Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Still Ambulatory, Thank You

Extra friendly.
Dave and I like to tromp mountains. Lately the hikers we meet have seemed extra friendly. We happened on a young couple recently who were Pacific Crest through-hikers, and they couldn't stop smiling at us. Later I realized why. Oh look, Jason! Old people! They're adorable, and so ambulatory!

For years I've come upon those wonderful old ladies on the trail myself, with their sensible haircuts, sun hats, wrinkled brown knees, and walking-sticks, and I've thought: I hope I can be that cool some day. I hope I don't spend too much time mourning my waning youth.

Thank you all very much for pointing it out, and right you are: my youth is all waned out already. So how pathetic is it to cling to advanced middle age? It's not like I haven't always known that I didn't have it in me to forestall any of this. I haven't even worn makeup since I was sixteen. I'd never be able to justify cosmetic surgery, with the world in the shape it's in and so many in need. Beer, sure. Surgery, no.

Earlier Murr, with Linda
I suspected that the transition from reasonably presentable middle-age to saggy old batdom would be a painful replay of the anxiety of adolescence, when I allotted ungodly amounts of time to my hair and strove to come up with a passable wardrobe on a Lerner's budget. As it turns out, time does not march in rhythm: it lurches and staggers. One day your face is baby-butt smooth, and the next morning you have sprouted an inch-long bristle borrowed from the snout of a boar. I was just forty when I first noticed my neck wobble. It was a Tuesday. I sturdied it up, jutting my chin toward the mirror, until the vision was forgotten, only to find my cat entertaining herself by sitting in my lap and batting my neck back and forth that very night. Most people get a little more time for their denial. Things really started to slide after that. I made my accommodations as I had to, but I didn't feel gracious about it. Something, I felt, needed to be done, but old hippie girls don't have a lot of tools in their kits. When our outside age doesn't match our inside age, there's nothing we can do. We're not even allowed to mourn. We've got the baggy cotton dress and a well-rehearsed look of faux serenity, and that's about it.

Then, quite recently, I turned my attention to other things for a couple weeks--weeding, writing, writhmetic--and then I glanced in the mirror as I was stepping into the shower and FWOMP: there it was. Certifiable, unmistakable, readily identifiable old-lady's body, right there. Textbook case. Little draperies hanging off the armpits, muscle tone out the window, dimples in a doughy shoulder, and pleats of flesh dangling like flounders under the shoulder-blades. Meanwhile, around front, the balloons on the parade stand were now hanging off the platform like bunting. It was riveting. It was such a sudden and complete transition that I couldn't even take it personally. I'd seen it before, on Senior Day in the shower at the Y, on old women who had already traveled beyond the trivial concerns of vanity. And there it was in my very own bathroom mirror. I was actually able to regard it with something like affection, mentally accessorizing with a sun hat and walking-stick.

Well, that's over with, I thought, and was left with only a few questions: how much value should be given to physical beauty in our modern culture? How important is it to face one's own mortality? And, where does the Michelin Man buy his pants?
When all else fails, keep your arms in the air.

120 comments:

  1. Lately I tend more towards the ambulance-atory end of the Walk/NoWalk Spectrum. I should get out more during September. My childhood from age 5 to 15 was the Black Hills of SD but since then it has been the high but very flat part of Texas. I was checking local elevations lately and realized that Texline TX is about twice the elevation as where the Canadian River leaves Texas on the opposite side of the Texas Panhandle. So that has given me something new to memorize about locations, their elevation, which is slightly more useful and hopefuLLy more static than their 2010 census population value.

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    1. Usually they're pretty static, except around here, where Mt. St. Helens lost a couple thousand feet in a hurry, and in Appalachia, where for $ome rea$on they're slicing the tops off of their mountains.

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  2. Your descriptions are so painfully familiar to me! But I gave in to covering up the gray hair long ago and yes, I do the make-up thing -- mustn't scare the neighbours and the kids... But I must say -- you look amazingly good!

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    1. I've never done anything with my hair color. One day at the P.O. we were doing a survey of women, and there were about fifty of us, and one other girl and I (and the bald one) were the only non-dyers. It's almost universal. If I were a kid now I'd totally do the green/pink/blue thing, though.

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    2. A friend who is slightly older has embraced the grey - but throws in an exuberant swath of PURPLE...and she's no kid - I could totally see you rocking that, as well!

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    3. My biggest gray streak is at my temples. I'm thinking turquoise.

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  3. Enjoyed the great post, but no sympathy here. Glad you have joined the club and we welcome you with our arms raised high.

