Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Surprise For Me

I received a check in the mal a few days ago for a story I'd sent to an editor of a senior newspaper published in the suburban area of Kansas City. I'd only sent the submission five days earlier so was quite surprised to receive the check so quickly. Then, I had a note from a reader telling me she enjoyed my stories in the July issue of The Best Times.

Now, I was really puzzled. Stories? Plural. What was going on here? So, I looked at the check again and saw that it was not for the story I'd sent in earlier that week. The story was one I'd sent over a year ago and had never heard from the editor about it. When that happens, you chalk it up as 'one more rejection' and move on. Apparently, the editor had saved it and decided to publish it.

When my three copies of the newspaper arrived yesterday, I found the story in question plus another one that the editor had purchased several months ago. The 'surprise' story is one I wrote more than a year ago when I was turning 70. It seems when you're about to enter a new decade, whether 40, 50, or 80, it's a time for reflection.

Reflections On Turning 70
by Nancy Julien Kopp

I received word today that a friend passed away after a month-long fight with a virulent form of pneumonia. When someone has been so seriously ill, death sometimes arrives as a blessed relief. But along with the sad news, I found myself forced to face a reality.

I am soon to celebrate my seventieth birthday, which is the same age as my friend taken by a disease that should have been easy to treat. A girlhood companion, also my age, died a month ago after a hellish number of years battling Alzheimer’s.

Suddenly, my birthday looms as more of a dread than the joy of previous years. I’ve always looked forward to marking another year, as it brought cards, phone calls, and gifts from friends and family. And I considered it my own special day of every year, a time to celebrate life, but it now seems less welcome.

Now, instead of being thankful, I find myself fearful. How many years do I have left? Will my mind stay whole or will it crumble bit by bit until nothing worthwhile is left? What lies ahead in this decade of my seventies? Will I face heart problems, a hip replacement perhaps, or a fatal disease of some sort? The thoughts come occasionally, only to flee, then return again. My own Chinese water torture, drop by drop.

Age is only a number. You’re as young as you feel. Those clichés sound good when you have decades ahead. Some days I believe them but other times I find myself shaking my head and muttering sarcastically, “Yeah, right!” Some thirty-year old must have coined those phrases.

I’m aware of the aging signs every time I stand before a mirror. I see gray hair and deep wrinkles etched from my mouth onto my chin, as well as under my eyes

Visible veins and yet more wrinkles cover the backs of both hands. Sometimes, I hide them in my lap. I watch the hands of my bridge pals as they deal, shuffle and play the cards. Most resemble my own, but it doesn’t always console me. We make jokes about our changing appearances. Laughter lights up our faces and brings that youthful sparkle back to our eyes. I resolve to laugh often.

My metabolism seems to delight in slowing itself further each year. My mouth takes in the same amount of food, allowing the pounds to stretch my clothes to the max. Where’s the magic pill that will speed my metabolic rate to that of a thirty year old?

I tire more easily now; climbing stairs is a chore which sometimes leaves me breathless. My muscle tone is not what it once was, so you’ll find no sleeveless fashions in my wardrobe. Cellulite and spider veins cover my thighs. Bathing suit days should be a thing of the past, but a cool pool on a hot day still calls out to me.

My memory isn’t too bad, but it’s not what it once was. I find that sometimes I need to concentrate a little more when trying to recall things. Names escape me more often than I’d like to admit, but eventually, the errant name lights up like a neon sign in my brain bringing a sense of relief. “Did it!” becomes my personal, but silent, mantra with each memory success. I read magazines that give tips on improving memory, and I try the exercises they suggest. My morning crossword puzzle challenges my mind just as the experts who write the articles suggest. I wonder how old those writers are. Are they my age or young enough to be my grandchild?

Because I’m a writer, I worry that my work may not be taken seriously once I hit seventy. Will my essays be passé? I sincerely hope not, but the thought sprints to the front of my mind now and then. Will the younger people in my writers group consider me an old lady now? No, I tell myself. They’re my friends and they know the real me, the one that hides under all these nasty telltale signs of my years.

Several years ago, some friends were traveling in England, and a host of the B&B where they stayed spoke about the vacationers who come in the winter. “Ah,” he said, “in winter we get the Wrinklies and the Crumblies.” When my friends asked for a further explanation, he answered, “Wrinklies are pensioners in their seventies and the Crumblies are those in the eighties.”

And now here I am, almost a Wrinkly. But hey, I’ve got a whole ten years of living to do before I’m a Crumbly. So, maybe I’ll have a joyous celebration of my seventieth, after all. Inside, I’m still that slim redhead with a bundle of energy. I still have the desire and stamina to travel and live life to the fullest. Besides that, I’ve got a lot more stories to write. If it’s a question of write what you know, I’ve lived long enough to know a great deal, which means plenty of stories ahead. This new age is going to be just fine.


  1. I don't remember ever reading this one before, Nancy. How did I ever miss it? I thought I was privy to everything you write! Loved it, as usual. Your attitude alone will see you through to your 80's and beyond. If I could accomplish half of what you have since you started writing, I would be a happy woman indeed. Love you lots! Maria H.

  2. Thanks Maria. I'm blushing! But loved every word you wrote in your comment. :)