The Seventh Decade

Kerry in her first decade

If you are 29, reading this and worried about your thirties, fear not – it gets much, much worse!  I suppose I should feel grateful that I have reached the 7th decade (60-69 years old).  Did you know that Greenland sharks may live for up to 500 years – isn’t that amazing?  I am not envious of them, however, as they spend most of their time at the bottom of a frozen sea with long periods of hibernation (similar to living in Scotland).  These last two years have allowed all of us to indulge in pointless navel gazing.  I have peered into my indifferent mirror that doesn’t even bother to tell me that “I am not the Fairest in the Land”.

Kerry in her second decade

As I pondered this subject, I thought about which decade I liked the most.  I loved being a teenager, blossoming at high school and then college.  The puppy fat disappeared and a pretty girl appeared.  One boyfriend commented that I looked much better without clothes on – not sure if that was a reference to my lack of style or a back handed compliment.  My body still looks pretty good if you are a myopic, older man in a room with dim candles.  He should also be a tad inebriated…  It’s funny and yet it’s not. 

Some of my older friends used to tell me to enjoy my 50s because it all changes after 60.  Shorts are not my friends anymore.  More exercise would help but that triggers my osteoarthritis.  I run to hug Teddy, all joints creaking, and then pull something because I moved too fast.  He creaks even more than me – it’s as though we have turned into Sequoias.  My skin tone has changed the most.  Why are my pores so large – aren’t deep wrinkles bad enough?  I was helped by a charming young man at Sephora as I was browsing skin care.  He said I really needed retinol…  At least the Israeli guys who try to sell you Dead Sea stuff at the mall, pretend you are gorgeous. 

Kerry in her third decade

Why am I so vain about ageing?  I come from a long line of relatives who look after themselves at all ages.  My aunt made sure she put on self-tanning lotion before her operation for breast cancer in her late 70s.  Recently, I had a revelatory moment about my age.  For almost 20 years I have had a reciprocal fondness for our gardener.  He always undercharges me and then I pay him more.  We have a small yard but we needed our oak trees trimmed.  If you employ an arborist to trim trees, it costs thousands of dollars.  He went up a ladder with a chain saw – good enough for me.

When he arrived, he caught me off-guard and I answered the door in my ratty old dressing gown, hair tousled unattractively with my glasses on. Even he looked embarrassed, so I ran and put some clothes on.  The job should have cost a few hundred dollars but he asked for $40.  It was a pity invoice.  I could almost hear him say “she used to be so attractive”.  Laughingly, I told one of my friends but inside I felt crushed.  Since then, I have dyed my hair blonde again, had it cut in a cute style and started wearing CLOTHES (sometimes they aren’t leggings). 

Kerry in her fourth decade

My twenties were a mixed bag – marriage to Teddy and moving house 6 times in 8 years.  Exciting and stressful.  My thirties were strange because although I finally achieved some professional plaudits for grant writing and project work, I was palpably anxious.  My forties were adventurous – we moved to two different continents in 2 years and landed in Texas.  By then I finally had my weight under control and had decent medication for my mental health.

Kerry in her fifth decade

My fifties were fantastic!!  I looked the best I had in decades, felt healthy, travelled solo to exotic locations and started a completely new career.  Had the pandemic not happened, I might have slipped into my 60s with little or no impact.  Work came to a standstill, as did the airport so I had no raison d’etre.  My husband was deeply unhappy at work and wanted to retire early which he did.  I thought we would hate each other with enforced cohabitation but we settled into a new rhythm with plenty of humor and silliness.

Kerry in her sixth decade

I should be #grateful or #blessed but I just feel annoyed.  I want to be 51 again but that’s not possible.  There are a couple of nice things about ageing.  Most people are very polite to me and younger ladies ask me for Mommy advice.  I no longer have to worry about sexy lingerie but Teddy will testify that I never did!  My one push up bra will last me forever and I need never buy Spanx or Skims.  I would pull a muscle if I tried to put them on – even Lycra stockings are the work of the devil.

