Wisdom of the Aged Not What It’s Creaked Up to Be

The theory that advanced age and wisdom pair well together is an appealing concept until one actually approaches old age. All senior citizens would like to think they had been adept at predicting the future. Remembering past decades can make an older person realize how clueless he or she was about reality.

For example, I doubt my teenage peers in the ‘50s were thinking that most married women of the future would hold jobs outside their homes. The first moon landing seemed a distant mirage. Most of us thought classes in stenography, sewing, drafting and photography would be in high schools forever. My husband had a chemistry book from his high school class that stressed the importance of buying a quality slide rule because one would need it for a long time. One has to be of a certain age to even know what a slide rule was.

Now, hoping that I will reach my eighth decade and beyond, I bemoan the fleeting time, and so do my peers. For people who still read that rapidly disappearing relic called a newspaper, it may come as a shock to notice more obituaries in which the deceased is younger rather than older than they are.

Even my house reminds me of my age. Built 72 years ago, and therefore only seven years younger than me, it is equally as creaky as I am. Certain floorboards remind me that they are being stepped upon. Door hinges beg to be oiled. The baseboard radiators click and crackle when first fired up for winter and get noisier the colder it gets. No longer am I “walking with the rhythm of the rain”; instead, I am “stepping with the cadence of the creaking.” Certain things in the house don’t like being used again, and neither do my joints.

Truly frustrating about the scenario is that my ever-present gremlin is no longer content with stealing things from me. Yes, the cellphone and sun glasses are gone as usual, but the little twerp is doing despicable things that require uncommon strength. For example, she must raid my junk drawer at night for a hammer and chisel and has been raising my kitchen cabinets miniscule amounts. Now I need to use a step stool to get anything not on the bottom shelf.

When she knows I am sleeping, she goes to the garage and also raises the car’s sun visor. Knowing that I travel east fairly often in the morning and return home driving west in the evening, I am blinded by sun both ways. Since I never achieved anything like “stature,” she compounds the issue by putting a block on how far the car seat will go up, assuring that I need a phone book to sit on. Uh, oh! Phone books are now the size of Kindles.  (Speaking of “kindling,” it used to have an entirely different meaning, which relates to exactly where I think Kindles should be). Let’s hear it for a good, hardbound book.

One would almost think that the gremlin doesn’t want me to come home in the evening considering all the inconveniences she has created in my car. Apparently, she doesn’t realize how much she would miss all the tasty morsels my arthritic hands drop on the kitchen floor for her dinner.

Changes happening outside on my land are too massive to blame on my gremlin, so there must be big gremlins at work out there, perhaps ones absconded from Superman movies. In 1968, I earned a private pilot’s license at Casement Airport, where there was a 4,000- foot- long runway. When we moved to Leroy in ‘77 and excavated for an 1,800- foot- long grass runway, my husband Chuck stressed that I needed to get precise with landings and touch the plane down at the very beginning of the runway.

Up until I gave up piloting six years ago, the image of the “short runway” served me well. Through age 50 or so, the runway’s length stayed the same when I also jogged on it; however, after that, the outside gremlins must have started digging up the trees at the end and moving them farther back.  Now that I choose to walk the runways, not even briskly, the distance has gone from really short to very long.

Since perception of one’s surroundings over time can change so much, anyone my age or close to it likely notices all the societal changes over the decades. It is interesting to think about how clothing has undergone huge transformations, females’ more than males.’

No part of clothing style changes has been as extensive as what has covered the female leg over the years. Until the hippie era of the ‘60s and ‘70s, slacks were just that – slack from the hip straight down, no more or less than adequate covers for the leg. Then some brilliant designer decided to introduce the wide-at-the bottom flare look, also known as the bell -bottom.  Suddenly, it seemed, every pair of slacks contained more material from the knees down than was in the entire rest of the garment.

An even more absurd concept seemed to be that the flares had to cover the foot/shoe completely. Somewhere in this absurd design I picture a greedy detergent manufacturer who knew every pair of flares worn by the general public would need washing after even the briefest wearing.

