STRANGE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WWF KIND

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m addicted to Words with Friends. I’ve blown entire days on Zynga’s electronic, Scrabble-style game. I have three friends with whom I play regularly, but sometimes I crave more action.

I was home the other day, nursing a cold and taking it easy. About the only thing I felt like doing was playing WWF. My friends weren’t on line, so I asked the game to match me with a random partner. Soon I was playing with a man called James (not his true screen name). James evidently didn’t have much to do besides play WWF. As soon as I’d post a word, he’d retaliate. After a few moves, he invited me to play a second, simultaneous game. We were beautifully matched. We split our first two games and then played two more. He won both, but all four games were close.

I didn’t use the chat feature with James, but I wondered why he had so much time for WWF. I pictured him as an older man, retired. Or maybe he lived in an earlier time zone. Maybe he was British—finished with his day’s work and relaxing with his telly, his cuppa, and Words.

I enjoyed the rapid-fire competition, but there was one problem. Too many of James’s words were suggestive. He must have played “tit” four or five times. Okay, that can refer to a bird, and maybe it was all he could do with a plethora of T’s and I’s. But he also played “boobs” and “sex.”

I’m no prude, and I’d never ban sex words. (After all, I can score big points with “pubic” or “vulva”.) But I don’t play those words constantly. His doing so seemed creepy. Having pictured James as elderly, I thought about my late father. Dad was always a ladies’ man, but as his brain aged, he lost some of the governors that controlled his conduct. Dad was good at crossword puzzles and would have enjoyed WWF. Like James, he might have tested his partner with bawdy words.

I wondered if there was a way James could acquire my personal information. I didn’t want to find out. I declined his request for a fifth game.

Last month, I connected with another random partner—I’ll call this one Alex—who chatted throughout our game. What did I look like? Where did I live? It was mid-afternoon in Cincinnati, but Alex was in Wales and had just gotten the baby down for the night. I pictured a young mother. When my partner texted, “I’m six feet tall and play American football,” I pictured a tall, athletic, young mother and posted back enthusiastically about sports opportunities for twenty-first-century women. After a few hours, I rethought the conversation, researched the football team, and realized I owed Alex an apology.

He came on line again as I was preparing for bed. “Wow, you’re up early,” I commented. Of course, the baby had awakened him at 4:00 AM.

“You’re a good dad,” I told him.

“I try,” he texted back. “But it’s hard.”

Interesting glimpses of people I’ll never meet. Fodder for a writer’s imagination. What a strange place technology has taken us!

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KINDLING A LOVE AFFAIR

I never thought I’d want an e-reader.

I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. One of the things I liked about those books was the variety in design—the heft of the Oz books, the slim elegance of Alice in Wonderland. I savored classic drawings by Tenniel and Shepard, end papers with exotic maps, and the occasional volume with deckle-edged pages. All my life, I have loved the feel—and smell—of a book in my hands.

So why would I trade that for a tiny screen?

Economic necessity, for starters. As an independent author, I network with other authors. Many, like me, are not well known. My local library doesn’t stock their books. I wanted to read and discuss those books, but the cost of buying them all was prohibitive. Enter the e-reader—and a world of freebies and low-cost promotions.

I chose an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite because it’s a well-established brand and touted as easiest on the eyes. (No, Amazon didn’t ask me to say that!) A friend recommended the Kindle Fire, but I wanted a dedicated reader, not another mini-computer that needs to be charged every night like my smartphone. Amazon claims the Paperwhite can run eight weeks on a single charge. That hasn’t been true for me—my usage is probably above average, and I keep Wi-Fi turned on to facilitate downloading. But I still charge it weekly, not nightly.

I requested the Kindle as a gift for my sixty-sixth birthday. My husband bought the reader, my son supplied the case, and I solicited gift certificates from others—to buy books, of course!

