Thursday, October 29, 2015

Making Memories as we turn life's corners

Kaisers and Bigfoot on the Colombia River 2015
10/7/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

There are certain defining moments in life when you know that you have “turned a corner.” When you’re young, those corners are usually exciting. They are monumental moments that happily change you forever: Becoming a teenager. Graduations. Celebrating your 21st birthday. Falling in love. Getting married. Starting a family. Discovering a career path that makes the difference between subsisting and thriving.

As we get a little older and retirement nears, the corners get a little sharper. For those of us who loved parenting, the empty nest experience is a bit of a jolt. We have questions. What happened to my fit body? What’s with all this gray hair that makes us look like Q-tips? Why am I so tired at the end of the day? And what in the world is happening to this current generation?

 Retirement age is a different story. IRAs and 401Ks were not common until the 1990s. That was too late for many of us to accumulate sizeable chunks of money. So I think that most of us wondered how we would ever afford to retire. We thought we going to have to work until we died! Nevertheless, one day we turned a corner and realized that we just couldn’t cut the 9-5 job any more.  So we figured out how to make the finances work.

But after retirement there are more corners to turn. I learned that from our neighbors Sallie and Jim. They were already “elderly” (at least 70 years old!) when they moved into our California neighborhood but boy, were they active. They mowed lawns, painted the house, planted a garden, drove to Texas to visit family and volunteered at church where Sallie's Sunday School classes were standing room only.

As the years went by they slowed down and we started helping them keep things together. Jim would regularly knock the lamppost down as he backed out of the driveway. He often showed up on our doorstep, head bleeding, after he fell off a ladder. Sallie’s driving became so erratic that one day a school bus driver stopped her, got her name and license and reported her to the DMV. Eventually, both of them had their driver’s licenses taken away and they were dependent on others for transportation. Now that's life changing!

One day I stopped to see Sallie after work. She and Jim were now well into their 80s. As I walked in the house, she burst into tears, threw her apron over her head and said, “Betty, I’ve turned another corner.” General housework—cleaning and cooking their meals had become too difficult for her. As we commiserated...both of us cried.

Ever the problem solvers, Chuck and I put our heads together and decided that we could help. We brought in meals three times a week from Kaiser’s Country Diner’s daily specials. Our neighbors weren’t big eaters (two dinners was enough for two nights) and they went out for Sunday supper. One problem solved. (Later, when we moved, I signed them up for Meals on Wheels.)

It’s amazing how these past memories come back since Chuck and I have aged and started turning unwanted corners. When we were 50 years old we gutted our house and rebuilt it ourselves. In our 60’s, we were still working jobs, planting gardens and ceaselessly manicuring our six acres. Now in our 70s we have turned some major health issue corners and have slowed down considerably. To keep up the property we hire helpers but other corners are not that simple.

I was born with a passion for travel. Our family’s yearly travels began at Catalina Island and expanded from there to primitive/RV camping in state and national parks across the USA. Along the way we flew around the world and checked off places we had dreamed of visiting. I thought we would always be able to go and do. Wrong!

At this age and stage of life we have turned a sad travel corner—flight fatigue. A flight across the United States is still doable—barely. It all depends on connections but if it takes all day…we don’t go. Any place “across the pond” or beyond is now definitely off the want-to-go list. We were always going to go back to Johannesburg, So. Africa but a nearly 22-hour flight would do us both in.

Our current travel destinations are a little closer to home. They are what I call “Do-over’s.” They are places that we’ve been and want to see again. Having “been-there-and-done-that,” we are comfortable returning. Once there, our anxiety level drops. We know where there are places to stay, good places to eat and things to do. Time slows down, we don’t have to rush around and we can explore nooks and crannies that we didn’t see before.

We just returned from one of those slow-go places at the foot of Mt. Hood outside Sandy, Ore. I would guesstimate that we have stayed there in our RV at least a dozen times in the last decade. Every time we go we find something new to do. We have ridden our bikes to garage sales, eaten at the Tollgate Café, talked to the locals, ridden the Mt. Hood ski lift, sailed the Colombia, shopped till we dropped and stopped by the Guide Dogs for the Blind on the way home.

For us, no trip is complete without getting out into the woods. One of our favorites is the nearby Wildwood Cascade Streamwatch Trails. It’s a fabulous place to get out in nature and not break your neck! In addition to the sound of the rushing river that leads to outlooks, there are paved paths down to the river and slightly steeper gravel paths for the more adventurous. Everywhere you look, the scenery is fabulous. There are fish for underwater viewing and crafted benches that are works of art along the way. Signs make sure you don’t get lost. We love it!

Turning the corners of aging is not always fun. But “Do-over’s” are bright spots in the making memories process. Is there some place within a days drive that you’re longing to go? You can do it! Make a plan and find a way to make it happen! 

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.