The flare-leg style lasted a few years, except for a brief re-birth, after which it didn’t HANG around for long. Its death likely was provoked by people who got sick of hauling around mud and other filth on their pantlegs. The flare may have been a fine style for Arizona and Florida, but not for rainy Oregon or Ohio.

Leg covering designs had more interesting series of changes through the decades and can probably be remembered by anyone now who is of average retirement age. When I was quite young, I remember my mother struggling with what were called nylons or hose. These were shaped like the leg and came in a choice of sizes. I asked Mom why she wore them, and she said, “because they make legs look better.”

Because my parents had experienced the Great Depression, stretched-out hose found new use by women who rolled them down around their ankles. My aunts and mother all did this, and I remember thinking clearly about how I would NEVER “stoop so low,” and I haven’t. Although hardly fashion conscious, I didn’t want to look as if I were wearing donuts around my ankles.

I noticed my mother’s complete disinterest in hose having anything to do with warmth and commented about that shortcoming, which was my way of saying, “If you don’t need extra warmth in the winter, why do I need leggings?”  I devised every possible ruse a six-year-old, tiny-brained kid could to sneak out of the house sans leggings but never escaped to the school bus before Mom caught me. All of us little kids despised leggings.

Women’s hose would not stay up on their own, so someone, probably a man, designed an abdominal torture device called a garter belt. It was made of elastic and had odd hooks, narrower on the top where they attached with a little tab to the belt. The wider bottom had a flap on its back that had a protuberance that caught the hose in the hook. My mother did not go out much, but if there was an event worthy of getting “dressed up,” she always had me look at the backs of her legs to make sure the seams were straight. Yes, the earliest hose had seams, and it was a big advancement in design when seamless ones hit the market.

Anyway, Mom wouldn’t ask Dad to check the seams’ straightness because she knew he wouldn’t look up from his reading long enough and would just grump about having to wait for her. Had I developed my colorful figures of speech and sarcastic comments at that age, I would have told my mother, “Don’t worry; your hose don’t look at all like West Virginia road maps.”

If a woman was on the heavier side, she usually chose to wear a girdle, which had the same hooks as the garter belt except they were attached to a ghastly amount of elastic designed to hide lumps. Some of my high school classmates wore girdles in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, although few young people of my generation were overweight. The girdle-wearers must have objected to feeling the slightest jiggling of flesh.

There actually was another abdominal (and higher up) torture device designed for the truly fat woman. Mom and her sisters tended to be on the small side, so I never would have known about THE CORSET had it not been for my paternal aunt, my father’s brother’s wife. Oddly enough, his name was Charles, but somewhere along the line he had earned the nickname “Chub,” even though he was tall and slim. I was 16 years old before I learned that his real name was Charles.

Anyway, Aunt Minnie weighed about 300+ pounds, and Mom explained to me that she couldn’t move very fast because of her corset. Mom told me that a corset was pulled on and laced up tightly to make one look firmer, if not, in fact, slimmer. When I was about eight, I stayed with Uncle Chub and Aunt Minnie for two weeks while Mom was in the hospital for surgery and then home recovering. One morning I saw the corset hanging over her chair in the bedroom, and it was really kind of spooky, except that I loved Minnie too much to be afraid.

Sometimes I wonder if the more comfortable garb my generation wore had to do with the absurdity of the clothing in the previous generation. Since females have not seemed opposed to “bobbling along” for a good many years, elastic seems more commonly found in items used for orthopedic purposes.  With America’s passion for museums housing all manner of things, surely some of those original undergarments are preserved somewhere.

By the time I reached junior and senior high school, the bobby sock/knee sock trend was the rule – so comfortable and trouble free to get on and off. Bobby socks were proof that the newer generation was much wiser about clothing than the earlier generation had been. What a blessing it is now that one can find clothes that need little more than a zip, some buttons or even just a pull and they’re on. The developer of sweat pants and sweatshirts deserves a niche in history. He or she deserves accolades for standing up to the Vanderbilt and Strauss brands. A great deal of the world’s flesh had long yearned to be free.

