Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Letter to My Best Friend in the Eighth Grade

July 12, 2017

Hello, Mary! 

Your letter arrived a day ago and I have read it with both a sad kind of recognition of old age we each are living in, and a firm sense of the joy of friendship, which we still enjoy. 

I’m reading about Karl and the cords of his oxygen machine winding through the rooms and feeling sympathy for what you both are experiencing. And a new kind of sisterhood with you, Mary.  Don and I don’t have tubes stretching through the house, but we do have a device that Don hates, which apparently, if he decides to use it, will allow him to sleep soundly (even though it rattles all night. ) Ear plugs for me. 

Unlike you two, we haven’t lost weight, but we do not travel well anymore. Don still drives, but unhappily, and we both inch our ways out of car doors and wonder why we decided to go to where ever we are.  I have been in a very bad-walking period in the past few months, lower back pain, dragging heels, and one day I looked at myself as I shuffled my way past a reflecting window and thought, “My god, that’s an old lady.”  Don gets dizzy and needs to lean against passing buildings. Sometimes my back hurts so much I want to sit down on the next curb. We hold hands to support each other, not to indicate our close relationship, and we meander along the sidewalk in such a way that people approaching us step aside to get out of our way. 

We just had a small argument over whether I should defrost the pork chops in the freezer or whether he should walk down to Safeway and buy new ones since he’s discovered we still have fuel in the barbecue and he’d like to cook at least once this summer.  “They’ll defrost fine,” I reassure him.
“You always move in on what I’m doing,” he answered.
I acknowledged a need to control our meals, remembering on past experience. "And besides, it’s a beautiful day.”  We could sit on the terrace, relax while the meat softened.
 “No." He will walk to Safeway.
 “You always buy five times what we need, and impulse-buy in every aisle,“ I answered, remembering a recent blackening container of  hummus.  “You always…”
“You always say that,“ he murmured, going back to his New York Times

At 82, I’m too old to keep the you always argument going.  I remember Mom and Dad using that phrase. I recall the chapter on family counseling in my professional life that warned against it.  I wonder if our grave stone will read, “You Always.” I need to do something.

I just did it.  “Do whatever, honey.  I’ll be happy to eat whatever you bring home.” I smiled.  He smiled. We’re at peace, sort of. The sun’s still glowing on the terrace.

I’ll work on the phrasing of my next accusation about the socks left like mating varmints under the bed, discovered this morning by the rug-cleaner who almost sucked them up into his machine.  
Living this long with another person is difficult, especially when you have forgotten who, if anyone, is in charge. Tonight, he’s cooking.  Tonight, I’m having a glass of white wine. In the end, it all works out, they say.

Mary, call me.  Even though we haven’t seen each other in years, we’ve gotten to this place together.  We need to talk, like we did when we were thirteen. Jo

Jo Barney Writes

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Not Out of the Woods Yet

I’ve not contacted the dating sites for old people that I thought might be the basis for my next novel, as I may have promised in the last blog. Last week I was hacked, that is, my computer was hacked, and I decided I didn’t care to share my interest in a new man with the Russians. The old one I have is adequate enough although not grist lately for my writing mill. Since I’ve heard no new stories of aging hands across the internet, my next inspiration came when I noticed that when one is driving along a road lined with second and third growth evergreen trees, all the same height like a field of corn because they were planted all in the same month, except that sometimes one tree many feet taller sticks up above  the rest.  My son, the woodsy guy, explained that when the first-growth trees were cut years ago, often one tree was left behind to mark the boundary of the plot. This tree is called a Witness Tree. It is probably over one hundred years old, still witnessing the world of second and third growths below it.

Think about this in terms of a novel:  a long-lived, tall old woman witnesses of the activity of younger ones living around her, their desires to grow, the havoc of natural disorders they endure, the destruction and scars left by mistakes and fate, and finally, the thinning out and weakening of that generation. When a new crop of seedlings is planted at her feet, our old woman settles back in her comfortable rocker and watches the third growth take over. 

I thought I had my next old lady novel. I could imagine my straight, tall Grandmother Gage, whom I knew only from a l930 photo, her gardening tools at her side, as my protagonist. She watches a second growth in her family, and I’m part of the third growth, my sons, already tall, are the fourth growth in this metaphor. I’d call the book Witness Tree, of course.

So, I Googled “witness tree” to get to make sure the facts in this nature-inspired story were mostly correct.  Lucky I did. I discovered that a book with my title, based on a woman’s fascination with a very old tree in New England, was published last year. That particular tree witnessed the Civil War and later historical events.  On the cover, the author sits at the base of the tree, patting its old bark. The book has very good reviews. Not only that, but other east coast Witness Trees were mentioned, mostly deciduous, none of them  a tall Doug fir.

When I told my son this disappointing news, he said I should consider other trees.  Had I ever heard of Nurse Trees, fallen old, old logs on top of which new, huge trees grow from the tiny seeds that have dropped on them? I Googled “Nurse tree,” saw photos. I remembered, then, I had seen them in the Hoh Valley of the Olympic National Park, roots tangling around the rotting trees that gave the new ones their start. They are intriguing, beautiful. I got excited for a minute or two. Maybe? But then I had trouble coming up with a plot involving a dead old woman with babies growing out of her body. I don’t write paranormal.  It scares me. Perhaps I’ll go back to old ladies placing ads on the Internet. 

Jo Barney Writes