Cathy Cress is a friend of long-standing and an expert in the field of Aging. She has sent me her blog….about ME! Click here to see it.
Cathy Cress is a friend of long-standing and an expert in the field of Aging. She has sent me her blog….about ME! Click here to see it.
Driving along major highways in the US, we are interested in reaching our destination. Getting there. Watching our speed, watching the traffic for erratic drivers, checking the clock to see when we’ll arrive. Getting through. The highways swing out around the small towns and zoom through cities.
In the state of Sonora in Mexico recently, I was in friend Louise’s car for eight hours, heading south from Tucson, over the border, on our way to Alamos. I watched out the window and noted Life happening along the roadside. Men and boys were in the broad median strip cutting buffle grass to take home in their two-wheeled cart or bright white pick-up truck for their burro or goats. Their plastic water jug sat at the edge of the road.
Small villages are strung out along the route. Topos (traffic bumps) warned us: one bump and a space, two bumps and a space, three and a space as we approached the cluster of shacks and taco stands. At each topo, men stood in the middle of four-lane Highway 15 and held up plastic bags of camarones/shrimps or tortillas and sometimes cotton candy to tempt us. Dogs patrolled the edge of the concrete road. Children wandered along the dusty parallel pathway.
Sometimes, in a congested area, hundreds of Bott’s Dots erupted the surface and we slowed. Women with children crossed the roadway. Boys on bicycles pedaled to the other side. Some times we saw pedestrian crosswalks. Usually not. Occasionally a bus would pull to a stop and disgorge passengers, who, with their pastel plastic bags of lunch, hustled to the otra lado/other side.
In the villages, displays of gaudy ceramic pots or wood carvings loomed.
At the toll plazas, we stopped to pay the fee. Locals who protested the tolls jiggled plastic containers and asked for money. They are the residents who drive their portion of the road every work day. They pay as much as $10 a day. For some, more than their daily pay. “Besides,” they say, “it is unconstitutional. Our constitution says people can move around Mexico freely. Toll booths are unconstitutional!” That sounds fine, but the real reason is that the tolls strike working people in their pockets. They want stickers for their windshields so they can commute to their employment at a reduced rate. Of course, alternate tracks, out through the fields, do exist.
Meanwhile, the highway commission is losing projected income. Highway 15 is much improved since I first started traveling it 30 years ago. The trip from Tucson to Alamos used to take as long as 10 hours, and could take longer if you hit a cow. Last month, with four stops along the way, the return trip north from Alamos to the border took only six hours and another hour or so to Tucson.
Not only are the roads improved, but the auxiliary services make the drive safer and more pleasant. Convenience stores and clean bathrooms, usually supplied with toilet paper, are available. The Green Berets are a group of mechanics who patrol sections of the roads on the look-out for drivers with car trouble. If they see a car at the side of the road with its hood up, they stop to help.
The trip is more than the destination. It is un viaje feliz.
Recently, Spring Lake village fellow-resident, Alma, and I sat next to each other on the excursion bus to attend a rehearsal of the Santa Rosa Symphony. We didn’t know each other yet, but that didn’t hold her back. “It’s been a wobbly week,” she said.
“How so for you?” I asked.
She shrugged, “The fires roaring down from the north. The electric power being off for days. No hot water. Frail reading light from a lantern. Fridge losing its frost. Sad about people losing their homes again!”
“Right,” I said. “I almost had the fall-aparts. The closest I’ve ever come to losing it. Last Saturday I couldn’t decide what to do. I wanted to stay here and felt guilty when I thought of abandoning the ship. But the threat seemed so violent. What if the wind actually came directly toward us?
“I called my son John and wailed, ‘John, I don’t know what to do!’ I could almost hear him thinking, “YOU don’t know what to do! But you are the mom!”
“He listened to my confusion and calmly asked, ‘What would happen if you waited 18 hours? You could sleep on it and decide in the morning.’” How many times had I suggested to John and his brothers as they were growing up that they sleep on it?
“But,” I continued my fretting to Alma, “What if I didn’t have enough gas in the car to get anywhere? That’s when I drove to the gas station even though it was dusk. I prayed there would not be a long line and worried that I would have to drive back in the dark and I’m no longer a night-time driver.”
Alma asked, “Was there a long line?”
“No, there was not. The station was closed. A sign said, NO GAS.
“So, did you find gas anywhere?”
“Yes, that worked out and I drove back following the car in front of me. How about you? What were you thinking?”
