The UPS and DOWNS of Aging

We have large maple trees in the front and back yards that drop a ton of leaves every October. This means on a windy day when we open the garage door or let the dogs out on the back deck, maple leaves come blowing in. In past years, we would simply gather them up individually by hand. Now, however, we are at an age when bending and straightening repeatedly is a fading skill. Oh sure, for the occasional dropped spoon or dead mouse, we can still make the slow journey DOWN and UP, but for 10s, 20s, and 100s of orange and yellow maple leaves, nah-uh! Our backs decline to undertake it. Vacuum them, you say? Our Hoover is still good with dust and dirty bits, but with maple leaves, it just seems to push them gently forward. This way I could, of course, herd them into the far end of the living room beneath the bay window. We could tell visitors it was a new forward-thinking environmental strategy: the winter-indoor-mulch-pit. But we’re not that imaginative. And who’s kidding who; at our age we have no visitors. It’s not so bad though. In the evenings we scuffle through the autumn foliage to the living room couch with glasses of wine and pretend we’re enjoying Minnesota autumn glories all winter long. In another year or two, as our backs stiffen further, the dropped spoons and dead mice will join the leaf litter and we’ll have to invent a better fantasy to cover it.

Another bending chore is affixing electronic-dog-fence collars to Chester and Frankie each morning. You don’t have to bend dead-mouse low to do this, but the dogs never hold still for it, and the clasps on the collars can snap your fingers painfully while you’re stooping over them. Happily, cleaning up dog-poop in the yard is made easy by an ingenious, long-handled poop-scooper, no bending required. Some day soon after snapping my fingers yet again, I will fail at this chore too and send them forth sans collar. They will joyfully escape the yard then and head for the hills, ending all bending. In this idyll, I scrap the collars, pawn the scooper, and live happily-ever-after.

But those are just the DOWNS of aging. There are also UPS that fade from one’s skill set with age: lightbulbs that burn out in ceiling fixtures, for example. In the past, a short step stool, a wife to steady you, pass the bulbs, hold the screws, and cooperate would keep the halls and stairwells lit. Now, however, step stools and balancing acts ... not to mention cooperation ... are long gone. But, as it turns out, one can live fairly well by the glow of table lamps and moonlight. It’s somewhat darker without overhead lighting, of course, but we like to think of it as adding to the autumn-evening effect started by the maple leaves.

Another UP problem involves top shelves that can no longer be reached. It amazes me how much shorter one grows with age. “Yeah, our spines collapse with time,” says my happy physician on my yearly visit. So with step stools banished, we have bid adieu to our top shelves altogether. For a nostalgic trip down memory lane, once a year, Wifey and I throw wide the kitchen and pantry cabinet doors, and holding hands, walk slowly among them. “Oh look, Dear,” I say. “Isn’t that the old Crock-Pot slow-cooker up there? Remember the pot-roasts I made when we were young: carrots, onion, taters, cream-o-mushroom soup, and 4 pounds of chuck. Get it perkin’ right after breakfast ... sweet aromas all day ... and what a glory to sit down to at dinner! Yum! Remember?”

“Yes, I remember, Dear. Oh, and look. There’s the Cuisinart food thingy, and the old wok, and all that nested Tupperware,” she sighs, tears welling.

“Yes, and way in the back there?” says I with breaking voice as we make our way along the paths of yesteryear, “You can just see the old Walt Disney popcorn popper and the Hopalong-Cassidy lunch pail, sure as shootin’! You know, Sweetie, I can remember when ‘top shelf’ was a compliment for a person of promise. ‘That Harry, he’s top-shelf,‘ we’d say. Who knew it would finally name the eternal resting place of beloved kitchen appliances. And you know what else, Sweets?” I say squeezing her hand. “You’ve been a good old appliance your own self all these years. And one day soon ... Walt Disney willing ... you and I can join them again ... together ... forever ... TOP SHELF, Babe! I’ll make a pot roast.”