What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Reprise: A Thanksgiving memoir

It’s almost that time of year again. I approach it with mixed feelings. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes…all good. Thankfulness…very good. But the end of November is also an entry into winter, which, in my seven decades of living in the Chicago area, I manage to barely tolerate. Also, some Thanksgiving weeks in the past years have been interrupted by family members getting sick, especially the stomach flu. It may be a coincidence, but I always think of that when the holiday approaches.

The icky stuff aside, I do have happy memories of Thanksgiving. Family gatherings, delicious food, relaxing. And I’m going to start the relaxation now by copying and pasting my own past work.

A few years ago, I wrote a post in an earlier blog (Suddenly Sixties) on Thanksgiving Day. I’m republishing it here—not only because I’m lazy and don’t want to think of anything new, but because it still rings true to me.

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Thanksgivings past and present: It’s all good.
(published Nov. 26, 2009)

On this Thanksgiving Day, as I’m primping for our 4:00 p.m. reservations at an area restaurant—just the two of us—my mind wanders back many years. If this were the Thanksgiving version of a chapter of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Thanksgivings Past would be taking me soaring over these scenes:

It’s the early 1970s, and I’m alone in our modest Skokie bi-level home, trying not to think about the turkey dinner with more than enough trimmings that my mother has prepared for the family and that they are all feasting on now. I’m nursing the 24-hour stomach flu and am grateful that this year’s holiday takes place at my parents’ home, allowing me to send my family off to enjoy it and to wallow in my miserable symptoms by myself. (To this day, I associate late November with this gastrointestinal malady, so it must have happened more than once.)

Next, my ghost and I float over a scene in the late 1970s, and I’m basting the turkey one last time before taking a minute to answer the doorbell. It’s a cousin I’d lost touch with for years and whom I invited after one of us contacted the other. Like many Thanksgivings, I invited someone who was not usually on our guest list, someone who otherwise would have nowhere to be with family and friends on that day. It was fun to have this newcomer at our dinner table, and I suppose I felt noble extending our hospitality.

My ghost and I skip the 1980s and hover over a mid-1990s Thanksgiving dinner. I’m living with my second (and current) husband in a three-level town home in Rogers Park, and we’re continuing my tradition of having an extra guest or two. This year, I’ve invited a woman from work and her college-age daughter whose family lives across the country. The conversation is lively and stimulating.

We swoop into the twenty-first century and see a scene in my in-laws’ home in Munster, Indiana. We’re dining with my mother-in-law who, like me, is not so fond of cooking, and the rest of the family who’ve come in from Wyoming. For past holiday dinners in Munster, my father-in-law, who learned to cook while working at a university dining hall in his college days, always prepared the feast. But this time, he’s in late stages of a terminal illness, so we ordered turkey and trimmings from Boston Market. My father-in-law is too weak to dine with us. He makes a brief appearance at the table and then retreats to his bed. That night, he falls out of bed several times, and although there are enough people there to help lift him back up that night, it’s determined by his sons that he should be moved to a hospice center because my mother-in-law cannot do this on her own. He’s taken to the center that night. A few days later, after long visits with family and his beloved poodle, he quietly passes away.

We’re looking over a scene a few years later in a cozy Munster restaurant, where my husband and I and my mother-in-law are remarking over how good the meal is and how many people are also dining with their small families in this neighborhood place. This is the first time I’ve had dinner out on Thanksgiving, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how satisfying it is. As always with my mother-in-law, the conversation sparkles with her youthful enthusiasm and love of topics like anthropology, modern music, and the latest movies. For a few minutes, I wallow in nostalgia and the fact that I’m not with my kids and twin grandsons. They traditionally attend a large family dinner on their father’s side. To keep that sadness in check, I think of all the holidays we do spend with all of them—including the other side—as well as the fact that we’re making my mother-in-law very happy.

