Friday, April 11, 2008

How Lo' Can She Go?

Today is my mom's 85th birthday. Her name is Lola, and sometimes I call her Lo-- because that extra syllable just seems like too much effort.

In familial conversations, we refer to her as Gramma Yo. For a granddaughter who was not able to make an L sound, Lola was a tricky one. It came out Gramma Yo, short for Yoya. Some people insist the name comes from Grammy O, for Oliver, which would make sense for my dad, then, to be called Poppy O, rather than his real grandpa name, Poppa Yo. I prefer to think it was the cosmos balancing out all those years my mom was referred to as Mrs. Leonard Oliver. It was her turn to be moniker monitor.

Lo isn't too happy about the big eight five. She's at the age where you start to question the value of aiming for longevity. And here's the kicker: longevity was never her aim. It is, in a profound sense, her curse.

You see, she smoked for years and years. Cancer, heart disease, pregnancy...fuhgeddaboudit. She was going to smoke anyway. She lived on coffee and cigarettes for over 50-60 years. Lean, tall, strong, athletic...she was adept at most sports, although she never played sports. About the only sport she wasn't good at was swimming. Too lean to float--and hard to keep a cigarette lit!

In old age, her doctors told her her thin body was a good thing because she wasn't puttin as much pressure on her joints as a fat old lady would. And she was not a candidate for adult onset diabetes. And her heart could pump enough blood to her extremities because it didn't have to work so hard to feed the lard.

Those damn cigarettes, though, demand their fair share. Sure, smoking kept her thin, and kept her busy, helped her relax and made her look like a glamorous movie star (Lauren Bacall), but there was a price to be paid for the "get out of cancer free" card. For one, she is blinded by macular degeneration and she has osteoporosis, arthritis and a weak, irregular heart beat.

So now you have a woman who went from bone thin to thin bones, from tall to short, from seeing what her kids were doing behind closed doors to not seeing the door.

She is 85 years OLD. And life is not fun...or worth it...any more.

If I were to deliver some sage wisdom, stolen from her history book, it would be this: Think very carefully about the absolutely dirty rotten trick cigarettes are, and about the absolutely dirty rotten trick longevity is, and live your life from this dawn to the next dawn getting eight hours of good sleep, a glass of wine, and some buttered toast in there somewhere.

"Live in the Now" may sound New Age, but give me New Age over Old Age any day.

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