The timbre of this post was intended to be humorous yet poignant.  Many of us feel a bit hopeless in the wake of war and pestilence.  I am certain that we all aged mentally and physically through the pandemic no matter our biological age or infectious status.  As someone who struggles with mental illness, I know that it really is possible to take one day at a time and move forward.  I don’t have as many happy days as I used to but that is improving with increased interaction without masks.  Long may it last.

Kerry in her seventh decade

Stylish Miss Laurel

This is our Texas Mountain Laurel. For the first time, since we adopted her (from our neighbor), she is covered in blooms. They have a very intense smell – almost like grape bubblegum. By sheer coincidence the color is exactly the same as the Pantone Color of the Year 2022, Very Peri. I think she just wants to be fashionable like her mom… I have no idea why I anthropomorphize plants but I love to hug my trees and name them. Perhaps it’s natural, given I was born in San Francisco to a couple of beatniks!

Courtesy of House Beautiful

This is one of my favorite colors. One generous boyfriend bought me a gorgeous midi length sunray pleated skirt in periwinkle blue/lilac. My mum hated lilac so that made the purchase even better! Curiously, although he was generous and I was thankful, I didn’t like my clothes being chosen for me. I have trained Teddy never to buy me clothes and especially not lingerie! He did get me a free lilac fleecy dressing gown with some perfume and I have been wearing it for over a decade but I don’t think that counts as lingerie.

This is Miss Laurel in her full glory. She was planted next to another bush, a Japanese Yew, who died despite my best efforts. That has given her room to spread her branches. We are headed into a drought cycle in Texas and I think she might like the drier conditions. Originally mountain laurels came from the Chihuahua desert in Mexico. When the blooms fall off there will be very poisonous seed pods. Teddy better behave…

A Rosy Vogue

Over the last couple of months, I have been clearing out my closet…again. I have finally accepted that I no longer suit some of my ‘younger’ clothes and that my legs are not what they once were. That said, I think women of a certain age should wear whatever they want – no rules! Much of my wardrobe is black because I have to wear it so often for work but it’s not my best color so I decided to choose rosy tones. The soft red floral wrap top (Max Studio in Nordstrom Rack Outlet), above, is styled with my ever faithful buttoned Walmart jeans and floral Carlos Santana boots.

This gorgeous maxi skirt is my bargain of 2022. I found it in our local Interfaith thrift store. It fits me perfectly and it was about $6 – styled with a long sleeved Pima cotton t-shirt from J. Crew’s sale, bought a couple of years ago. The side view shows more of the pretty pattern and swing. It will be great for Salsa dancing!

On our Involuntary Vacation, we stopped at La Grange, Texas for a coffee. I spotted an lovely boutique store, Simple Rags, and moseyed over to it. We have lost quite a few independent boutiques in our home town over the past few years. I miss them so much. On the sale rack was the pretty taupe/pink dress with charcoal embroidery below, reduced from $62 to $18. I bought a prairie dress on the prairie!

I had great plans to wear my new purchases at romantic dinners out on vacation or at home. Teddy’s recent cardiac incident has postponed that temporarily until everything settles down but I wore the red floral top when we went out for decaf skinny lattes this week. More involuntary vacation posts to follow…

The Involuntary Vacation

Two weeks ago, Teddy had gone on a road trip to the Texas-Mexico border and I was taking the opportunity to frenetically clean the house in his absence.  The phone rang when I was scrubbing baseboards.  Knowing it was Teddy calling, I said laughingly, “Guess what I am doing?” He answered, “I am in the Emergency Room in McAllen”.  My heart stopped, metaphorically, and I screeched, “What?”  At first, I thought it might be one of his allergic reactions to insect bites but then he told me that his heart rate was very fast and irregular.  They were struggling to get it stabilized and he was being admitted to McAllen Cardiac Hospital as soon as a bed was available.

As soon as I put down the phone, I went into triage mode.  I phoned his hotel and explained the situation then booked a flight for the next day.  He had driven down in his own car but it is almost 700 miles from our home in south east Texas.  When he was transferred to the Cardiac Hospital he was put into ICU.  If his heart rate, rhythm and pressure improved, they intended to put him in a regular room, possibly for another night or more.  Teddy has a long history of cardiac issues – first, a tachycardia as a young man, then high cholesterol and blood pressure in his 40s.  All have been managed very well with medication over the years and no hospitalizations or events.

