When I was in my 40s and things like menopause and seniordom were vague possibilities and not my reality, I made three lofty vows to myself that I promised I would faithfully keep when I reached my old age. I arrogantly surmised that if I got a 15 year head start on at least thinking about what I wanted to look like, I would have a better chance of following through at that later date. Ok, I was naive even at 40.
First Vow: I Shall Not Be Square! I don’t mean that in the sense of the opposite of Cool. I like to think of myself as still cool at 67 although someone in their 20s may have a hard time getting their heads around that one. The kind of square I mean is that look on women when there is no line of demarcation between the hips and the neck. Boxy might be a better word. It’s not bad, I know, and probably not unhealthy but I just thought if I could avoid that look I would. I mentioned this promise at lunch one day with my older, ageless co-worker, Georgia. She smirked over her vodka martini (she had one every day at lunch — the Greek restaurant owner across the street would have it ready to hand to her as soon as she walked in). She told me, as the older wiser woman she was, that when I got to her age the only promise I should make to myself is to have wine in the house and to always remember that if you open the bottle you have to drink the whole thing. Unfortunately, I learned that lesson all too well which only added to the squareness of my body! So much for promise Numero Uno.
Second Vow: No tennis shoes of any type or description would be worn outside the house. I did wear them in my 40s to walk to work every day. I called them walking shoes not tennis shoes. Everyone was doing it at the time in DC. We all wanted to be healthy — or was it skinny? I knew if I walked the 3 miles to work and the 3 uphill miles back home, I could eat, drink and be merry all I wanted and wouldn’t gain an ounce. Sure, I didn’t look so hot walking down the street with those big clunky white shoes on but it was practical. I remember my Auntie Elsie coming down to visit with my mom and dad. She very seriously said to me one day, “Annie, what’s wrong with the girls in this city? They wear all these beautiful clothes and then put sneakers on with them.” In order to save my reputation in the family, I explained to her that as soon as I walked through those glass doors of my law firm and up the elevator to my office, I’d whip off those ugly, clunky shoes and replace them with one of the six pairs of heels that lived under my desk. It gave her some comfort. When I moved to Toronto, I didn’t even own a pair of tennis shoes — ok, runners as these Canadians say. I’d buy attractive, not orthopedically sound, tie-ups to do my walking and little heels to wear with skirts and dresses that I still wore back then. But, alas, a visit to the chiropodist one day changed all that. Sternly he told me that for the rest of my life, I would be slipping my arthritic feet into nothing but Tennis Shoes. No, no, no I cried. I didn’t want that look for my 60s. It made me very sad indeed — even if my knees and feet appreciate it. Nix on Promise Number Two.
Promise Number 3: I will Never, Ever Carry my Stuff in a Backpack. The only logic to carrying a backpack that I could see is if I was riding around this town on my bicycle. I am not and nor do I ever plan to put this body on the seat of a two-wheeler. I still have vivid memories of my almost tragic accident in DC slipping the wheel of my bike into the groove of a defunct trolley track. So what would I be doing on the streets of Toronto where those trolley tracks aren’t defunct? Occasionally, I would think that it would be nice to have a backpack when I took walks or wanted to free up my hands. But every time I tried one on and looked at myself, I knew that I did not want to walk the streets looking like that. So instead, I grew my collection of bags that I could sling onto my left shoulder and cooly walk up to the gym or go grocery shopping. I have my flamenco dancer one from Valencia, a red courier bag I found on the street one day that I can sling over my chest, some designer one that Judith passed on to me, and a cloth one that Lynda picked up at a bookstore in China. I like variety.
But then the pain came! A pressure right above my left breast. Is this a heart attack, I thought? Am I going to collapse right here walking down Major Street? Oodles of cardio and lung tests later, my doctor declared that it was caused by anxiety and stress (what isn’t) and was probably muscular. She eyed my too-heavy bag and said, “Ann, you need to get a backpack!” I ignored her as I have often done in the past when we talked about wine consumption. But, just to check it out, I saw my physiotherapist. Sure enough, it was a sprain of my pectoral muscle. And — are you ready — probably caused by carrying TOO MANY HEAVY BAGS ON MY LEFT SHOULDER! “You need to wear a backpack,” she said. My trainer, later in the week, chimed in with her own disbelief that I was carrying all my gym stuff on my shoulder. “Are you Crazy? Get a Backpack, now!” Three strikes and I’m out.
So I did. I went down to the serious store for trekkers, bikers, walkers, campers and all those other outdoors folks — none of which I am. I told the young woman my sad but true story of the bad shoulder and she efficiently found the perfect backpack for me — unfortunately one of the more expensive ones. It’s from Germany. I asked her if all my German phrases would come back as I wore it? Would I break into German drinking songs walking down the street? She smiled. It took me many days and a lot of direction to learn how to actually get into the thing and, more importantly, out of it. But now, I’m getting used to it and can slip it off easily on the streetcar and subway so people don’t yell at me like I did to others in the past. And, I don’t even worry so much about how it looks.
I kept telling people this was my first backpack ever. 67 years of not carrying my weight on my back. But I lied. I did have one before — it was German too! I got it in
that little village of Bönnigheim where I lived. It went with me on that long walk with Christina through the Black Forest. I did sing German songs on that trek!