poverty level? Do you think those people believe these years are "golden"? 

"Okay, then," you may ask, "what’s been your personal experience with the so-called golden years?" 

"Well," I'd have to admit, "I'm, uh, kickin' back. And relaxin'." And sometimes I feel really guilty about that, as if more suffering on my part would somehow make it up to those who aren’t as fortunate. I'm well aware that a financial or medical emergency could upset my rosy retirement years in an instant, but for right now, things are pretty good. 

I find that the great gift of the golden years is time: time for doing and time for just being. Conscious that most of my life is behind me, I penny-pinch both time and money. No longer concerned about making my money grow, I worry about making it stretch. I try to stretch out time, too, but it keeps ticking away no matter what I do. The best I can do is draw interest on each minute by spending it in a way that gives me my moment's worth.

Through the gift of time, I finally have more than enough of the solitude required to nurture my introverted soul. I'm able to stay in close touch with what I think and feel, no longer needing to run away and hide from the hustle and bustle to regroup. Now that most of my time is spent in serenity instead of in chaos, I can fully delight in the company of other people without feeling that they are sucking away my last ounce of energy. Ironically, just when it’s become easier for me to play well with others, I find myself without playmates. Most of the friends I've made in recent years have been people I met at work. Most of them are younger than I am. They still work.

My closest companions these days are my dogs, Levi and Gimpy. They’re Goldendoodles, big, blond, and curly. My stepsister calls them "lion dogs," an apt description, except that if lions are kings, these two dogs are court jesters. They keep me laughing. They also keep my sense of responsibility acute. I need them to know they can depend on me. Sometimes that merely means feeding them on schedule or letting them outside when they need to go. Other times it means whacking their tennis ball out from under the coffee table with a broom handle, over and over, while my favorite TV show is on.

Muddy-footed companions:  Levi (left) and Gimpy.

I’m close to my family, too, but we don’t spend a lot of time together. They don’t have the free time that I do. I remember being where they are now and understand the pressures of jobs, chores, and relationships. In between planned family get-togethers, my daughters and I stay in touch through phone calls and daily texts. I keep up with my grown grandkids on Facebook. The fact that I don't see them more often makes all of our face-to-face visits more meaningful, more memorable.

Typical family get-together.

Those children and grandchildren may not realize it now, but one day in the future, one of them or one of their children will become curious about their roots. Our family history has been a long-time passion of mine and will be my legacy to them. I've worked on it for 24 years and still spend hours each week collecting names, dates, and places, connecting the people of one family to those of another, following the trail of men, women and children who moved over the sea in ships and over this land by covered wagon. I'm writing down stories that were passed down by elders, and I’m puzzling out and piecing together other stories through long hours spent poring over old documents. I'm gathering and labeling family photos, providing a visual reference through which a widow's peak or a distinctive nose can be traced through time and history.

This photo from about 1930 shows four generations.
The little girl in front is my mother.

Old photos aren't the only ones that interest me. I take new pictures almost daily, capturing as much of the beauty around me as I can. Photography is a hobby I discovered late in life. It's taught me to look at the world differently, to pay attention to details, to notice color and texture, light and shadow. Film and prints were expensive when my children were growing up, so photography was reserved for vacations or other special occasions. These days, with a digital camera, I can take a dozen pictures of an interesting weed if I want to.

Random sample of digital photos.

I share some of my photos online, posting a different one each day. While I work with the images, cropping one to keep only the prettiest part of it or digitally erasing power lines from an otherwise lovely landscape, I listen to music. I never imagined that music would be as meaningful to me in my post-retirement years as it's turned out to be. My relatives are generous with iTunes cards on gift-giving occasions, and I've used those cards to compile the soundtrack of my life. I listen to songs I remember hearing as far back as the 1940s and new songs that speak to me when I hear them for the first time now. From country to classical, I'm moved by a melody, reminded by a snatch of lyrics, transported to another place, another time, another experience.

Random screenshot from my iTunes music list. (You know
you can click on all these images to enlarge them, right?)

Books transport me, too, allowing me to travel to places I'd never be able to visit, get to know fascinating characters, and experience adventures that the kind of cautious person I am wouldn't dare seek out on her own. Books have been my best friends for as long as I can remember. I'm protective of them. If I lend you a book, I'll think about it every time I see you until you return it. If you forget to return it, I won't badger you, but I'll obsess about it quietly until, finally, out of a need to preserve the friendship, I'll buy myself another copy of the book.

As an avid reader, I have the utmost respect for the authors who write the words that expand my thinking and engage my emotions. I value the content and caliber of their work more highly than ever now that I write for publication, too. Publication seems much too grand a label for what I'm doing, but I am expressing my thoughts and feelings in writing, clicking my computer mouse on a button that reads "publish," and setting my words free on the Internet. There they can be accepted or rejected by anyone who happens upon them. Knowing that someone, somewhere, will read my words makes me care a great deal about the way I present them.

Screenshot of Blogger's "compose" page for the post you're reading right now.

I started writing a blog because I wanted to leave something of myself behind when I die, a way for my daughters to find me at those moments when they need their mother, and a way for younger generations to get acquainted when or if they're interested. I feel lucky to have lived at the center of seven generations. I had a relationship with my great-grandmother, and I'm building one now with my three-year-old great-grandson. That sense of continuity is comforting to me, and I think of my blog as a bridge from one generation to another.

Dora, my great-grandmother - about 1950.

Owen, my great-grandson - Nov. 2012.

I didn't know when I started writing online that I'd be entering a diverse community known as the Blogosphere. I've learned not to be offended that some people take one look at what I’ve read and move on. The readers who come back again and again do so because they like what they've read there, and those are the people I want to reach. Many of the readers write blogs of their own, so sometimes it's nothing more than mutual admiration of the written word that brings us together. Sometimes it’s shared values. Sometimes real friendships form. It’s gratifying to live in an age when people from different parts of the globe, people of different ages, ethnicities, and lifestyles, with different religious and political perspectives, can forge a bond because a string of words written by one of them has struck a familiar chord with the other.

Those are the ways I spend most of my time. When I need a little variety, I squeeze in a puzzle: crossword, logic, or jigsaw. I'm trying to learn how to paint. I watch some television but almost never in the daytime. I cook or clean or grocery shop when I have to, and I like the fact that I don't have to do those chores on anyone else's timetable. I've learned that a minute of reverie can be just as enriching as a minute of activity; the key is to pay attention to it. 

The truth is that the quality of my life feels richer and fuller now--and freer of aggravation--than it did before I retired. My health is better, too. In that positive light I can see why some people call these years the golden ones. That being said, I'm ending this piece now and crossing my fingers that the gods of perversity don't read all this happy-sappy stuff and make me sorry I wrote it.


  1. If I were grading this assignment, I would give you an "A".

  2. "Love in the Hot Afternoon'" "Lay Lady Lay," "Lay Down Beside Me." That playlist of yours seems to have a theme here. I'd say you are one, hot Grandma, an inspiration to us all!

  3. "I've learned that a minute of reverie can be just as enriching as a minute of activity; the key is to pay attention to it."

    I like that!


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