I have chronic anxiety with some depression and the news about Ukraine was beginning to bring me down.  As I pondered how I was going to deal with this, my heart went out to all those refugees who were going on journeys with no end in sight.  This was the time to put on a stiff upper lip and just be brave.  What I was most worried about was the journey back in his Challenger sports car.  We would have to do it in two days, as originally planned, and I would have to reschedule the booked hotels.

Like many of us, I had no wish to go on an airplane right now.  I arrived at the airport and it was jam packed with people.  My flight was delayed by a couple of hours – it was flying inbound from San Francisco and had a mechanical problem.  There was a bar close to the gate, so I decided to have a glass of wine.  I had a nice chat with a pretty lady travelling back to Monterrey, just over the border in Mexico.  Finally, our plane boarded and I settled in the back.  The mechanical problem was non-functioning air conditioning, so we were all a bit hot and bothered.  A couple, from the north, sat across the aisle.  They had obviously been drinking and their previous flight had also been delayed.  They borrowed the phone from the guy behind them and the mask-less woman proceeded to loudly berate their travel agent about a missed hotel reservation – all while the plane was speedily rattling down the runway.  The flight attendant tried to intervene but just gave up.

I was silently furious.  It was a 50-minute flight – couldn’t she could have waited to phone until we landed?  Had she not been watching the news with people boarding trains from Ukraine with no accommodation booked?  Teddy’s phone had been running out of battery with no charger so our communication was getting brief.  Luckily, Speedy Gonzales was flying the plane so it was a bumpy takeoff and landing with brakes screeching.  I raced off, got my luggage and went out to get an Uber.  A young man outside told me that there was a 35-minute wait for an Uber so I jumped in a taxi.  Immediately I was transported back to Egypt.  There was a candlewick bedspread on the back seat, it smelled like goats had been the last guests and he spoke no English.  My Spanish is not good enough behind a mask and Scottish accent, so he dropped me at the wrong hospital and I had to get an Uber to the right one…

By the time I got there, I was utterly exhausted, but Teddy was looking good in a regular hospital room.  It was such a relief for both of us to hug each other. McAllen is not a rich town but serendipitously Teddy had his heart incident treated in one of the 50 best cardiac hospitals in the USA.  The hospital was very clean but utilitarian.  The doctors changed his medication and monitored him until his heart rate was completely stable.  It was an isolated event triggered by goodness knows what but age, a long trip, red wine, dodgy shrimp and too much caffeine may have triggered the inevitable.  As he was discharged, the cardiologist looked at me and said, “You know the warning signs of stroke, don’t you?”  With trepidation, I assured her that I did with a family history of cardiac ill health.

The staff were fantastic from the Cardiac hospital to the little ER and we thanked them all.  The receptionist at the hotel was ecstatic to see the ‘Irishman’ who had become ill.  She had a bit of a crush on that accent…  We stayed one more night in the hotel and slept the sleep of the dead.  Then we set off on our very long journey travelling from scrubland with cactus all the way to rolling hill country.  We were made to pull over at a border patrol about 30 miles from McAllen, as was everyone else.  It is advisable to carry your passport when so close to the border.  They were looking for a fugitive but one look at the older white couple and they waved us on.  It was very exciting!

I had no intention on going on vacation but my soul was soothed by the bucolic vista complete with goats, sheep and cattle.  We stopped for coffee breaks at little towns until we reached Cuera.  By then we had come out of deep oil country and it was truly agricultural.  It was such a treat to idle behind a tractor full of hay bales.  Most of the towns had magnificent central courthouses in the square and each had a different feel depending on the ancestry.  McAllen was almost entirely Hispanic but then we reached German and Czech towns.  Although I had a nutritional/exercise plan worked out in my head, I relaxed the rules a little for our involuntary vacation together.

Finally, we arrived home and it was such a relief to sleep in our own house.  After a week he had another AFIB incident in the middle of the night and we went to ER.  It was a short visit and they treated him with IV medication.  His GP is now in control until he sees a cardiologist in April so fingers crossed that this was a timely warning. 