Two experiments in clothing materials were short- lived a few decades ago. The double-knit craze seemed to require whole new sewing and care skills that may have been based on synthetic materials becoming popular. As if in protest to the synthetic, there then were a few years when “all cotton” clothing became a hit, maybe based on some man’s delusion that ironing was a fun pastime. A pristine garment of all cotton looked splendid when on the store’s rack but came out of its first wash looking like a wrinkled blob.  (This idea about ironing as something to avoid comes from a woman who used her mother’s iron for 30 years after her mother had used it all her life.  It had a twisted cord with a cotton cloth covering it).  Suffice to say I bought no new clothes during the all-cotton craze and still check nowadays to see that an article contains at least some polyester.

The above treatise about clothing leads me to make a statement of wisdom: The garter belt, girdle/corset era is a thing of the past that will not re-surface. Because I have been so clueless about many other trends, soon to be explained to you who have made it this far, I feel justified in bragging about being at least correct about the torture clothing.

NEWS FLASH! My prediction in the previous paragraph about the “sucking it all in torture wear” did not even make it through the first person who always helps me with my editing.  My retired English teacher cohort, Carol Benroth, who knows how seldom I wander through department stores, alerted me to spandex and shapewear as now being very popular. Her phrasing was about how much of this synthetic material is out there wandering around on previously bulging guts and jiggling butts. I had heard of spandex before but associated it only with swim suits and bicycling shorts. Instead, the garments are rather like all-purpose girdles, designed to fit wherever needed. My wisdom about trends in clothing has been foiled again.

Another of my most erroneous predictions about stylish trends for women has to do with “the bun” hairstyle. Again, my knowledge about this came from Aunt Minnie, the first person I knew who always wore a bun. Although too young to have any judgments about what was cool and what wasn’t, I just accepted her bun as a part of her – until those two weeks spent at her house. One of those days I got up early and went downstairs to read on the couch and snitch a donut before she got up. She hadn’t yet done her hair or donned her corset, but rumbled down the stairs, probably concerned about what I had gotten into.

Her hair was a kinky light brown, and she normally pulled it back then secured a bun, the size of a small pie, on the nape of her neck. That one morning, there was her hair cascading wildly and broadly over her ample upper body and arms, but it was still long enough to reach her waist. I was totally transfixed and no doubt unintentionally rude, but this simply was not the aunt I was used to. It was very reassuring to have her, as always, offer me a pastry (or more) from the magical white Hough boxes. If she noticed the missing donut, she never let on, and she sent Uncle Chub to the bakery at least every other day.

He frequently came to see us at home in Mentor and always mentioned to my dad that I was too skinny. When Dad had dropped me off at their home in Cleveland Heights the day of Mom’s surgery, Uncle assured Dad that I would go home heavier two weeks later. Maybe so, because every morning with Aunt Minnie was spent with a cup of hot chocolate followed by a sugar high that I never found anywhere else. What bliss to be spoiled absolutely rotten for a full two weeks, knowing she would never count how many cookies and donuts were missing from the boxes each day.

Those weren’t all of the experiences Aunt Minnie offered. Having had two boys and no granddaughters yet, I think she was delighted to have a little girl around. She decided to teach me how to crochet, another lost art, I believe. Her chubby fingers could fly through that thin thread and make intricately designed doll clothes and edged, monogrammed hankies. She also was an expert quilter and had quietly planned my wedding present as soon as I was engaged to Chuck. It was a white quilted bedspread with beautiful irises in purple and lavender.

Sadly, the little girl from the country was totally inept at the crocheting attempt, and Aunt Minnie was kind enough to let me give up quickly. She had given me years of enjoying the most meaningful wedding present of them all – a culmination of her kind spirit. I was very sad when, in her old age, she moved to Michigan into a rest home near her older son.