“Oh, I just waited around and talked to everyone who sat in the Creekside Lounge watching the World Series and drinking wine. The staff plugged a huge TV into a generator and served free wine, you know.”
“Yes, but I was worn out and just had yogurt and blueberries for dinner and went to bed early. Lucky for me that I’d washed my hair that day before the power was cut off. The next morning I brought my laptop and iphone to the charging station that was sent up on the patio and went in to have breakfast. I still wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t even sure I was capable of making a good decision, I was so addled. Would I be a safe driver if I decided to leave? I was in the middle of this muddle when I overheard a resident say, ‘The City of Santa Rosa just called to ask how many buses would we need to evacuate.’ Where would they take us? The Fair Grounds was full of people from Healdsburg.’
“That did it. I collected the laptop and iphone, hurried back to my place, didn’t even stop to get a suitcase out of storage, threw some t-shirts and pants and socks and stuff into a cardboard box, grabbed perishable foods out of the refrigerator, got in the car, called John, and drove out to the freeway headed south.
“The clogged traffic of the day before had thinned but the drive that usually takes two hours took three. Not bad, considering.”
By the time Alma and I had finished talking about the wobbly week, we had reached Weir Auditorium at Sonoma State University. We knew we were fortunate to not have been evacuated. The winds had changed from blowing south toward us to west, out to the coast. We ached for those who lost homes. I can’t imagine how I’d manage without a home. I was lucky to have John and his wife Holly to welcome me into their lives for a week.
This week is Thanksgiving. The list of gratitudes is long.
My friend Dorothy told me an inspiring story about getting involved and the rewards.
In Dorothy’s congregation is a young family of father, mother, and five-year-old daughter, Alexis. They lost their home in the October 2017 firestorm in Santa Rosa.
Behind their church stands a small house used for meetings and storage, and when the family was burned out, the congregation cleaned up the small house and offered it to the family as shelter until they could rebuild.
When their new home was nearing completion and ready to be painted, Alexis asked if they could paint it pink with lavender trim. Of course she was sad when told, “No, I don’t think so.”
My friend Dorothy, who is active in Sonoma County Habitat for Humanity, heard of the child’s disappointment and asked leaders of Habitat if they could help.
They could! As a fund raising project, they had developed a pre-cut plywood play house to auction at benefit events. They contributed one to Alexis. It would need to be assembled and painted.
On a Saturday morning in mid-September 2019, a dozen or so senior residents of Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, California, gathered on the Creekside Patio to construct the play house and to paint it……yes, pink with lavender trim. The SLV kitchen served lunch snacks. Additional residents joined the group to admire the paint-job which included a mermaid standing by the door and flowers along the sides. At noon Alexis and her parents arrived.
We who live here gathered around as Alexis gasped and clutched her hands against her mouth. Her eyes shone with joy. Her mother took her hand and led her to the play house. Alexis opened the door, stepped inside, turned to close the door, and peered out the window at all of us watching her. Several wept.
All shared in the pleasure of the moment. I thought about the involvement of members of the congregation, of volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, the residents of Spring Lake Village, and the staff in the kitchen, and even those of us who just wandered by to see what was going on.
Thirty years ago, Helen Caldecott, pediatrician from Australia, who founded Physicians for Social Responsibility, told a group of Stanford doctors, “You say America is a great country. It is not. It could be great, but not until its citizens are involved and making it great.”
I think she would have nodded her approval on that Saturday morning in mid-September.
I’m reading The American Spirit, a book of his speeches written by David McCullough for university graduations, at the 200th anniversary of the White House, in Dallas to commemorate the memory of President John F Kennedy.
As a master of narrative history (I think that means he’s a good story-teller), McCullough has collected his significant speeches “to articulate the essential principles and characteristics that form the foundation of our country.” We Americans reflect on our national identity as never before. We worry, write post cards to our representatives, take our causes to the streets. In horror we watch our current president as David McCullough reminds of us of “core American values to which we all subscribe, regardless of which region we live in, which political party we identify with, or our ethnic background.” This book is a reminder of who we are and a guide to help us find our way forward.
We remember Abraham Lincoln’s soul, Harry Truman’s courage, Teddy Roosevelt’s enthusiasm, Franklin D Roosevelt’s ability to lift the nation’s morale with his powerful use of words.
The use of words. We each can sway opinions and enhance perspectives by our use of words. Coming in from the platforms of national scope, to the patios of our own private lives, we can listen to each other as we discuss intimate details of our daily experiences. We tell our stories and share our concerns. At this stage of our long lives, we don’t have the energy we once had to mount demonstrations in home towns and marches on Washington.