Teddy doesn’t look bad, two days after ICU – all beer and Band-Aids. May he enjoy the last beer he will ever have…😊

The American Cemetery

The American Cemetery in Natchitoches was founded circa 1737 and is believed to be the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase. It is also thought that this was the site of the second Fort St Jean Baptiste and that all occupants were buried there. None of the monuments predate 1797. I love graveyards and the sense of stillness.  This one seemed a little forlorn but reflected a long and interesting southern heritage.

This monument to Mollie Campbell Sullivan, a worthy matron, fascinated me.  It was a beautiful tomb with the little bird perched on top.   I hope that Teddy does not inscribe ‘worthy matron’ on my tombstone/crematorium jar but perhaps it meant something different back in the day.  If you zoom in on the first image, you can see a little gravestone that just says “We love you”.  Sometimes simplicity is best.

John Gideon Lewis Sr.,
Courtesy of the Natchitoches Times

The only mausoleum in the cemetery is of a famous African American educator, John Gideon Lewis, Senior.  I was somewhat surprised as Natchitoches was a Confederate town and cemeteries in the south were often segregated or separate.  Even more unusually, he established the Prince Hall Masons in Louisiana and he was Worshipful Grand Master of Louisiana until his death in 1931 aged 81.

Most of the names seemed English or Scottish in origin and there were very few French names.  They would have been buried at the Catholic Cemetery.  Emmeline Lestace, wife of Walter Gongre, was an exception.  I tried to investigate the origins of the name Gongre but I could find nothing.  Perhaps it was one of those names that was forever changed at Ellis Island.

This final gravestone of a Confederate soldier symbolized, to me, the futility of war.  My heart and thoughts are with the people of Ukraine.

Which suitor did I choose?

It was Valentine’s Day 1976 and I received two anonymous Valentine’s cards.  I can still remember my excitement.  The cards and envelopes were scrutinized as deeply as a Forensic Files crime.  If it was in 2022, I would have extracted the DNA from the saliva on the envelope…  Shortly after I received the cards, two boys in our ‘Glee Club’ asked me out and then I was convinced who sent which one.  But was I correct in my analysis?

I was so mortified by the Dragon card and the pink ‘tail’.  At 15 years old, I understood the implication but I was horribly naïve despite a clinical Roman Catholic health education which, as intended, put me off everything sexual.  Thank goodness Nana had passed away the previous year.  She would have declared it vulgar and made me wear a Burka to school.  Our uniform, which included regulation American tan tights with white knee socks on top, should have been enough to tamp down the boys’ lust!  My mum laughed out loud but I could see that she was thinking, “who sent that?”

The Tiger card was so different – sweet, beguiling and innocent.  The sentiment was delightful and the sender knew I loved all kinds of kitty cats.  The true love of my life was Tibby, my first cat.  I talked about her so much in school, that at our 25-year school reunion, old school mates asked me how she was?  She crossed to the rainbow bridge many years before. 

Kerry, idyllically happy with textbook and sleepy Tibby

Of the two suitors, only one appealed to me. V was an exotic half breed like me.  He was half Italian/half Scottish with black hair and pale blue eyes.  At the time I thought I was half Spanish/half Irish but I turned out to be a Heinz variety.  The other boy, W, was averagely handsome with a vague resemblance to Starsky of Starsky and Hutch fame but there was zero attraction from my end.  With that in mind, I determined that V. had sent the tiger card as he was a soft spoken, kind natured boy (liked by all mothers).  By process of elimination, that meant W. had sent the ribald Dragon card.  I turned him down and went out with V.