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  4. My outside age hasn't matched my inside age for decades...and of course the disparity is just getting broader and wider. If you want to feel really grand about old women who put us to shame, Google "Bernice Ende".

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    1. Sheesh! I can't find out how old she is, but she's mighty fine-looking. I always liked Georgia O'Keeffe, too.

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  5. Oh Boy...I am so with you on this. One morning, I think it was last Friday I looked in the mirror and saw my mother and just last night my Grandmother waved back at me. I have developed the patented frumpy old lady wave wherein I support the floppy portions of my upper arm whilst I wave. (wouldn't want to knock out any innocent bystanders) The worst part is that things don't seem to be aging equally. The right side of my body still responds the way it did when I was 30 but the left side has advanced aging. It barely responds at all. One must be positive though.....we are still on the green side of the grass, food still tastes good (dammit) and the boys still look good.

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    1. My right side gets more exercise lifting pints. I don't need my left side for anything, really, so there's just a little tyrannosaurus arm over there. It's probably why I keep tipping over.

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  6. I'm right there with you girl! Sometime I look in the mirror and I really can't believe that is me! And what would we be like if we didn't keep trying to stay half way in shape?..Now that would be scary. But you know I can't remember the last time I was sick and I am talking 30 years or more so I have nothing to complain about. Speaking of the Pacific Crest trail I just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed...pretty good story.

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    1. So I've heard. And oh, you must stay in shape. It's just a little puddlier in places.

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  7. You've got plenty of company in oldagedom. Been there long enough that you look pretty darn young to me. It helps to hike with geezers MUCH older than I am to make me feel better, too. :-)

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    1. God, there's a million of them geezers out there on the trail, too. I met one on Mt. Rainier I'd have cheerfully killed if I had still been capable of moving. Jeez, he was sprightly.

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    3. Killing can be so messy and requires so much exertion. I'd opt for a separate trail for those annoyingly fit fellow hikers.

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    4. Well, really, you don't see them long, and then they're a dot on the horizon again. Zippy old farts.

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  8. I resemble every bit of what you said. When you realize it's happening all of a sudden Mortality is staring you in the face and you just have to stare back at it and hope it shrinks and slinks away. Yea.....fat chance of that happening.

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    1. I suppose I'd see Mortality a lot closer if I hurt, which I don't. So I plan to try to shut up about the "looks" part. Yeah...fat chance of that happening! I've got a blog!

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  9. Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who said that the tragedy of old age is how young one feels?

    I'm thinking of just getting rid of the mirrors in the house. My body has betrayed me. And were there some sort of exercises we were supposed to be doing to prevent those wrinkles above our elbows?

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    1. Prevent? Those are my favorite wrinkles. You can mash them up into almost any shape you want, and I've heard if you press them up against the Sunday comics, you can get an imprint.

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  10. The mirror in our bathroom used to display my pert-ish breasts. Someone must have raised the mirror 'cause I can't see 'em anymore.

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  11. Our motorhome has does not have a full-length mirror and it has (I think) poor lighting. So when we happen to stay in a hotel or other accommodations, the stark reality of what I really look like hits home. My own epiphany about aging and mortality came last year when my son had his 50th birthday and I became a great-grandmother... twice.

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    1. Ha! I remember my mom took my milestone birthdays a lot harder than I did.

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  12. I got over here at Di's suggestion, over at the Blue Ridge Gal.
    I am where you are.......and to top that, just had brain surgery.
    And yes, suddenly everything is in perfect perspective.
    Makeup, ha!!
    LOVE THIS POST. Read it twice, loved it more the second time.
    Well said, and all true.
    And you know what, it's ok.

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    1. Hey, you sound more than okay! Good good. That's a hell of a way to get perspective.

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  13. Just want to give a shout-out to the photo of you with the beargrass (aka **** tit). Nicely played.

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    1. I'm sure you also have scads of photos of people posing with beargrass! I decided to give them a little, ah, twist.

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  14. The other Hilary pointed this post out to me, and I'm glad she did. All of us aging ex-younguns can relate. Weeding, writing and writhmetic cracked me up.. among all the rest.

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    1. There can never be too many Hilaries.

      You know, if I really had anything to complain about, I probably wouldn't complain about this.

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  15. In keeping with the trend toward fact-checking, I do feel obliged to report that I had lunch with Murr recently, and at that point she was gorgeous, and looked about thirty years younger than she claims to be. For the purposes of reading this post, go ahead and take her at her word. Willing suspension of disbelief & all that. But she's no more to be trusted on the topic of her looks than (to pick a convenient example) my wife is. Under severe cross-examination -- using methods the CIA would never approve, and with photographic evidence to hand -- she can be brought to admitting that forty years ago she was not bad-looking. That's as far as you'll ever get.

