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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Santa Clause, Go Straight To The Ghetto

Back from the annual holiday sojourn.

Every year the process seems to get a little easier to bear, maybe it's just a consequence of everyone getting older, but this year, with only a slight exception, things were downright somnabulant.

I elected to drive down to my mom's this year, instead of taking the train, since the trade-off between cost (driving actually costs more) versus the possibility of having to wait for a train that comes late, if at all (as was the case last year), was heavily weighted in favor of convenience. It's not a long drive; I can generally do it in under 2 1/2 hours non-stop, but I frequently like to take side trips, get off the beaten path so-to-speak, although usually I save the meandering for the return trip.

I only get down once or twice a year, at most, and I'm never really there long enough to completely adjust to the change of pace, which is considerable. This part of my family just moves so much sloooooowwwwwwweeeeerrr than my norm. After the second day of sitting for literally hours on my mother's living room sofa, with little to do aside from count the passing seconds, which thanks to the ticking made a small clock proceed at a measurable pace. It sort of becomes a Zen thing, just sitting, trying to operate on a minimal amount of stimulus, and willing yourself to move at a speed that would make glaciation seem jaunty by comparison.

Sure, I could have read a book, or taken a walk, but the whole point of coming down is to BE with the family, and tuning them out to even that extent just seems anti-social. So, you sit, and wait for the occasional smatterings of conversation to engage you, while everyone grows older by the second.

That's the toughest part of the experience for me: I can deal fairly well with my own impending mortality, but the point really gets hammered home watching my mother, her new husband (yep), my older aunts and uncles and my two grandmothers. Everybody is winding down; you can see it in the rice-paper brittleness of their skin, in the lapses of memory and struggles to recall names and events; in the frequent need to sleep, like cats, even for just a few minutes, in order to get through the next few hours. Everybody is going bald - even the women. Limbs tremble, joints make audible noises when in-use, balance teeters between wobbly unsteadiness and the inevitable giving way to the stronger force of gravity, when even falling down has life-threatening consequences. Disease of one kind or another is rampant; the body is in an almost constant state of breaking down, like an old car with too many miles on it, yet not quite completely to the point where a new part here, or some aggressive maintenance there can't keep it on the road for just one more trip down the coast. An aunt has hypertension; one grandmother isn't allowed to drive anymore; the other is recovering from a broken hip; my new stepfather is battling Leukemia, while everyone else is just plain getting old, including myself.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining, this is just the reality, one so different from my own day-to-day existence, it's like visiting a distant planet. On this world, everyone drives a pickup truck; everyone hunts and fishes; vegetables are a rare and questionable food source; flannel shirts, blue jeans and heavy boots are the uniform of choice for the men, who spend their leisure time sitting around and staring slackly at football on television, while the women, adorned in holiday themed sweaters bustle about in the kitchen, preparing trays of cold-cuts-and-cheese, salmon balls, smoked oysters and shrimp platters, waiting for the frozen lasagna to cook. Even the younger ones in our midst seem unduly affected by the lethargy: 20 year-olds just out of high school suddenly take on the aspect of their elders, lacking only thinning hairlines and thickening ankles to make their transformation from vibrant youth to solemn age complete. There's a kind of peacefulness to the proceedings, as we sit around my mother's mother's tiny, tidy home, but it's the peacefulness of people who seem otherwise profoundly tired.

My mother and I made a brief trek to Portland on Saturday to visit my other grandmother, 91 and still going strong, although she too is struggling with the infirmities incumbent on her age. She broke a hip a couple of months ago falling off a chair, but seems well on-the-mend, enough that she was released from the care facility where she was staying, and was allowed to go back to her retirment complex. But, she's unsteady on her feet, and is adjusting to the idea of needing a walker. Also, she has cataracts and macular degeneration, so her sight is not so great either. But, she's a sharp contrast to the other side of my family: she's always been active, social, and energetic, and even at her advanced age the difference is startling; always up on the latest family news, a funny story at-the-ready, able to start up a conversation with just about anyone she encounters, she's the total obverse side of the coin from my other relatives, and she gives me hope, not just that I've got a good genetic makeup to double my current life-span, but perhaps more importantly, that even age and infirmity can be overcome if one truly desires a measureable quality of life. It was good to see her again.

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Posted byCOMTE on 3:15 PM

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