My short courtship with V. started so well.  He smelled so good and seemed interested in going further than first base but we didn’t.  We sat for hours listening to Tangerine Dream. His mother did not like me.  I can’t think of any reason for her to feel like that but I suspect she felt very uncomfortable with her oldest son, aged 16, having lustful thoughts for the pretty senorita.  She was lucky that Nana is always in my head or we might have got to second base…

After a few weeks, I was bored and dumped poor V. by kissing another Glee Club member in front of him.  My girl friends castigated me and I remember them comforting V. who was crying in the kitchen.  I didn’t even feel an ounce of regret – hormones make you behave terribly and I was only 15.  Later I went out with another Glee Club Member, M.  I dumped him on a boat halfway to an island on a school trip.  He spent the rest of the trip miserable.  What a heartless floozy I was… 😊

Much later I discovered there were some other boys who had a wee crush on me, so perhaps the senders are still anonymous.  Maybe sweet V. send the rude one – I could still extract the DNA… I hope you have a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!

Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Despite my lapsed Catholic status, I had no idea what a Minor Basilica was until I researched this post.  There are just 4 Major Basilicas in the world and are regarded as personal churches for the Pope.  There are many Minor Basilicas which are an elevation of  a Cathedral, followed by Churches and finally  Chapels.

The Parish of Natchitoches in Louisiana was first founded in 1728 and the first church was built within the walls of the Fort St Jean Baptiste circa 1729-1733.  Pope Pius IX granted Cathedral status to the 6th Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1853. The current Minor Basilica, below and in all the images, is the 7th church built in the general area.

The building above is the current and hopefully final building.  It was completed circa 1900-1905.  Pope Benedict elevated it from a Cathedral to Minor Basilica status in 2009.  The turbulent history surrounding the Basilica belies its peaceful appearance, from its beginning in colonial Louisiana through fire, Civil War and finally a magnificent edifice in a sleepy little town.

I was struck by how this architecture and interior differed from Cathedrals and Churches in Texas. It echoed the French style of the original Arcadian settlers. The arches were so finely painted in gold and the chandeliers sparkled. On the first stained glass image you can see the Fleur de Lys, the state flower and symbol of Louisiana.

The Un-Woke Series – Texting

Please take this series with a pinch of salt and a titter of laughter…

I don’t like texting.  There, I’ve said it!  Everybody texts these days but I just can’t get used to the brevity of communication.  One girl friend texted, “Hey, girl!”  How do you respond to that and what does it mean??  I know I am incredibly aged and I can prove it – I really liked memoranda and I can write shorthand.  To be fair, I do use texts for contract work and in that fast-paced environment, texts really work. “New ETA for passenger?”, for example.  I still remember sitting in my cold hallway on the fixed landline phone, chatting for an hour to a friend.  In old American movies the phone cords were so long that you could move to another room.

Now I have to go to the grocery store to have a decent conversation.

Maria – “Hey!  How are you?”

Kerry – “Good, good.  How are you?”

Maria – “Great!  Do you have your loyalty card?”

Kerry – “Dang it!  I left it at home”.

Maria – “No problem.  Are these new popsicles good?”

Kerry – “They are SO good and low in calories”.

Maria – “That will be (far too many) dollars, please”.

Kerry – “Thank you so much and have a good day!”

Maria – “See you soon”.

Sometimes I have a three way with the bagging clerk.

Kerry – “How are you, Michael?”

Michael – “I’m FAN FAN FAN FANTASTIC!”

We all laugh.  He has been saying that every day for the last 15 years of more.

I still like emails.  You can write full, grammatically correct, sentences and not sound terse.  At college we were taught that a memorandum was meant to be brief but not rude.  An email is much the same.  An emoticon doesn’t say, “I really miss you and our time together” or “Do you remember when we went to the Wallace Monument?”  Teddy also likes to chat and amazes me that we still talk together about meaningful topics on a daily basis.

Teddy – “What is that idiot talking about!” pointing at the politician on the news.  That provokes a stimulating conversation about the world today that marks us as ‘very old people’.  Recently he snagged a bargain at the thrift store – it is a device to scan your negatives and old photos.  Now we can throw out our stinky old photo albums that are moldy and degraded.

Some conversations are so much better in person.

Teddy – “Whoa!  You were a bit of a chunky monkey in Lisbon.  What year was that?”  I went through to his study to give him a slap but then said, “Jeez Louise, did I look like that?”