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    1. I'm almost speechless, except to let slide that Martha and I would get along like gangbusters. Oh great, now I have to look up "gangbusters."

      Okay, I'm back. It didn't make sense. We'd get along like a house afire.

      Wait.

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  16. The Michelin Man buys his pants from the same place I do, and we ain't tellin'.

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  17. Zits told his mom she had nice " bingo wings", just this week.

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    1. I loved that strip. I'd seen it before, too, and loved it then. Is he repeating himself?

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  18. Lerner's! Gracious. You've just taken me back to adolescence with that mention of Home of Burgundy Cords and Blouses With Ties Around the Throat.

    I daresay you're holding up better than this post allows, but, hell, even if your body has gone derelict, you've just become infinitely more fun for your cat, so there's the solace.

    For me, the fact that I never felt tight and attractive, even at 15, is making middle age feel like a relative party.

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    1. You're hinting at one of my serenity secrets. When I was twenty, I was in such bad physical shape that I'll have to be in some terminal phase to match it. So I don't have a lost youth to pine for, really. Everybody should have the foresight to be in horrible shape when they're twenty.

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  19. Yep, I'm on the way. Boobs that used to say, "well hello there, big boy" now mumble "hey, your shoes are untied." Boar bristles from the chin are regularly tweezed, although every once in a while I'll catch a glimmer in the mirror and realize a new one has sprouted from my cheek and is now two inches long. I wonder if anyone has noticed.

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    1. They might not have! Those things can grow two inches overnight. On the other hand, there are some places I don't seem to have any hair at all. Not something anyone warned me about, either.

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  20. Get rid of mirrors. Stop wearing your glasses if there are mirrors.Have another beer.

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    1. Well, you see, the only full-length mirror we have is at the shower, and I always have my glasses off. It's worked so far.

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  21. I feel fortunate! My hair mostly left me before I even had to debate color. And when the beard turned white and small children starting asking me for ponies, I just amused myself by promising them anything and letting their parents deal with it. I did start kayaking like a mad man to prevent the "shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly" syndrome though.

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    1. Also, be sure to lay a finger "aside" of your nose.

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    2. Not inside!?! No wonder the little buggers seemed so goggle-eyed.

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  22. Oh Murr! You're too hard on yourself. Now you're in your Extremely Late Thirties, there's bound to be the odd hiccup. And a leak when there is. Perfectly normal. Embrace your deep experience! Roth x

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    1. I'll embrace mine if you embrace yours, Ind.

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  23. Hey, Murr, darling.....just wait till you get to be 85........

    At that point you don't give a damn how you look........you are just glad you look any way at all. Actually, it is a huge relief when you get so old you can sag and still go out without a bra and not care at all at all. (There's gotta be some payback) I have decided that looks are greatly overrated.

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    1. I'm almost there, Lo. Not the 85--the attitude.

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  24. I was having another of those sudden-aging-syndrome events just the other day. I looked in the mirror and there was the Saggy-Baggy Elephant.

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    1. Aw, but everybody loves the saggy-baggy elephant. Everybody.

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  25. Ooooh yes. I was walking through a shopping centre and saw one of those saggy baggy crones. I idly thought 'she is wearing a t-shirt like mine...' I had to come home then. And I have got additional exercise in avoiding mirrors since then.

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    1. See, that's what happened in my neck wobble. Every time you know you're looking in a mirror, you sturdy yourself appropriately. But catching it out of the corner of your eye--I remember thinking, what IS that? And why is it moving around? Should it be swatted?

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  26. I knew I had given up completely when I ordered a Rem Spring. Ouch. (I'll wait while you Google it.)

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  27. loved that: 'well, that's over.' :)

    congrats on another POTW!

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    1. Thanks! It really was like that though. "Well, shit, look at that. Nothing more to see here, folks, moving on."

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  28. I know how you feel. I always have an image in my mind of how I look (me at 26), and if I could only avoid all reflective surfaces and mirrors, I would be so happy. When I have to face reality I am not happy. I say we ban all mirrors and make it so no surface reflects our image! Who's with me???

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    1. Oddly enough the worst for me was always the photographs. I couldn't understand why my mom hated having her picture taken, because I loved her and wanted her in the picture. This blog has done a lot to get me over that. Lots of times I don't even TRY to make it look good. You all are witnesses to that.

