not sissies

Occasionally as a know-it-all young adult I’d be among older people. They would joke and laugh about aging which I was certain I would either not do or do way better. A favorite thing they’d often say was aging isn’t for sissies.

They were 100% correct.

I am older. At the age I was then I never considered the age I am now. I should have listened.

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I have never been what I consider athletic. Not sedentary, just competitive other ways. Like all students I had phys ed classes which I begrudgingly participated in. I learned to play basketball (not well), field hockey (ditto), volleyball (some better), other sports. My favorite form of exercise is walking. There were a few years after I retired and had way too much time on my hands when I ran 4-5 miles every morning. Husky mix rescue dog Lily was a fun companion. When we adopted terrier mix rescue Lulu we stopped. She is not fast-moving.

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Any large puddle will do. Water resistance is good exercise. Also thirst-quenching.

So aging. My brain still thinks like it did when I was 17. Not arrested development, exactly. Just filter. Mercifully I have the benefit of several decades of age, experience and  (I hope) subsequent wisdom. But I am now seeing a glimpse of what may be coming. Response time from mental concept to physical action is unsatisfactory. Maybe I have unreasonable expectations. But it’s an indication.

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I remember art classes. We learned dimension, spatial thought and perspective. Funny thing, seeing everyday images through artistic eyes. Vanishing point I will never forget. The term for what you see when you stand in a road and look toward the horizon. The point where the lines of the road’s edges come together. It kind of objectified the romantic aspect of a rambling country road but made it easier to draw.

So we move on through the days. Taking what comes, moving things around, some we can control some not.

But, still here. Thankful.

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Travel plans

Unless I can drive and take my dogs I almost never go anywhere. By choice. It’s true. At my age I figure the few places I have left that I want to see I can either get to by car or train.

Except for family trips.

Most mornings I walk husky-mix rescue dog Lily and terrier-mix rescue Lulu with a small group and their dogs. On some days combined we likely appear to be a formidable pack, upwards of a dozen multi-sized and aged dogs with 4 or 5 persons in tow. So it isn’t unusual to have another walker move to the side of the trail with his/her dog/s to let us pass, though our dogs are very friendly, which the person/s who moved aside soon learn. But we must appear somewhat impassable I suppose.

So on this morning’s walk we were discussing our Christmas travel plans, or I was since I appear to be the only one having to go out of town. I am going to visit family in Texas for literally a Christmas visit. I will go tomorrow, Christmas Eve, and come back home Monday, the 26th. Not even 48 hours. But enough so they won’t (I hope) be sick of me and we will look forward to our annual August beach trip together.

But the length, or brevity of this visit reminded me of a truly spontaneous thing I did about 25 years ago.

US Air and other airlines had something called SuperSaver fares. You had to buy the ticket in an alarmingly close to departure date period of time and it could only be 3 days and had to include a Saturday night. This was how they filled surplus empty seats and got money for it. The fares were incredibly cheap for an international flight, so I bought one. To Manchester, UK.

I know no one in the United Kingdom, then or now. I packed a few changes of underwear, my passport and a credit card. That’s it.

So I took the first leg from Charlotte to Philadelphia. On schedule, everything’s fine. Then there is an announcement our flight to England is delayed. Half an hour later it’s cancelled. I schlepped over with all our other passengers to the res desk to see what I could get, if anything.

“Well, I can get you to Frankfurt, then to Manchester?” a weary but kind agent explained.

“Hmmm, ok, this was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing for me, I have 3 days.” I looked at her hopefully.

She thought a moment, then, “Well, I can leave you in Frankfurt?”

Knowing no German and willing to await an opening to Manchester I thanked her and accepted the next option out, to Frankfurt and connecting on to Manchester.

So began an adventure that, only 60-hours or so, I will never forget.

The night before I left a friend from church had called and I explained what I was doing. Did I know anyone over there? he asked. No, I replied, why? Well, in case you get into any trouble here’s my cousin’s number (–forget where cousin lived–), oh, and you will want to visit Chester, not far from Manchester. OK, thanks, I say. We hung up.

So on arrival (finally) I found the “i”desk my friend had also mentioned — i for information, which was truly wonderful. I learned prefacing anything I said with “I’m an American ” helped prepare them for: accent, ignorance, many questions, some small amount of expressed fear, copious thanks. And consequently the interchange went much easier.

