Lessons in graceful aging

My mother has always been outgoing, fun loving, and outspoken. She is a deep down Texas girl , and an over the top Arizona Wildcats fan. In fact this woman is a true sports fan. Depending on the season her TV will be showing football, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, volleyball; she knows and loves most sports.

She raised three daughters, while married to a career military man, moving from state to state, per the orders of the US Air Force. She adapted, was fearless, instilled love and family values, and made sure dad was able to do the things he needed to in his job.

She spent months on her own caring for myself and my sister Lisa while my dad was stationed in Germany. She had been very sick during her pregnancy, and after delivery had gall bladder surgery (a big deal in 1956) so they felt she should stay behind (she hated that she missed it.)

She managed, sometimes barely, during his constant TDY to Phan Rhang, Vietnam while being stationed in the Philippines at Clark Air Base. Looking back I’m not sure I would have done as well living in a foreign country alone while my husband was gone for two or three months at a time to a war zone.

Once we girls were older she always had a part time job. Whether it was working in the pro-shop at the base golf course in Misawa, Japan or as a teacher’s aide at Homer Davis School in Tucson, Arizona. She worked in the athletic department of the University of Arizona for decades, meeting countless people who would remember her whenever they saw her. There were times she was distracted with responsibilities outside of the home, and I was amazed at her energy and will to get things done.

She spent years keeping things stable for us girls while dad worked shift work at ASARCO mines. When dad was seriously injured on the job and was disabled from the injury she diligently cared for his wounds, kept up the house, babysat her grandchildren, and continued to take part time employment. I could write a book, hmm.

Now she is a sprightly 86, and her age is becoming a factor in her lifestyle.

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After my dad passed away she lived with Chuck and I, and it worked well as long as she could drive. But age related macular degeneration left her vision impaired enough she couldn’t pass a vision test so no more driving. I’ll admit we were all thankful to the DMV for that one. With my husband and I both working full time she spent many days sitting in front of the TV, talking on the phone and waiting for one of us to come home. She was getting bored and felt very lonely. Local family members would come and take her out when they could, but their situation was the same -working full time. At one point my sister and I noticed symptoms of depression, and worried her health would start failing. After a heart to heart with her about it she consented to a search for a fun place to live.

She moved into a retirement community, not assisted living which she is quick to clarify, and has done very well for several years. She was busy with the activities they offered, she made lots of friends, she could share interests with other residents, and she seemed to blossom with youth. However, in the last year we have all noticed a slowing, frequent illness, less participation, and her own acknowledgement that she is weaker. She has started using a walker giving her a bit of independence, but she is having a painful problem with one of her knees, and a related problem with her hip.

It gives me pause.

I just talked to her about the Arizona Wildcats basketball team being the Sweet Sixteen, and she is so excited about it. She recalled her years working at the local games, and wants to talk to anyone about the game. She can hold her own with the best of them. She even worked a Super Bowl in Phoenix and was interviewed on local television about her participation. The Dallas Cowboys were playing in the game, and she was and is a Dallas fan.

So…we keep watching with envy, this woman who is pushing through life with pride, determination, and joy. Go mom!

Cheers!

-N

 

 

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Old wheels

When my Air Force father was stationed in northern Japan at Misawa Air Base I absolutely loved it. It was 1966 and coming from Tucson, Arizona half way across the world to this distinctly different and unique corner of the globe was a shock and a thrill. I was unsure, enraptured and enamored with my surroundings.

It was cold in Misawa, with a snow accumulation of almost twelve feet and blizzards that blew in off the northern Pacific. It was the first time I had participated in any kind of winter fun like sledding. It was also the first time I had seen Christmas lights reflected on the snow. That is a picture I will never forget. Trudging through the snow to and from school, level both ways, was not so fun but an open field of pristine snow to play in couldn’t be beat.

It was hilly and green, with forests of trees that surrounded the base. In the summer we would go down to the bay to swim and picnic. I remember we had, what seemed to me, a huge hill we had to drive down to get to the water. We would find little glass globes which were the floats for the fishing nets the Japanese fishermen used. I remember we had a basket full of various sizes and colors of these treasures. I don’t know what happened to them once we left.

The base had those big navy blue Air Forces buses that would carry me to the base exchange, movie theater, commissary and other places I would want to go, but when my parents purchased a bicycle for me my freedom was complete. I could go wherever and whenever I wanted. It was a beautiful Japanese bike that rode like a dream. I would take off on it and only when I realized it was time to go home did I return to our apartment on base.

This bicycle was to be the cause of one of my most wonderful and scary adventures into the Japanese countryside.

When we first arrived our housing was off base, near the main gate. We lived in “B” battery and then moved to the “W” housing further away. B Battery was small, a bit run down and very close to the main gate. We lived there for a few months and then were transferred to the W housing. This was a much bigger house, with three bedrooms, a very American feel to it except it was freezing cold in the winter. After we moved on base the apartment we lived in was like a palace to us, warm, large and carpeted!

After a while I starting taking rides off base and into the town of Misawa. I always carried my military ID just in case. Misawa was so quaint and rural with beautiful little businesses where I could spend my allowance and be greeted by smiling Japanese shop owners who lived above their stores. I was never afraid to be on my own. Sometimes I would have a friend with me but usually I was on my own. I am still like that to this day.

One adventure would take me further than I had gone before and I became a bit lost. I was trying to find our old house in W housing but made a wrong turn somewhere and before I knew it I was in the Japanese countryside. I decided to turn around and retrace my path when the chain on my bike came off. Now understand the chain was completely covered in a housing that protected it so I couldn’t even get to it. Well being lost and walking my disabled bike down a narrow paved road somewhere in northern Japan was more than this seventh grader could handle.I started crying.

I know I hadn’t walked too far when I passed a very traditional Japanese home, thatched roof and all. There was a Japanese man standing in the yard watching me. To me he seemed old, but he was smiling at me and pointing to my bike and his house. I wasn’t sure what to think and I remember shaking my head “no” but he came out to the road, still smiling, and waved me over to his yard. At this point a beautiful older woman came out and just like the man was dressed in very traditional garb. She was smiling and took my hand to take me into her house. He took my bike away and I cried. She brought me inside and I am sorry to admit I don’t remember too much about it aside from the large fire place in the middle of the room. She had cookies and water for me, and I remember her showing me some pictures. I know I probably cried some more but she kept feeding me and smiling. They spoke no English and I spoke very little Japanese, enough to say please and thank you and greet someone. I don’t know exactly how long it took but in he came and waved at me to follow him. As I walked outside there stood my bicycle. He had fixed the chain and I was ready to go. I had some Yen and wanted to give it to him but he shook his head and waved me off.

I road back to the base and never told anyone what happened for years.

I still have that bike and plan to clean it up and start using it again. I’ve never had a bike I was as comfortable on as that one. Old wheels will feel new again and my warm memories of our time in Japan and those two beautiful people will come alive for me.

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-N