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  29. Replies
    1. One word: not a chance in hell. One more word: drapey rayon!

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  30. Moan. I recently discovered a new belly just above the old belly. Couldn't have been new, actually.

    Best column ever!

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    1. Come the Apocalypse (I'm putting it in the next thirty years), all those people without auxiliary bellies are going to be shit out of luck.

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  31. Well. I WAS going to get myself a full-length mirror for my birthday to put in my new place. And now I'm not. When oh when will I stop worrying about this shit?

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    1. At a quarter past menopause. It's not so bad.

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  32. I wish I'd taken better care of myself. It's dang hard to get in shape at this age! But I will continue to try. I can't reverse the batwings or the saggy-baggy or the bloody cursed boar hairs, but I can try my best to avoid the major diseases and killers. Somehow I meant that to be more funny and less of a downer. Hmm.

    Good post. It resonates :)

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    1. No no. We at Murrmurrs Inc. approve of avoiding the major diseases and killers, so you go ahead on.

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  33. I love it when the PCT hikers begin coming through. And yep, such forest journeys make me wonder what the heck I'm doing in this mechanized, consumerized, fantasized world.

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    1. Know what else about PCT through-hikers? They will eat ANYTHING. Carrots, M&Ms. Anything. You hold it out and they'll snap at it like Labrador retrievers.

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  34. I can live with my mirror image. At least I haven't gained any weight for the last 30 years, and I can still see my neck, as long as I'm bending my head 'way back.

    But every so often, I reach for something, and my Mom's hands, wrinkles, age spots and all, grab it. Always a bit of a shock.

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    1. I can see my neck. All of them. I'm considering putting nipples on them.

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  35. Good grief! 75 comments! Now I know where all of mine went.

    Anyway... I shouldn't have to tell you this Brewster. You should have figured it out by yourself. The simple solution to your problem is... break every freaking mirror in the house! The bad luck is far outweighed by the delusions of youth.

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    1. I'm still good with my mirrors--with the right lighting.

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  36. Well, I had a good friend who was caring for his mother who had Alzheimer's and she would become infuriated whenever she saw her reflection, so he had to cover every mirror in the house until after she was gone.
    So count your blessings and smile at that charming new image in the mirror. Show it the same kindness and love you would like to receive. Who wants to see an enraged old bat looking at them?

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  37. Mt. Rainier. Now that's one perky balloon in a parade all by itself. Who needs mirrors?

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    1. Close! That's our own Mt. Hood. It's what we need, all right.

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  38. I discovered the secret to looking young and fit last summer...without diet or exercise or plastic surgery.

    Just go to Target, buy one of those cheapo "skinny mirrors" and hang it up in your hallway. It's an easy way to lose 15 lbs, and every time you walk by, you'll see just how great you look!

    Another tip - fading eyesight also helps reduce the appearance of fine lines on the face.

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    1. I was precocious. I was nearsighted at age seven.

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  39. Hear that sound? That's the choir and we're singing along with you, Murr. I was startled to see my grandma in the hall mirror the other day, with the same cant to her neck as me. My 92 year old mother used to wonder who the old lady was in her bathroom. I'm not too bad from the back but the front & side views are...oh heck, who cares (I'm with Lo: just glad to be here). Not keen on makeup on an aging face: coloured Polyfill slapped on the cracks of the Sahara isn't a look I fancy. Although maybe lifting glops of mascara might be good eyelid exercise...

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    1. No, it wouldn't be. And know what else isn't good? Surgery. Did anyone else see poor Jessica Lange at the Emmys the other night? What are these people thinking?

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  40. When i talk I still hear a young man, the tough one is looking how magnificent i have aged.Lovely shots, and perhaps I am that smiling person on the trail,age makes one more interesting, just like a fine wine.

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    1. Oh, I agree. And whining about one's looks is about the least interesting thing a person can do. But hey. I got a blog to fill.

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  41. Well I can still run rings around most 18 year olds. That's what comes with wisdom and patients. Now if I could just do something about those hairs that grow in the oddest places.

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    1. Maybe we should think in terms of braiding.

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  42. My husband and I have been handed the "you guys are so cute" sorta (I think) compliment for several years. I try to be grateful. At least we're not THOSE cranky old people. Thanks for the great post. I love every one of your tales.

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    1. You know, they could just be sucking up for our carrots and M&Ms.