Unfortunately, she passed away after a brief illness just before Thanksgiving 2008. So this year, it’s just the two of us, and we’re still thankful. We expect to have a great feast, charming ambiance, and good one-on-one conversation. Maybe we’ll start planning the holiday party we’re giving in December.

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past is now satisfied that I’m feeling pretty good about this holiday and its predecessors—the good, the not-too-good, and the ugly (illness)—and takes off. In all cases, whatever other emotions I felt, I’ve been thankful for the family and friends I’m lucky to have.

There’s no need for a visit from the Ghost of Thanksgiving Present. We’re good. (I cancelled the Ghost of Thanksgiving Future. I’d rather not know…)

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The R word…am I ready?

Ever since I semi-retired in late 2006, I told myself it was only a matter of time before I took the plunge and fully retired. At that point, I was feeling burned out and exhausted. Besides the full-time job, I had dealt with my mother’s failing health and death in 2005, including being executor of her estate, which was daunting. She had accounts all over the place. If a bank was giving out a toaster oven to new accounts, as they did years ago, she was right there with the minimum deposit needed to get this appliance she didn’t need.

We had also moved into a new home that I wanted to get to know. Wherever I have lived while working 40+ hours a week, I felt like home was a place where I slept, ate breakfast and dinner, and left. Weekends were dedicated to running errands we couldn’t fit in during work days. So I figured that working only three days a week left me with two weekdays and the weekend to get to know my home and take care of everything else. Also, since I started this new schedule at the time of year when the days were getting shorter—and I don’t see so well in the dark…when it rains or snows—I decided my work days would end at 4:00 each day, while there was some daylight left. This gave me a 21-hour week.

Soon, 2007 turned into 2008 and seemingly suddenly into 2011 and 2012 and 2013, and I kept fielding questions from my long-time friends like, “So when are you going to retire?” I would always answer with my big three reasons I stay on:

1. I enjoy the people I work with and the camaraderie

2. I like the fact that my work (mainly marketing copy writing) can be creative most of the time. (It’s amazing how many different ways you can express “Please register for this course” and not repeat yourself.)

3. I like the income!

True, at this year’s visit to our financial planner, I was assured that we can draw from our investments and savings to replace my income and not run out of money. But I’m a worrier and a skeptic. What if the stock market crashes again? What if I live to be 110? What if… whatever there is to imagine would happen to put us in the poorhouse, I’ll imagine it.

There are days when my number two reason, the work itself, is not so appealing. But in all jobs, there are tasks we don’t like, but we hope these are few and far between. So I’m sticking with my big three reasons, and I’ll add another one:

What the hell will I do with myself all day long if I don’t go to work?

As I ask this question, I can hear the voices of those who took the plunge earlier and declared, “I’m so busy, I don’t know how I ever had the time to work!” I suppose they join social groups, volunteer in various places, and take courses on topics they’ve always wanted to learn. I get it. They’re not non-proactive slackers, like me.

This morning, I asked myself why I can get up and ready for work three days a week and, when there, accomplish whatever needs to be done but when I’m home, I can’t get the motivation to do things I know I’ll like doing once I start? Like writing for this blog. The answer was easy. I can do whatever is needed when the commitment is driven externally: appointments, work hours, planned luncheon dates. But if I have only myself to answer to, it’s so tempting to keep tapping away on my iPad, watch TV, or, if I do go out, walk around a shopping mall.

Maybe I need a life coach to prod and persuade me—which I can more readily afford if I keep working, in which case I wouldn’t need one yet. Do you see how my mind works? I suppose all this means is that I’m not ready for the R word. Maybe next year.

Quick update: It’s my day off, a Monday, and we’re experiencing the first snowfall of the season. It’s gray outside and as gloomy as it gets. I’ve done three loads of laundry,  eaten two meals, played about 20 games of Boggle and almost as many of Solitaire, and I’m so bored that I dragged my work laptop to the kitchen table and logged onto Outlook to start answering emails. Although it’s always good to get a head start on my Tuesday work day, that wasn’t the motivation here. I guess I shouldn’t give up my (three) day job!

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