The dolls in their little outfits are still upstairs, and the quilt lies on the bed about ten feet away from where I now sit typing. I can’t look at any of the items without thinking of my aunt and her bun. Much later I learned to associate it only with older, matronly women and would always think, “Now there’s a hairstyle that will never again be popular.”

Surprise, surprise! It is not only quite common now, but it left me aghast to see buns lately on a few guys. The new era has introduced the “wandering bun.” It can appear anywhere, on either sex, on the very top of the head, part way down, or in the Aunt Minnie position. It also can be any color at all, as can any hairstyle. One should never get complacent about how bizarre or ugly body ornamentation can go these days. Another of my predictions about style has gone completely kaflooie.

The ”crowner”of styles, though, was one I saw two weeks ago in the doctor’s office where I work one day a week.  A woman came in with what had to be medium-length brown hair secured on the very top of her head. She must have doused it in mousse (or maybe glue) into slightly bent shapes that looked like leaves on a tulip plant. They varied from a few inches to about eight in length, but at least she hadn’t dyed it green. What fun it would have been to plaster a sign on her back: “Pineapple for sale – $4.00.” No doubt other women will see her and copy the weirdness.

In my wildest imagination I could never have predicted the lengths people go to look bizarre and freaky. By the time I was a teenager, it had occurred to me that Aunt Minnie had to spend a lot of time getting her corset on and “bunning” her hair. She seems to have repeated the actions every day, even though her “outings” were minimal, since she didn’t drive and certainly couldn’t walk very far.  Uncle Chub took her mostly to Kresge’s dime store and sometimes out to see us in Mentor. I don’t think he ever took her to the bakery – too expensive.

My predictions about trends were even further tested and proven wrong by two more things: the proliferation of tattooing and decorative body piercing. The former was once the thing for guys proud of their military service or ones wanting to be thought macho – think motorcycle riders. Sometimes they wanted to prove their love for a girlfriend or wife – a serious problem if the relationship dissolved, since removing tattoos is a long, painful process.

These days the tattoo/piercing craze seems related to the women’s movement, but at my age, I just can’t relate to how or why it has happened. Blue is one of the favored colors in tattooing, and one’s body turns blue on its own (with veins) when living to older ages. Neither process is cheap, and pardon my prejudices here, but it costs a lot of money to look so cheap. Both forms of body art also have risks that few seem to think about, or care about. Skin is a porous organ: tattoo ink is a foreign substance that is partially absorbed by the body, which doesn’t “like” its presence. It has health risks.

Piercing has even more risks. Every puncture a body receives opens the skin to outside pathogens and dirt, making infections way more likely. Does it not occur to anyone that there’s a reason a doctor douses even a tiny needle puncture with alcohol for any kind of shot? The human mouth is loaded with bacteria and assaulted with more each time it opens, but tongue piercings have become commonplace.  I have seen people, mostly young women, with more piercings than can be easily counted.

I would love to make a prediction that harmful body decorating will become a thing of the past, but I sincerely doubt it will end quickly. Probably a few deaths related to it will have to be publicized before some common sense will take over, at least by some people.

Wisdom should be a goal for as many people as possible, but maybe it is the really wise person who knows it can never be fully achieved.  A noble goal partly achieved is better than one not worked toward at all. Sometimes, like I am able to do, it is worthwhile to look back and be able to laugh at one’s attempts at wisdom. It should be apparent that I was lucky to have had kind and loving people in my younger life who helped me learn many things.  However, failure can be as much of a teacher as success can, and the greatest wisdom of all is to love and respect those who have helped us cope with the world.

Related posts

One Thought to “Wisdom of the Aged Not What It’s Creaked Up to Be”

  1. Joe Kovacs class of 1960.

    As a grade school student and early teens,, I was intoduced to a mangle. A 1950’s device to speed up ironing. I even got to mangle my own clothes for a while. I also found that when Mom did the mangling shirts I liked got scorched if she didn’t like them and turned into rags. I bought my own clothes with my own money I thought running the big device was fun for a while.

Leave a Comment