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  43. I laughed out loud at this post Murr. I'm not a laugh out loud person most of the time.
    I guess I saw myself in that mirror, with my bunting drapings or Bingo Wings and no longer pert balloons standing at attention.
    My mind seems to have aged a lot more gracefully than the bod and at this stage of my life it's a good thing.
    Came here from Hilary's POW post.
    Good stuff.

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    1. See, I think it's important to ACTUALLY LOL. It gets the juices flowing. Mostly, that's good. Thanks for popping by!

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  44. Good thing you missed our last High School reunion. You wouldn't have recognized anyone there but me! We 2 old hippie chicks still look the same. I spent most of the evening trying to read people's nametags in case there was someone I really wanted to talk to but didn't recognize. Oh, and by the way, since my hair is also au naturalle, I didn't know what to put in the box for "hair color" when I renewed my drivers license. The helpful lady behind the counter said that "mixed" was acceptable, so that's what I went with; no doubt eventually it will say "gray." Elaine

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    1. I only went to the one in 1994, when there was one girl in particular who seemed not to have aged at all. Found out she was married to a plastic surgeon.

      Mixed! Huh!

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  45. I am actually looking forward to growing older, except for the wobbling neck part!

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    1. Hey! 85 years of age has been my favorite age for some time, since I was in my late teens, I think. Go figure. I guess I must have figured that the women I knew of that age were pretty terrific and were allowed to speak their mind without the normal social conventions. Of course, some of those that I put in that category I later realized were probably only in their 50's at the time.

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  46. You look great in all your pictures. Love the last one! :-)

    My eyesight has obligingly adjusted to soothe my ruffled vanity: I can't focus at close range without glasses and by the time I get far enough away from the mirror to focus, I'm too far away to see the wrinkles. It's all good.

    And I'm in better shape now than I was in my twenties, too, so I'm pretending I look like my soft-focus, slightly blurry reflection, all sucked in and sturdied up. Delusion is a wonderful thing. I plan to cling to it as long as possible.

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    1. You know what? Maybe old is the new fabulous.

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  47. I think we morph from young to "more young" fairly easily. Then we hit 80, and become "venerable." That won't happen to you or me for a long time, though.

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    1. I'm just hoping I don't have to pass through crotchety on my way to spry.

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  48. Has Dave started to geezer up yet? We men have a different set of problems due to aging, but I am sure you have observed them in your own, very observant way.

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    1. Shit no. He's got the body of a twenty-year-old, finely pored skin, a gorgeous neck, and dang near a six-pack. Pulse of 60, blood pressure 100/65, quick reflexes. He's going to have to get run over by a truck to slow down. And I pity the truck.

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  49. Great article and it makes me feel better about the toll gravity is starting to take on my body!

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    1. Hey. You've still got everything you came with, it's just relocating.

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  50. I figure if I can still breathe when I'm done laughing over what appears in my mirror, I'm in pretty good shape.

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  51. This one really hit home, Murr! *she says as the puppy plays with her saggy baggy arm skin*

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    1. I've been entertaining myself lately with playing with what hangs off the inside of my elbow when I hold my arm above my head. Everyone needs a hobby.

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  52. I am here via Pauline, and must say I'm glad to meet you! This was a hilarious post. Personally, I lost the desire to look in a mirror a long time ago.

    Next time I'm in the Cascades I must remember to offer a treat to the through-hikers; that was nice of you.

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    1. Shoot, Kerry, next time you're in the Cascades you should just drop by! We've got treats.

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  53. I flirted with a bout of depression when my son turned 30. Wow, he's getting old.

    Then I realized that I'm not feeling older, so I must not be any older.

    Delusion, ah, what a wonderful thing!

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    1. Your son is, however, getting older. When he catches up to you, the north and south poles suddenly switch or something.

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  54. Haha. I felt old in my fifties but now I consider myself young again. Just went swimming with a bunch of 90 year olds. You look great!

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  55. You made me laugh so hard I almost cried.

    It sucks to get old, especially when it sneaks up on you. I keep thinking this is a phase, that I'll evolve and magically transform into one of those lovely gray haired elegant ladies, not the old peasant woman I'm starting to resemble. In the absence of that, I'm hoping my eyesight gets to bad for me to notice, or my brain too senile to care!

    Thanks for the laugh, I really needed one this week.

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    1. I'm here to say, for the lucky among us, the "don't care" gene starts to kick in after an initial wallowing in despair.

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  56. The bod forking the log looks pretty good to me, Murr. I stay forever young as we fat people don't get wrinkles.

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    1. "Forking the log!" I haven't heard that since the Seventies! Oh wait, that's not what we called it.

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