Teddy – “Do you recognize this castle (in Scotland)?”  That provoked a back and forth about which of the many castles it was.  Finally, we Googled it and it was Glamis Castle which was the late Queen Mother’s ancestral home.  More importantly, Teddy’s mum performed a Highland dance at the Castle, in front of the Queen, when she was a wee lass.

To be honest the only type of texting that appeals to me is sexting.  You can say so much with just a few words. ‘Come get me, big boy’ or ‘Chase Me’.  On a very cute nostalgic note, I was madly in lust with a boy with an Australian accent in our high school.  We had no telephone in our house – alcohol is so expensive…  My friend in the next street asked me across to her house so that we could phone two boys (the Aussie included).  The excitement was tangible.  We were half way up the stairs, just like Kermit, giggling on the phone.  Then the recipient of my lust sang to me across the telephone line.

“Are the stars out tonight?  I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright. I only have eyes for you, dear….”  I had goosebumps – he fancied me too!  I wish I could say it was my husband of 40 years but it was a ‘Brief Encounter’ on the list of many boyfriends.  The Aussie formally asked me out, taught me all sorts of Antipodean phrases, also taught me how to French Kiss and then unceremoniously dumped me!!  I know – he dumped ME!  I could have dumped him by text, ‘Go Walkabout, Drongo.’

My first Covid Test

I have been feeling unwell for a few weeks.  Nothing serious, just an irritating cough, sore eyes (again) and fatigue.  I am thrice vaccinated – that sounds vaguely Shakespearian, nay?  It has been another strange Christmas with the Omicron variant and eventually I wondered if that’s what I had.  We have been venturing out a little more knowing that we are likely headed into an endemic from a pandemic but still wear masks most of the time.  There is also a sort of malaise about January with the anticlimactic sensation after the excitement of Christmas.  As you age, the excitement is tempered, but I still like the fairy lights and baubles (chocolate and booze, too).

The test was negative and I am torn.  Part of me would like to get it over and done with (if we are all going to get Covid eventually).  I worked at an international airport for a decade or more.  Travel took me to places with SARS and MERS.  My husband became ill in February 2020 and it was almost certainly Covid but I didn’t so I wonder if I might be lucky enough to be immune.  That aside, what ails me currently?  When looking for answers, I gravitate towards my mental illness despite how much that annoys me when doctors suggest that first.  I know that my anxiety can amplify even a physical ailment.

Last April we had a new air conditioning system installed – the old one was 17 years old and at the end of its life.  It worked perfectly all summer but in October we noticed a mildew smell coming from the vents when we switched it from hot to cold.  The installer was really quick to respond but after several visits (and treatments) the smell persists.  We put a lot of thought into choosing the best system for our house and then got quotes from various installers.  Teddy and I were both stressed at having any problems on such an expensive purchase, made worse by the Pandemic keeping us close to home and at the mercy of the HVAC.  Google has made me an expert in HVAC systems – similarly, I can now practice medicine…

It turns out that there is a fault with the coil and the manufacturer is sending a new one.  The installer thanked me for my patience despite how irritating it has been.  He implied that some of his customers would have flipped.  I am a fairly calm person but I realized that I am actually quite Zen right now.  There didn’t seem any point in taking my temper out on the installer.  We are all a little stressed right now and the last thing I want to be is one of those people who take their angst out on everybody.

There is a syndrome called HVAC sickness and it is possible that the dodgy coil is causing or exacerbating my cough and sore eyes.  The installer put in a free virus/mold killing system that may help the situation until it is fixed.  Or, it could also be one of those regular viruses that we used to get pre-Covid.  Remember those halcyon days when we didn’t recoil when someone coughed? If nothing else, our strange life right now has given me a little more perspective.

I went to a drive-through pharmacy for my Covid test and could sense the pharmacist was rolling her eyes at my incompetence.  Firstly, I couldn’t get the packet open because I had the wrong glasses on.  I dropped them and peered at the packet like Mr. Magoo.  Then I lost the lid to the reagent and couldn’t see where you were supposed to snap off the swap before putting in the container.  Finally, I made Teddy put it in the box for medical samples but had the sanitizer ready for him when he returned to the car.  Well, at least I will know how to do the next test!