I was instructed to go to currency exchange, then bus stop, which bus, the name of a pub in Chester which lodged visitors. Everything was just as I had been told and I wandered the streets of Chester (which was having some sort of festival at the time) enjoying the shops and savory smells of different kinds of food. I found the pub, was assured of a room and went out again with camera to capture this lovely gingerbread town nestled into the hills of northwest England.

This being a Saturday the pub was pretty busy and knowing I needed to find my way to Manchester the next morning I turned in early but nobody else did. Once the pub finally closed revelers continued the party outside, singing just below my window. Exhaustion won out so I did get sleep and found the train station easily in the subdued quiet of Sunday morning.

At Manchester I found another i booth and let them know what I needed. A brief phone call later I was told to wait outside the station for a couple who would pick me up in a gray Range Rover shortly. I did, and they did, to bring me to their bed-and-breakfast. The couple and their children were attending a sort of reverse July 4th celebration, one where England celebrated being rid of the mischief-makers. As it happened I had bought a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer which headlined the 225th celebration of our independence from tyrannic British rule, would they like to have it? Oh yes! And they were only too happy to drive me to the train station so I might do some more exploring, they recommended a nearby town called Wilmslow they thought I’d enjoy, but I would need to be on my own going back. Fine, I agreed.

At the train station I carefully pored over a map of stops and distance, the time it would take, allowing for my not-too-far walk back to their B&B. While at Wilmslow I stopped in a bakery which had some delicious looking finger foods and pastries, I purchased some and went outside to enjoy, al fresco.

On my walk back a slow drizzle began and even though it was mid-summer it became chilly. I buttoned my grey sweater and braced for a cool but brisk walk. A car approaching from in front of me slowed to a stop and the window rolled down. A gentleman popped his head out and looked at me, so I stopped.

“Do you know how far ‘ -unintelligible name of a town I wouldn’t have known anyway’ is?”

“Oh! I am very flattered but I’m an American visiting, I’m sorry I don’t know.”

He laughed so hard I thought I’d committed some sort of horrible international faux pas. Finally he recovered and said, “Typical! I’m a Scot, I would ask an American for directions!” We both laughed heartily at that.

So I returned to the B&B which had been a mews of a larger estate hundreds of years ago. Built of stone my cozy room was in the loft. Very comfortable, but since this was July and England is at a latitude that allows for some of that midnight sun it never quite got dark. Still, the thrill of what I accomplished afforded me sleep, and I woke bright and early for the day of my return home.

I appeared at the main house for breakfast, a full English breakfast with fried bread, bacon rashers, fresh fruit, fried tomatoes, eggs and coffee. A golf team had also stopped for breakfast before arriving at the course for their tournament. Someone mentioned an American was in their midst which was exciting news for them.

“Do you know Tiger Woods?” they asked.

My safe return home was a wonderful feeling, though I’d had a memorable time in merry old England.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays and Happy 2017 y’all.

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Books, books and more books

I devoured books when I was little. I was shy even though my party-circuit parents wanted me to be little miss sociable I was not. Eventually I learned to force myself to be charming, laugh at just the right moment, time my responses. I still didn’t like it. Well, I didn’t like having to conform to certain behaviors because circumstances required it. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends I enjoyed doing things with, and we laughed at the same things, we made each other laugh, we comforted each other’s hurts threatening all sorts of torment on the tormenter, and unless a secret was betrayed we were friends for life. I was (am still) a very loyal friend.

But I loved to read. I went so many places, ate incredible foods, encountered dangers that thoroughly terrified me, survived them gratefully. Books become part of us and change us in imperceptible ways. Once my mother said or did something that made me angry. I guess I was about 8 or 9 and I slammed my book on the floor. Profound silence. Mom looked very hard at me and said, “Books are your friends”. I have never forgotten this. And they are. They do not judge. Without expecting a thing in return they offer a virtual banquet of opportunity, ideas, adventure, and run the gamut of emotion in us from hope to despair to fury to indignance to elation to joy. We fall in love in some, realize why we should not in others. Our hearts get broken, we cry for others. We earn respect and are humbled beyond all imaginable. They give us depth, add to our experience even if we never leave the house.

I have lately realized I am becoming a bit over zealous about these books and my shyness threatens to consume me. I will read a review or see a great book sale. Before I realize what I have done I am collecting packages at the front door. I have no more shelf space. I really don’t have wall space to put more shelves. I need to read the books I have before I buy another one!

If no one hears from me I likely can be found beneath a massive pile of books.

At least I am among friends.