I love the convenience. I read in bed without another light source. My reader slips into my purse for a solitary luncheon or a stint in my doctor’s waiting room, and I can’t wait to travel with it. I have the Kindle app on my smartphone, and I switch between e-reader and phone. The system “knows” how far I’ve read and takes me to the latest page.

I heartily recommend e-readers to my contemporaries. Best-selling author Anne R. Allen wrote a blog post in December, Why Your Grandma Wants an E-Reader for the Holidays (Even Though She Doesn’t Know It). Ms. Allen cited three physical reasons why e-readers are ideal for older people: adjustable font sizes, lighter weight, and the ability to download books instantly without traveling to the bookstore or library. You can read her entire post at http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/12/why-your-grandma-wants-e-reader-for.html.

Another thought: For boomers who are downsizing their homes, an e-reader is an alternative to a library of bulky books.

One of the best parts is discovering a myriad of websites that provide links to free and discounted e-books. Here are just a few:

http://www.bookbub.com/

http://freebooksy.com/

http://www.fkbooksandtips.com/

In addition, I purchased an Amazon Prime subscription. One of its many benefits is a free, not yet released, Kindle book every month. I can borrow a second book monthly.

With minimal cost and maximum convenience, I’ve stacked up hundreds of books on my Kindle. Some are efforts from newbie authors who hope I’ll review their books favorably on Amazon and Goodreads. But others are classics and best-sellers. I’ve downloaded Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, and the Anne of Green Gables books I loved as a child.

The only problem now is finding time to cook, do laundry, or keep up with my own writing—anything but sneaking off to download and read books. This feels like an illicit love affair.

Have I changed your thinking about e-readers?

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YOU JUST NEVER KNOW

Note:  I’ve changed the names of my family members in the piece that follows.
I feel like someone who missed a plane, only to learn that it crashed.

Armed with a semi-automatic handgun and a knife, Shawn Walter Bair fatally shot two women Wednesday night in a supermarket in Elkhart, Indiana. He was pointing his weapon at the manager when Elkhart police arrived on the scene. Bair aimed at the officers; they shot and killed him. Bair reportedly had a history of drug and legal problems, and his Facebook page indicated that he was fascinated by serial killers.

While incidents like this still make the national news, they’re increasingly common these days. What makes this one stand out for me and my family is that Martin’s Super Market in Cobblestone Crossing was my cousin Elaine’s neighborhood grocery until she moved out of the state and into assisted living in 2012. Elaine’s memory was failing, but she always recalled the way to Martin’s, and she shopped there regularly. The Cobblestone Crossing shopping center was also home to a couple of restaurants where Elaine met her friends for lunch.

I know that Martin’s store myself. I used to drive up to see my cousins when Elaine’s son Michael came to visit. Mike likes to start his morning with a banana. Elaine doesn’t care for bananas, and she always forgot to buy them. It became a ritual to stop by Martin’s on my first day in Elkhart and grab a bunch of the yellow fruit for Mike. And when our family cleaned out Elaine’s house and prepared it for sale, Martin’s is where we picked up extra packing boxes and other supplies.

This Martin’s is a good-sized grocery with a nice deli section. It’s on one of the main drags, out on the east side of this small Northern Indiana town. It serves single-family homes and apartment complexes, most fairly new. The neighborhood seems quiet, and I think you’d call it normal. It’s certainly not a “bad neighborhood” that people would warn you to stay away from. This kind of thing can happen anywhere these days. You just never know.

Area residents, including Elaine’s daughter Rachel, used Facebook to share their shock and disbelief. Commenters praised the Elkhart police for their quick response. Many sent prayers to the victims’ families. Some excoriated the shooter, but others asked why his obvious cries for help were ignored. One of Rachel’s friends knew one of the victims. That’s how close this tragedy comes.