But we do visit local schools to help children learn to use their words: to learn the English language, to learn to read. Learning word skills from us elders, children learn also about how we give ourselves away; how we volunteer for community projects, how we model good manners, good behavior, social skills; how we care.
Elders can be, in addition to their profound and simple wisdom, just plain fun. We have much to offer. Not always visible because our wrinkles and walkers get in the way, but what’s essential is definitely there.
Note: I may be feeling encouraged about America because yesterday a thoughtful friend, Donna-the-Younger, came to sit on the patio with me. She devotes her life to guiding women through the shoals of mid-life and onto the shores of advanced age. She uses words really well!
David McCullough says, “language transcends time.”
Dig them deep and dig them wide. We could say that about our thought processes as we consider living in a senior community. Not an easy commitment to make. Not simple. Requires time and deep consideration. A wide variety of choices.
This phrase, “dig ‘em deep and dig ‘em wide” was coined by an actor and veteran vaudeville comedian in the early part of the 20th century. He was not thinking about senior residences. He wrote a wildly successful book named The Specialist in which an imaginary carpenter in the South shared his philosophy of life, his practical wisdom, and the technicalities of his trade, constructing outhouses. Have you heard outhouses referred to as chic sales?
In 1885, Charles,”Chic’” Partlow Sale was born in South Dakota. After an ordinary childhood and a successful stage career, he moved to Hollywood where he played character parts in motion pictures before dying of pneumonia in 1936 when he was 51 years old. He didn’t have time to experience living in a senior community.
Still, I like his folksy advice.
The Celebration of the Book has come and gone! It was a splendid affair! Last Wednesday, just before four o’clock, in the cavernous West Auditorium, Patricia, with almost 100 books, stood behind her table, change box at the ready. Scattered about the room, which when empty, feels like a basketball court, were seven round tables for seven people each. Friends Dottie and Raleigh were ready to pour the wine and fizzy water. The fruit and cheeses tray would arrive at 3:55. Jenny and I stood by a table where two pens, a bouquet of flowers, and a microphone waited.
Even before the doors opened at four o’clock, residents of Spring Lake Village, some with their walkers, canes, and walking sticks, began to file in to choose places to sit down.
We didn’t have 30 helium balloons as I’d envisioned. “A national shortage of helium,” I was told at the balloon store. I had wanted to fill the wide vacant air space with balloons floating above the tables, tied with ribbons to the little houses that formed centerpieces. Instead several flat balloons lay on each table and I asked everyone to take them home for their own parties or grandchildren.
Actually, we didn’t need the balloons to fill the space. Twice as many people as we expected came. Larry, the Director of Dining Services, told me there were more than 120 in attendance. We had expected 50, maybe 60. People were sitting on the edge of the stage, on window-sills, and leaning against the walls. I saw two staff members bring in more chairs. Friends Dottie and Raleigh brought wine to the people so no one had to get up to push their way through.
At 4:14, the grapes and cheeses hadn’t arrived.
At 4:15, I introduced Jenny and explained that although I’d written the blogs and collated them, Jenny had done everything else to birth the book. She took the photo for and designed the cover, she got the ISBN number, and secured permission to use published works. She formatted the book, adjusted the margins, chose the fonts. Everyone clapped for Jenny.
Some of my family were there. I introduced six-month-old Mason, his mother Sarah, his grandmother Holly, his great-aunt Joan, and our family-friends Marie and Betty.
At 4:30, I saw Larry and Gianni passing the cheeses from one person to the next. Nice!
Then I began to read one of the chapters/blogs. I read slowly and spoke directly into the microphone so those in the back could hear me. After one paragraph, I heard Mason jabbering. His voice was loud and matched my rhythm. I stopped. He stopped. I started again and he got right into the act. I stopped again. He was quiet. When I began, he came right along. Everyone was laughing. He helped me hold everyone’s attention. I felt at that moment that each person in the room had become a part of a unified, focused collective. We were indeed ONE. The ONE that we hear about when activists and religionists say that humans are all part of ONE. Led by a very small child.
Jenny signaled her sister Sarah. Sarah got up and took Mason out into the hall so I could continue to read. When I was through, Mason and his mother returned and many of the audience came to touch Mason. He was a star!
We sold all the books….. well, all except six. Patricia took five to the Corner Store here in Spring Lake Village. I took mine with me. The next day, Jenny ordered another 100.
We all had felt the kind of village this is.
Note: Copies are available from me and on Amazon.