My grandfather told me many times that he never understood why my daddy avoided regular maintenance on any of his automobiles. At least change the oil, I heard him say to my dad a thousand times. Now I’m not sure why my dad who was scrupulous about his shirts and ties that he wore every day to work at the school and who was fastidious about having not one smear on his eyeglasses in the morning had such a total disregard for getting the oil changed in his car, but I will say I remember we changed Chevrolets more frequently than the oil.
With that in mind, I try to make sure we maintain our 2006 Toyota 4-Runner we’ve had for eight years and our “new” 2007 Dodge Dakota that replaced the old 2004 Dodge Dakota which finally gave up recently after eight years, umpteen thousand-mile trips back and forth to Texas and almost 200,000 miles. Now, that was a truck I loved…and maintained.
Next week on the 21st of April I will be 70 years old. I can’t tell you how old that makes me feel, but I can tell you I never thought I’d live to see 30. And here I am forty years longer and wondering if I’ve had enough maintenance during the past seven decades from 1946 to 2016 to keep me running for a little while longer. My Medicine Men (and Women) – the doctors, dentists, dermatologists, psychiatrists and ophthalmologists who faithfully prescribed my Magic Meds for the past forty years and the pharmacists who faithfully dispensed them have certainly done their part. As my longest-serving doctor Frank Martin, Jr., says, “You are the healthiest person I know considering the terrible shape you’re in.” Now that’s a compliment to be proud of. Thanks, Frank.
So at 70 I am very happy to be able to negotiate the activities of daily living, as we say in the jargon of post-retirement life and in the language of the long-term care insurance policies I sold in a time long ago but not so far away. I may congratulate myself and think “cleared it” when I step out of the bathtub these days, but at least I have taken one small step for mankind when I don’t have to call T for help to make that step. My attitude toward bathing has undergone a kind of metamorphosis over the past few years from “daily” really means “daily” to “gosh, did I take a shower yesterday?” to “Hey, T, are we seeing anybody today?” I love a shower after I take it, but I consider that time to be one of the most boring activities of daily living ever created.
I have more fears as I approach 70. My grandmother suffered from severe depression in her late sixties and early seventies and was supposed to be taking Librium in addition to the electroshock treatments she received at various mental hospitals in the 1960s. My mother always assumed and accused her of deliberately refusing to take her meds, but now I wonder if she didn’t take them because she couldn’t afford to pay for them. Medicines have always been expensive, and my grandmother lived on a very small Social Security pension since she had been paid a pittance for her years as a clerk in the general store. So did she refuse to take them, or was she unable to pay for them…a mystery I will never solve.
Fast forward one generation and my mother’s dementia that became the thief who robbed her of her memories and dignity began in her early seventies and finally ended shortly after her 85th. birthday. Needless to say, heavy, heavy hangs the dread of dementia in this daughter. I am hoping that somehow in the genetic mishmash that belongs to me the genes of my father will swoop in, take over and beat back the bad ones of my mother; of course, there’s that little heart problem on his side of the family. Sigh.
I belong to the Baby Boomer generation, a name derived from the overwhelming population increase in the years immediately following WWII. I have read about our excesses and expectations ad nauseam and can best describe my cohorts and me as a hot mess. Our importance has not necessarily been marked so much by our achievements but by the collective influences of our sheer numbers on society as we blundered along from one century to the next. We trampled all over ourselves and did it right out there in front of God and everybody. We have adapted to and embraced technological changes reluctantly but have commandeered entire communication systems for our personal advancement and entertainment. Think Facebook. We have preached self-reliance all our lives but now most of us rely on Social Security programs as the main source of our retirement income and medical safety net.
At 70 I am dealing with feelings of invisibility and incompetence. In a social gathering it’s best for me to be seen and not heard, which is part of my problem. Last night I was at a small get-together at a friend’s house for a birthday party. The group of eight was sitting outdoors on a deck overlooking a beautiful Columbia yard in the springtime at dusk. The weather was perfect – the champagne excellent and the conversation lively. Two of the women had just gotten back from vacation and were talking about their cruise in the Cayman Islands. There was a lull, and I asked them what a “Dizzy Cruise” was – that was a new one on me. The entire group stopped talking and stared at me. Teresa said “Disney Cruise, Disney Cruise” and I was rescued. But clearly I don’t hear like I used to.
And in the middle of the health, social and financial issues we Baby Boomers are experiencing as we turn 70, we also have to worry about our legacies. How will we be remembered? Will we be remembered? Why should we be remembered? Yikes. Enough already. If 70 isn’t a year for a tune-up, I’d be shocked with the plugs my daddy never replaced. In fact, I think I’ll keep a maintenance journal this year – so stay tuned in for more tune-ups.