I’m glad Elaine no longer lives in Elkhart. I don’t think she follows the media anymore, and I doubt her children will relay this upsetting news. I can imagine her being in the store when the shootings happened–even though she was unlikely to shop at 10 p.m.–and I don’t want her to picture that herself. In her eighties, heavyset, and crippled by arthritis, she would not have escaped the gunman if he’d come toward her.

I guess we’ve all heard the quotation, “Live each day as if it were to be your last.” Sources attribute it to Og Mandino, an American essayist and psychologist who died in 1996, but I suspect someone else said it much earlier.

I see the truth of it this week. You just never know.

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PLEONASMS, OR PASS THE TUNA FISH

“I had tuna fish for lunch,” I told my husband.

“That’s redundant!” Scott exclaimed. “Tuna is a fish. You don’t have to say ‘tuna fish’.” Scott and I have both written copy at various points in our careers, so we have actual conversations about grammar and punctuation. In fact, Scott likes to flaunt the term “redundundant”—the extra syllable his own coinage and, we believe, self-explanatory.

“But everybody says ‘tuna fish,’” I countered. “You hear it all the time.”

I mentioned our discussion to my friend Joyce, who further clouded the issue. “If it comes in a can, it’s tuna fish,” she said with certainty. “But if you’re eating it fresh, it’s just tuna. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and order the wood-grilled ahi tuna fish.”

“Huh? It’s the same animal,” I said, thinking that Joyce’s logic reminded me of my mother’s when she served bacon and ham, but banned pork chops from our home. If it had “pork” in its name, you see, it was treyf. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

The conversation made me curious about common, but redundant, expressions, so I Googled redundant phrases and learned a new word. Those overloaded sayings are called pleonasms, derived from the Greek “to be excessive.” There are several websites devoted to collecting pleonasms. They all list terms like actual experience, basic fundamentals, close proximity, and free gift, but most omit a couple of expressions that particularly bug me.

One phrase I encounter frequently is safe haven. It’s even the title of a best-selling book by Nicholas Sparks and a movie based on the book. Merriam-Webster defines haven as a place where you are protected from danger, trouble, etc.  How could that place be anything but safe? Pleonasm!

But the one that really gets me is cheese quesadilla. Queso is the Spanish word for cheese. So if it’s a quesadilla, it’s made with cheese. If it doesn’t include cheese, it’s a tortilla panini or something like that, but it’s not a quesadilla. When you order that item, you should be asking for a plain quesadilla, not a cheese quesadilla.

“One … cheese … quesadilla,” the server—oblivious to pleonasms—will undoubtedly note as she scribbles your order.

Of course, there’s a way to keep that from happening. You could always order a tuna fish quesadilla.

What redundant expressions bother you?  Let’s share!  Put ’em in the comments, please.

 

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THE YEAR WE WERE REALLY THANKFUL

Yes, this is an edited version of my 2012 Thanksgiving post.  So what?  I’m serving turkey again this year, too. 

When our son was small, my husband, Scott, and I tried to teach him the meaning of Thanksgiving by having everyone at the table name something they were thankful for. By the time he reached his teens, our son thought this was corny.  But the custom went on.

In 2001, when our son was 24, there was no question about why we were thankful.

In the midst of all the other tumult that autumn, our son (who goes nameless in my blog) injured his knee. He was living in Chicago, taking a course in improvisational acting at Second City and serving pizza at Gino’s East. The knee got bad enough to hamper these activities, so he scheduled arthroscopic surgery for mid-November.

I should mention that this young man was having a run of bad luck. A couple of years earlier, he’d parked his car at a curb where someone threw a lighted cigarette butt into a trash can. The trash went up in flames, and so did his car. This was the sort of thing that happened to him. We used to call him “Joe Btfsplk,” after the character in Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip who walked around with a black cloud over his head.

I came up from Cincinnati for the surgery. The procedure seemed to go well.  He could walk right away, but complained of a sore throat. “That sounds normal,” I said. “You had a tube down there.” 

