When I was a teenager, my father would occasionally ask me to go with him to the Bay for a few hours. I understood what an unusual request it was. He hardly ever asked me to go anywhere with him. And the Bay was his special, sacred place. We shared it for the summer – the only time we spent together. So, although I hated Winter on the water, I went.
It seemed to me to be the most desolate place on Earth! The eerie sounds the waves made as they lapped at the shoreline. The cattails brown and bent. The few birds looking for food, silently foraging for the smallest bits. I felt so lonely, and thoughts of death, something I never had elsewhere, saddened and frightened me.
My father would hum! Songs he loved from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. It never occurred to him to ask why I was so quiet or why my body was hunched up under my heavy coat, my shoulders bent and my face buried under the collar.
Finally, he would turn and wordlessly head to the car. I followed like a stray dog.
On the way home we would stop at a roadside diner for a snack. I would always get hot chocolate and a slice of blueberry pie. He had coffee and a slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream. “Good, isn’t it Carole” he would ask. “Delicious”, I would answer. That was the only conversation. We drove home the rest of the way in silence.
Why, I wonder, am I thinking about this now? Could it be one of the mysteries of growing old?
I find myself yearning for the Bay as the grey clouds and cold wind color this solitary afternoon. I don’t mind that the house is quiet. I sit in my cozy armchair, my beloved cat, Lovebug, curled up on the carpet under my feet, remembering those rare days with my father. How strange! I am warmed by them.
It has been nearly two years since the Pandemic and my serious health issues collided and conspired to change my life and my world view. I will be 77 in April. It is not easy for me to grasp that. I am the woman who never gave a thought to age. I was comfortable telling people how old I was. Photo albums chronicled the changes in my appearance but did not bother me. In my mind, I was timeless.
Now, I look at the calendar and in the mirror, and see three quarters of a century returning my gaze. I reflect on what it means.
There is something hard and heart stopping about the sudden realization that time is no longer a certainty. Do I have days, months or years of life left? What role is this sudden torrent of memories playing as I come to terms with mortality?
I turn to writing, my way of dealing with the things I choose not to share or have no one to share them with. I review my dusty journals and published articles. I notice something I never saw before. I have three distinct volumes of my life. Old age has given me perspective.
Volume 1 is small. Hardly a book. More like a sloppy collection of papers, poorly arranged, that chronicle my teenage years. My desperate search to escape a violent home life. My first love. My accomplishments (yes Carole, you had some!) My glimpse of the person I was to become – comfortable with solitude, soothed by music and Nature, uncertain about the future, lacking confidence, wanting something I could not define and did not find.
Volume 11 is a comedy of errors. My desperate attempts to be someone I was not. No, Carole – you did not enjoy or fit the role of wife or mother. You lacked the courage and confidence to follow your dreams. You refused the offer to become a graduate assistant, choosing instead to teach high school English and fund your husband’s graduate school work and then your own. You yearned to travel and experience life different from the one you were leading. You divorced, bought a convertible, and drove the entire length of the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountain Parkways alone, stopping wherever you wanted for as long as you wanted. It was glorious! You did not stop there – traveling to Europe and South America on your own. For a time, you were the adventurous woman you dreamed of becoming. You opened your own business and found that you hated being “the boss”. Ultimately, it failed. You supported yourself with several jobs you hated, finally landing one you loved. You never married. You traveled for work, had few close friends, personal freedom and a loneliness you refused to acknowledge.
Volume 111 is an unfinished work. You retired, did consulting work, sold your house and moved to an apartment where you happily live to this day. You took classes at the local college and JCC. And for the first time had a circle of friends – 6 funny, smart, interesting women. All of them were married, had children and grandchildren. Once again, you were “different”. But this time, it did not matter.
Fast forward several years. You have outlived all but one of the group of 6 who no longer lives locally. You discovered that you were a good friend, spending time with them as they were dying, their last days with two of them. You adopted a rescue cat who you love and is your best friend. You are once again alone, confined by Covid and serious illnesses that keep you mainly housebound, unable to drive or do much walking.
It was not what I expected or planned.
Memories. Why do they bombard me every day? There is the old saying “What’s done is done”. But is it, really? I don’t have the answer. What I do have are journals, photo albums, and sleepless nights. Is there enough time to make sense of them? If I could, what would I do with them? I can’t go back and change anything. Is there a Volume IV?
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.