Ooooo, ooooo, witchy woman
If I hold my arm out straight ahead, I can imagine that it’s my young girl arm. In a favorable light, the skin is taut, and the veins are barely visible in the arm that used to shinny up ropes and swing from tree limbs.But if I crook my arm, the skin hangs from the bones in disgusting folds, and if I let the arm drop down, the veins stand out like turgid blue rivers. “Look at that!” I say to my friend Hilary, “That’s your future.”I used to be afraid of old people. There was a home for retired firemen in my hometown, and in those pre-TV days the decrepit men sat on a long, low, stone wall surrounding their compound, leaning on canes and crutches. I crossed the road to get around them, terrified that if I walked on their side of the street one of them might grab me or say something to me.To me, old people were like alien beings. My grandmothers were not fonts of wisdom, but rotting old ladies who talked about little except death and dying. My father’s mother came to live with us when she was 57 (ancient!), so afraid of dying that she spent the next 40 years in her rocking chair until it finally happened. A perfect role model as it turned out, making me determined to go out kicking.Old age was for other people. Look at that outstretched arm! OK, so I can’t see very well, can’t understand a British TV show without subtitles, don’t remember anyone’s name and if a co-worker politely asks, “How was your weekend?” I draw a blank.OK, so if I settle my herniated discs into a deep chair I might need a hand getting up, and OK, so I’m on oxygen 24/7, but hey, I’m stable and if I really wanted to climb that tree I could. But Echo nudges me and says cruelly, “Your skin is no thicker than Saran wrap. Wake up and smell the tombstones. You used to be afraid of old people, and now you are one.”Even when my mother was approaching a century of life – sound of mind until close to the end but in a state of such total helplessness I never wanted to follow her footsteps – I still couldn’t imagine it happening to me. Avoiding mirrors and rarely depressing myself with the arm experiment, I can maintain the illusion that I am still 16 or, at the outside, 25 years old – certainly not that dreaded two-digit number 7-0. 70! How could that be, when I was climbing trees last week?The other day my dachshund puppies were barking madly at what turned out to be a young boy of maybe 7 or 8, who had stopped to say hi to them. I went outside and picked up first Freddie and then (grunt) stout Nicky, so the boy could pet them and make friends. (Until next time, let’s not expect miracles from dachshunds.)The kid was sweet and rather shy, petted the puppies, politely said “goodbye,” and went on down the road. As I was going back inside, I suddenly flashed on this small episode from the kid’s eyes.I (the kid) am whistling down the street when I spot two cute puppies in the somewhat derelict yard of an old mining shack surrounded by elegant condominiums. I stop to say hi to the puppies, who immediately turn into Tasmanian devils. Then the door opens and this old lady comes out in a nightgown and booties in the middle of the day (I change into loose clothes to relieve my back), rips her oxygen cannula off her face and throws it onto the ground (my leash doesn’t reach the gate) and starts picking up the dogs and talking to me! Man, I could not get away fast enough – do you think she put a curse on me?I thought, good golly, Miss Molly, maybe kids hold their breath for safe passage when they go by my house. Maybe they cross the street to avoid The Wicked Witch of the East End – the Boo Radley of Cooper Avenue.Su Lum is a longtime local who is too old to face reality. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.