The next day I drove home and Scott replaced me. He called to say that our son’s throat had not improved. It had swollen enough to make breathing difficult, so Scott took him back to the hospital.  He’d apparently had a reaction to the tube. The doctor gave him intravenous antibiotics and steroids and sent him home. 

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, our son had his post-op checkup. “My knee and my throat feel okay,” he reported.  “But I have this funny pain in my arm.” 

The doctor immediately admitted him to the hospital with a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis), a complication of either the surgery or the subsequent IV. He was given a blood thinner and hospitalized for two days.  When he was released Wednesday morning, he said, “I’m supposed to drive to Cincinnati and spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Can I go?”  The doctor agreed.

By the time he was ready to leave, it was rush hour in Chicago. He waited that out and got a late start.

The phone call came at 1:30 a.m.  Just outside of Greensburg, Indiana, about seventy miles from our home, a deer had gotten the urge to cross Interstate 74.  All our son saw was a brown blur. He had no time to react. 

The big buck’s antlers penetrated our son’s windshield. Fortunately, they did not penetrate his skin.  Full of anticoagulant, he surely would have bled out before help arrived. 

Scott drove to Greensburg to retrieve our son, who was merely shaken and bruised. That night at dinner, I said, “We know what we’re thankful for. There’s no need to go around and say it.”

Our son isn’t coming home for Thanksgiving this year. He lives in Seattle now; it’s too far to travel. Instead he’ll spend the weekend moving because the inconsiderate neighbor who flooded our son’s apartment—twice—moved out and an excruciatingly noisy neighbor moved in.  Yeah, some folks’ luck doesn’t change. 

But we’re very thankful that he’s around to do it.

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THE SOUND IN THE NIGHT

I will never understand the way men think.

The other night, I was roused from sleep by … oh horror, could it be? Again it came—that awful sound that slices through slumber, striking terror into the heart of anyone who lives with a cat.  The vile discord produced by a feline yakking up his meal in the middle of the night on the wall-to-wall carpet.

Our older cat, Tiki Bear, has a habit of wandering downstairs in the night for a snack. A few times a month, he gobbles his kibble too fast and almost as quickly disgorges it. Snarf and barf, we call it. Don’t worry about Tiki—despite these episodes, he’s fine. He eats a prescription diet recommended by our vet. He gained three pounds during his first year with us, and his coat is sleek and shiny. These days our concern is mainly for the rugs.

It was 4 a.m. and chilly for November. The alarm was set for 6. The bedroom was frosty, the electric blanket at precisely the right temperature. “That didn’t sound like a bad one,” I thought. “It can wait till the alarm goes off.”

Beside me, my husband stirred. “Sounded like a little one,” I yawned. “I wasn’t going to get up.”

“Well, I have to pee,” my husband said.

“Hmmm,” I muttered. “Did that a while ago. But since you’re up …”  I wriggled further into my cozy cocoon.

Scott switched on the lamp on his nightstand, then stood up and sought out the spot. “Nope, not too bad.” Leaving the light on, he disappeared into the bathroom. I lay there for what felt like hours, unable to fall back to sleep with the light shining on my face.

At least, I thought contentedly, THIS cat, he’ll clean up after. Although we’ve had cats throughout our marriage, Tiki is the first to demonstrate a preference for Scott over me. Although I paid him special attention for years before we adopted him from the shelter where I volunteer, he was Daddy’s boy the moment he crossed our threshold. And Scott has responded. Prior to Tiki’s arrival, he always considered it my job to deal with “accidents.” I’d come home from work to find a note taped to a table above the scene of the crime:

With an arrow, yet. But since Tiki arrived, Scott has actually cleaned up HIS cat’s waste products on more than one occasion. Even when I wasn’t out of town.

After an eternity of blazing light, the bathroom door opened. My husband came out and walked back to the bed.

“Aren’t you going to pick up the stuff?” I inquired.

“Why?” Scott asked. “You said you were going to leave it till we got up.”

