| Musings |

The Generation Test    

   Slowing down? No, I tell myself, it’s just that the streets are in need of repair and it takes longer to avoid the potholes and uneven spots

My friends and I have unknowingly shuffled through the invisible gate and entered our “Golden Years.”

I should’ve known something had changed when our conversations had less to do with our children, grandchildren, and our jobs, and more to do with ourselves. Devora’s daily call in is a litany of aches and pains that have her in their merciless grip. Bending down is an activity she approaches with caution and consideration. Perhaps a broom and dustpan with a handle can scoop up the desired, or quite undesired, object that’s landed on the floor.

This, thank G-d, isn’t what awakened me to my membership to the old-age club. Nor was it looking into the mirror to have a face riddled with wrinkles staring back at me. After all, there were friends who were creased at 40 and those lucky enough to have a smooth visage, with just a furrow or two added for character, when they became great-grandmothers. That wasn’t proof enough.

When the name of someone I’ve known since childhood escapes me, people will chalk it up to a “senior moment.” But just yesterday I was speaking to a 40-year-old who went blank trying to remember his grandmother’s maiden name. So it isn’t exclusive to those who have been around since Eisenhower was president!

You might think that just because I look for someone to help me open up a jar of pickles that my youth was quite a distance behind me. But you would be wrong. I comfort myself that there are those born with forcefulness in their hands and there are those with daintier and more feminine fingers that weren’t created to wrestle with metal caps.

There’s a loop around my neighborhood that has been my walking path for the past 20 years. I clocked in at 25 minutes for more than a decade. During the last two years, the time rose steadily. It now hits 32.

Slowing down? No, I tell myself, it’s just that the streets are in need of repair and it takes longer to avoid the potholes and uneven spots. After all, I’m wise enough to know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even young mothers need to tread with caution so they don’t end up face-to-face with the asphalt.

Freckles, in my opinion, add a bit of color to a person’s face. Even without blush, it isn’t only white. So when those brown markings, cruelly called liver spots, old-age spots, or alternatively, senile freckles, began decorating my heretofore white skin, I wore them as a badge of honor. No longer is my skin a plain white backdrop; it now has colorful decoration. This wasn’t a clarion call that I now had a new classification.

Reading has always been a need I fed with great regularity. It didn’t matter if it was a book, an article, a billboard advertisement, an email, or a blog. Read I would. (I did have exceptions: no reading bills!) Curled up on the sofa, riding the trains, at my kitchen table, wherever I was, my eyes sought out the written word. Today my eyes catch the print, but become weary after what used to be only an appetizer. The main course needs to be devoured in mini-bytes and digested slowly, yet another change I explained away. I chalked it up to busy days and tiredness.

Part of my busyness is with various doctor visits. There’s the GP who keeps a hawk’s eye on my blood pressure and cholesterol. Which led to my visits to the dietician. Then there’s the eye doctor checkups because of congenital glaucoma. A naughty thyroid introduced me to the endocrinologist. Being of the female gender, I need to visit my gynecologist for preventative measures.

Throw in the mishaps that have me at the orthopedist and follow-up with physiotherapy. Did I mention the rheumatologist who’s sending me for a bone scan? You’d think I’d be getting the idea that I wasn’t as young as I used to be. But no. I’m not easily convinced.

Because I want to age gracefully, I dutifully take pills for my various conditions and add in a handful of vitamins just for good measure. My current pillbox isn’t quite adequate for the number of tablets I consume daily. This, I’m sure, is a sign that I’m being vigilant in taking care of my health.

What handed me the badge that read “Senior Citizen” was an innocuous conversation at a bris.

I was seated next to a petite young married girl, as compact as the purse she sported. Her name was Sara Leah, and she was new to our city. Jewish geography is a game that can convert strangers to compatriots in a matter of moments, so I jump-started the game and took the first turn.

“Hi, my name is Shayna Gutke Poupko. I don’t recognize you. Are you from Nicole’s side?”

“No, my name is Sara Leah. I’m a niece from Moshe’s side,” she informed me as she reached for a bottle of water and began pouring some into her glass.

“My father and Moshe are brothers.”

Something in Sara Leah’s eyes seemed familiar.

Taking the bottle from her and filling my own glass, my curiosity was stirred. “Which brother? Moshe has a bunch of them.” Those eyes. Where do I know them from?

“The one from Chicago,” Sara Leah responded.

Now I was excited. I was on to something. “Wait a minute! The one married to Rivky? Rivky M. from New York?”

“Yup. They’re my parents!” A smile rose from her lips to those familiar eyes.

“I don’t believe it! I babysat your mother when she was a little girl. And for her sisters. I remember she had dark curly hair and beautiful eyes. Your eyes seemed familiar. Wow! So you’re Rivky’s daughter. What a small world!”

“How do you know my family?” Sara Leah queried. Now it was she who was studying me.

“Well, I grew up in the Bronx. There weren’t many frum families where we lived, and even though your grandmother was much older than I was, we knew each other well. When she needed a babysitter, she called me. Your great-grandmother was good friends with my mother.”

Pausing to make a brief trip down memory lane, I sat quietly, recalling the two families’ kinship. We were close for decades. Different faces floated upward as I scanned that era of my life.

I began to sputter. “Oh, my gosh! Not only did I know your mother and grandmother and great-grandmother, I knew your great-great-grandmother!”

That’s when the incontrovertible truth hit me — anyone who knows five generations of someone else’s family is most definitely a member of the Senior Citizens Club. I guess membership is determined by who — or how many generations — you know!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 774)

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