“Aarrgh,” I groaned, wrenching myself from the toasty bed into the bitter night. By the time I cleaned up the mess, Tiki was comfortably ensconced on my side of the bed. “Just don’t kiss me, buddy,” I growled as I wedged in beside him.

No biggie, I guess. But I will never understand the way men think.

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THROUGH GLASSES, DARKLY

“No sign of cataracts,” my ophthalmologist said. “You’re doing great!”

Sorry, Doctor, but you don’t understand. I may be unique among your patients, but I want to have cataract surgery.

Everyone I know who’s had that surgery, and received a lens implant, says they have the best eyesight they’ve had in decades. Without glasses. That’s for me.

I’ve required some form of vision correction for fifty-nine years. At seven, I was one of the first in my grade to wear glasses. I already had a nerdy reputation, and the specs didn’t help. I was sure I was destined to be one of those girls that boys don’t make passes at.

My family made things worse. My grandmother was legally blind, and my parents and grandparents lived in fear that I had inherited some condition from her. When I became nearsighted at seven, my folks were convinced their worries were founded.

I remember being spanked for reading a book in inadequate light after my father had warned me not to. (I didn’t move because it was winter in Wisconsin and I was cuddled up to the heating vent.) My parents believed that reading in poor light—or sitting too close to our newly-acquired TV—would rob their delicate flower of her remaining vision.

I saw a local ophthalmologist regularly, but that wasn’t enough for my grandparents. They were the kind of New Yorkers who believed that everything outside Manhattan was inferior. So whenever I visited my grandmother, she would drag me to her own doctor for assurance that the guy in Wisconsin knew what he was doing.

It wasn’t until high school, when many of my classmates had acquired glasses and I could compare, that I learned my family had blown things out of proportion. I was testing out at 20/60 or 20/70 while some of my friends registered 20/120 or 20/200.  Big … deal.

I begged for contact lenses and got them at seventeen. Wearing contacts throughout my dating years made me feel pretty, and I relished a new experience … the caress of a gentle wind on my face. The soft, and later the gas-permeable contacts introduced in the Seventies were supposed to be more comfortable than the old, hard type. But neither felt comfortable to me, and they didn’t work as well. I couldn’t read street signs. I went back to my frames.

Along with all the other boomers, I developed presbyopia in my forties. After twenty years, I haven’t mastered bifocals—I always seem to be looking through the wrong part of the lens. I remove my glasses to read or work at the computer—and misplace them regularly. My husband accuses me of “losing it” and threatens to buy me a chain for them. But I refuse to wear that badge of old-lady-hood. The chain would be counterproductive anyway, since I spend much of my time around cats.

So this surgery could be my salvation—if only I needed it. Of course, there’s an alternative—LASIK. But when my son had LASIK, I figured I was too old. Because I was about to have cataract surgery. Except that was thirteen years ago, and it’s still not appropriate for me.

My grandmother had cataracts. My dad had cataracts. My fellow volunteer at the animal shelter, who’s a year older than I am, is awaiting cataract surgery. And my husband’s doctor is watching him very carefully. How come everyone has cataracts except me?

Life sure has a way of throwing you … incomplete passes.

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HALLOWEEN AS IT USED TO BE

I loved Halloween when I was a child. When I still believed in ghosts and monsters, it was an evening of magic and adventure. What creatures might lurk behind the next bush? If someone was burning leaves—no laws against it then—the rising smoke, glowing embers, and pungent odor added mystery and enchantment to the night.

I was an only child and lived on a busy highway, so for years I would go to a playmate’s home for trick-or-treating. I would caper in the dark through the unfamiliar neighborhood. Although I had no intention of playing a trick on anyone who didn’t ply me with candy, it was intriguing to think that for one night, I had a license to be naughty.

Running wild through the night was the holiday’s hallmark. In my neighborhood today, trick-or-treating is a regimented affair. A siren—the same one that announces tornadoes and other disasters—blows promptly at 6:00 to begin the festivities and again at 8:00 to end them. Because Daylight Savings Time has been extended into November, and Cincinnati is on the western edge of its time zone, the skies remain light through much of the mandated begging time. Of course it’s safer, but it can’t be as much fun.

The first year my friend invited me to join her, I was unprepared. Fortunately, my parents allowed me to cut eyeholes in an old sheet and dress up as a ghost. After that I would go early each October to the five-and-dime to select my costumes, relishing the silky feel of the flimsy fabrics, grimacing as the outfits shed glitter. My earliest masks in the 1950s predated plastic ones—they were made from a burlap-like fabric, stiffened, molded, and painted.

I don’t remember my parents ever checking my haul for contaminants or sharp objects. In those days before a few bad apples spoiled it for all of us, I ate whatever I received. Homemade popcorn balls were a special treat. I remember one candy, endemic to Halloween, that I never knew before or since—large chunks of cheap taffy, choking hazards for sure, wrapped in orange or black waxed paper. I didn’t care much for these, and they generally languished in the bottom of my bag until I gnawed at them out of desperation or glumly threw the petrified things out.

I also miss Halloweens when my son was small. His birthday is October 29, so his grandmother would join us for a week-long celebration. At age two, he strode out into the night for the first time as a tiny Incredible Hulk, only to cling to me in tears when he encountered older kids dressed as vampires. But he soon learned to appreciate the fun. For years his parties featured costumed guests and scary movies.

One year he claimed, from an outdated video store promotion, an almost life-sized cardboard figure of Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Although my son has moved far away, Freddy remains a permanent part of our Halloween décor. Meanwhile, my son organizes horror-movie festivals in his new hometown of Seattle—and writes, directs, and produces his own gory and raunchy slasher-film parodies.

Although much of the magic of Halloween is gone for me, I still enjoy my recollections. Times are different, but I hope today’s kids are able to find their own Halloween magic and memories.

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IT’S HER BODY, BUT …

I strode away from Lambeau Field, but turned back as I realized Pam was lagging behind. “Go ahead,” she waved me on. Instead, I slowed my pace to hers. We had come there to be together, after all.

A few weeks ago, three friends and I reunited in Green Bay, Wisconsin. We do this every fall; since 1998, we’ve missed only twice. We catch up on each other’s lives, revisit favorite haunts, and (of course) take in a Packer game.

Del looked great; she’s been working with a personal trainer. Carla carried a pedometer to count her 10,000 daily steps. Me? Seven years ago, I developed Type 2 diabetes. My doctor put me on a diet and advised that exercise was crucial in controlling the disease. I’ve gained back ten of the fifty pounds I lost, but I continue to work out, and my sugars are normal.

Then there’s Pam. She also has Type 2, but it’s not controlled, although she’s on medication. She said to me this year, as she has before, “Your doctor scared you about diabetes. Mine didn’t scare me.” C’mon, you’ve had it for what, ten years? Time enough to become wary of potential complications like nerve damage or blindness.

Pam can’t walk as fast or as far as the rest of us. This year she had trouble getting up from a low seat. Sure, people age at different rates, but I think the problem is her sedentary lifestyle.

Pam hates exercising. She makes excuses. It’s too hot for walking in Louisiana, and her home is on a busy highway. She doesn’t live near a health club like I do. We give her flak. Pam doesn’t get angry; that’s not her way. But it casts a shadow on our time together.

I know I shouldn’t lecture my BFF. As Del and I, the liberals of our group, maintain—in another context—it’s her body and no one has the right to tell her what to do with it. I also realize everyone’s metabolism is different. Pam could match me, bite for bite, step for step, and she might gain weight while I lose.

She’s made progress, after all. She’s thirty, maybe forty pounds below her top weight. And now she’s found a sweet wine to substitute for the fruity cocktails she used to drink. Unlike dry wines, it tastes good to her, and it doesn’t raise her blood sugar as much as the mixed drinks. But still, she tests higher on medication than I do without. Maybe she needs to be more proactive with her doctor. Or maybe she simply needs to work out.

I enjoy exercise, and I hope that one day Pam can feel what I feel. I’m elated when I find my zone, that magical place I discovered—on a playground with Pam, Del, and Carla—more than fifty years ago. I love to feel my muscles working together. To be able to let go, yet stay in control.

But she could throw that back at me. Pam’s devout; I’m an atheist. I’m sure she wants me to experience what she feels in church—the rapture, cleansing, whatever convinces her of the rightness of it. That’s not happening. So it’s unfair for me to tell her how she should feel.

Carla, Del, and I don’t mean to patronize Pam. We’re concerned. The bottom line: We want her to be well enough to return to Green Bay with us, next year and afterwards. She completes us.

What’s the right thing to do, nag or shut up?

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ARE OLD LADIES CUTE?

I’ve been thinking about something my friend Pam said. We were planning our annual trip to Green Bay, and I e-mailed her to say the Packers autograph session we’d wanted to attend was sold out.  Pam replied, “We could crash it and be on the front page of the Press-Gazette!  We are so old that people will say, ‘Aw, aren’t they cute!’”

I know Pam was kidding. And I don’t think we’re quite old enough to pull that off. But her response got me thinking: Are old ladies inherently cute?

Old enough to be cute?

Turning sixty-six, I’m into what some people call The Second Adulthood or The Third Stage of Life, so it’s time to decide whether I want to be cute. I’ve reinvented myself at numerous stages throughout my life. Now it may be time to choose my final persona.

The twins looked like miniatures of my grandmother, pictured here.

I admit that one of the cutest things I ever saw was a pair of old ladies in San Francisco, sometime around1985. They appeared to be identical twins and were probably in their eighties. Their carefully coiffed wigs and cats-eye glasses reminded me of my grandmother’s twenty years before. They were barely more than four-and-a-half feet tall and dressed exactly alike. Their veritable sameness, their outdated look, and their diminutive size (ooh, the tiny feet) made them undeniably … cute.  I wanted to take a photo, but I thought it rude to ask.

Alternatively, I find the bumbling beldames I see pictured on so many greeting cards today (“Isn’t it windy?” “No, it’s Thursday.” “I’ll have a drink.”) frightening, rather than cute. This portrayal demeans me, somehow.  I hope this isn’t my future.

No, no, I’m not ready to be cute. When I think of iconic women around my age, I don’t find them cute. Meryl Streep is not cute. Cher is not cute. Hillary Rodham Clinton is … Definitely. Not. Cute.

Goldie Hawn? Now she’s cute, but not in an old-lady way. I couldn’t do “cute” like Goldie in the Sixties, and I’m sure I couldn’t now.

I’m not sure I was cute even when I was a kid. My classmates were cute in their frilly party dresses. My parents, for the most part, eschewed the frills and dressed me up in miniature, blue or gray, tailored suits with pleated skirts. I hated those suits, but now it occurs to me that my folks might have been sending me a message. Don’t try to be cute. Try for … what? Dignified? Classy? When I was six, my skinned knees tended to spoil the image, but now … Yeah, maybe I can be dignified.

Or I could take my cue from a woman I’ve met through volunteer work. She so resembles an entirely different greeting-card heroine, in both looks and personality, that I’m hard pressed to call her Doris rather than Maxine. Salty … that’s a good word for her. I have a black sense of humor and (unlike Doris) a bit of a potty mouth. Maybe I can be salty. It’s got to be easier than dignified.

If you know me, personally or through my writing, tell me what you think. What fits me? Cute? Dignified? Salty? Another one I haven’t thought of?  And which personality would you pick for your Third Stage of Life? I’d like to know.

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