Winter Came: aging in a cold climate

From The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

He (Bruzek) handed it back. Then, with a grimace and a groan, he worked himself into a more upright position.

“Please help me to stand. I would feel much more comfortable speaking to you from behind my desk.”

I took his arm and helped him across the room to a ladder-back chair behind a huge mahogany desk. Behind it was a wall of bookshelves, stuffed full and leaning slightly, as if they might fall at any moment.
p 313 in my overdrive program on my ipad.

I had to recline as Vlacek Bruzek was doing when Bill Cage wound his way up through the antiquarian book store in Prague to ask him questions about spy couriers during the cold war.

I had to recline and pick up Fesperman’s book because I was exhausted. It was 11 a.m. and I was exhausted because the superintendent had called to tell me to move my car for the snow plow. The older woman -only in her late 60s next to my car – was trying in vain to defrost her windows and clear the 8 inches of snow. Fortunately, I had done that the day before and had by now recovered from that exertion.

It’s worth noting that I am so old this woman is solicitous of me.

Twenty minutes later, I had to put on my boots, my furry aviator’s hat and my -30C hooded coat and go back down to relocate my Corolla. (Full disclosure the windchill was only -15, but old bodies are cold bodies.)

That was it. I was barely able to make Masala chai before I had to rest.

I never expected to grow old. Too many close calls and a mother who passed at 58. But here I am, not yet old old. Yes, it’s a thing. In less than 2 more years I will be 85 and old old. My grandmother lived to be 96, so I guess I have to follow a new paradigm.

I suppose I should remind you that if you are lucky, you too will get there. If you’re already there, you know the truth that Leonard Cohen said, ‘You can’t reveal to the innocent youth.’ Part of that truth seems to be that for every half hour of effort it is necessary to rest 30 minutes. I mean I had to go down 13 floors in an elevator, walk 50 yards, get into my car and drive it to Visitors’ parking. How can that be exhausting?

Our bodies all age differently, of course, so perhaps yours is/will be different. If your mind can’t accept that resting routine, you have to numb it down with – preferably -‘stupid’ TV. HGTV works for me, but recently my Bell TV service has been down more than up, so I turned to Fesperson’s books. These are smart books by the way. Whereas I can’t use CNN to rest with, I can use complicated books with good mysteries.

I don’t have many old friends.One, my ex-husband, Blake, passed last March as I have documented in previous blogs. My sister Georgia is 6-years younger and just beginning to feel the effort/rest effect. Another friend who is 91 has recently changed dramatically, developing an edge. She was always able to keep me believing she was charming and sweet and cared deeply for me and my loved ones. Then in one single angry outburst laid waste to that idea. Blake had also become irascible in his last days, We all forgave him as we sat beside his bed of pain. Until we had to deal with the twenty years of neglect of home and finances he left behind.

Apparently, we should all assume that our brains are de-myolinating as we age and expect dementia. I’ve got Lion’s Mane mushrooms in capsule on order.

An older real estate collapse you don’t even remember in 1995 bumped me out of home ownership. Three years ago, my landlord sold the triplex where I lived on the ground floor in a Toronto neighbourhood I had come to love. Rent increases made it necessary for me to get out of town and at my sister’s encouragement I moved to an apartment in Mississauga. It is warm – often equatorial, even in winter, well-maintained -although the elevators can be chancey, and safe – interlopers are scared of our Shanti in the front office. First responders will be able to stretcher me out and down.

At Blake’s three-story townhouse in Cabbagetown, they had to carry him bodily down the twisty, narrow stairs. He never did get set up with a hospital bed and a potty on the first floor.

So that’s been dealt with. The fact that I really am not a suburb lover can’t matter now. Anyway I am learning to love the sky in all its moods and the distant glimpse of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment where the clouds are different.

According to my mandatory driver assessments, I am able to drive. That could change or it could gradually dawn on me that spending over $500 a month on a car is too much what with the pressure of rent increases and Bell increases. Grocery delivery, Uber and patience may win out.

It’s new territory and Tennyson’s Ulysses has advised me to “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”


Snow Bound Reflections

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe world is filling up with snow. Outside the windows, individual flakes are swirling. They start in one diagonal line and suddenly change direction into its opposite. Indeed as I write, they begin to be less single, distinct shapes and become a diaphanous white veil, faster, more wind-blown, a constantly changing beautiful spectacle, which, of course, I hate.

I assure myself that I am warm and dry with full pantry shelves, that such snow, unlike ice, presents no danger to the electrical grid, that I don’t have to go out and, if I did, I wouldn’t. What can I say? I had a bad experience in a storm in my formative years and I still bear the scars. Moreover, we haven’t had as much snow here as New England and the mid-west. Still I would be willing to send today’s downfall to Southern California where even the mountains are dry this year, or even to Sochi, just in case it’s needed.

No one is shovelling. No point. Not yet. The snow plows are rumoured to be working on the major highways. Then they’ll get to the roads and about midnight, they may get to the side streets. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the bus go thundering up the hill in front of the house for a while. Usually, you can set your watch by them, two of them that do a quick loop down from the Old Mill Subway Station to the Humber streetcar loop, every 20 minutes. Almost as good as snow plows at clearing the road.

My earliest winter memories are of living in a farmhouse in the hills of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Windswept! It had poplar trees on two sides that registered the slightest zephyr and talked to me about it. In a winter storm, they shouted as did the windows where the wind hummed in and left little drifts of snow inside on the window ledges. The wood box would be crammed full and several pails of spring water standing on the pantry shelf, carried in by my father who would have had to break the ice at the top of the spring. My mother was completely capable of keeping the stove going while he was away, pulping in the woods. That is cutting soft wood, trimming and hauling it back with the team of horses, to stack it in the long piles of pulp wood beside the road, work that snow and sleds made possible. There was no need to go to the store, what with the flour barrel, the potato bin, the canning cupboard filled with jars of berries and green beans and the deer meat hanging in the wood shed. Yet the house was full of terror.

What if… my mother wondered, when my father set out. What if, the place burned down? What if we needed the doctor? Etc. To each, my father responded with specific detailed solutions. The next farm was less than a mile away although out of sight. There was, of course, no telephone and no electricity. Anyway, he would be back in two days. Did she think he enjoyed freezing his ___ off in that camp? And John would look in when he came to milk the cows.

She would have been 22 then, a country girl, born and bred, but high-strung. When I was 22, I had just left residence at university and couldn’t have built a fire to save my life. She passed on her fearful nature and cold-hating physicality but not that practical skill.

I do remember one glorious day when it finally stopped snowing and freezing. The sun shone down on the glittering world. “Get on your snow suit,” she cried, joyfully. “We’ll go sliding on the crust.” And what a crust! Even she could walk on it without breaking through and it carried my sled, heavy laden with both of us all the way down to the bottom of the slope where the little brook lay frozen and buried.

Years later when I lived in the house under the hill (famous in this blog’s mythology), on a snow day, worse than today, school was cancelled. As teachers, my husband and I were off work and our small children were home. Curiously, our housekeeper had made it in and was busy in the kitchen. I was sitting at the table in the family room, close to the blazing fireplace, marking essays. I could see out the window to the high drift that lay there. Suddenly I saw the mailman step easily over the drifted-in wire fence and begin his progress over the side yard. “Stop,” I yelled, leaping to my feet. “Stop.” I started to pound on the window, but dropped my fists. And watched, dumbfounded. Slowly, he progressed through the heavy snow, one step after the other, mail bag banging at his hip. At each step. I prayed. He caught sight of me and smiled. Then he climbed over the fence at the other end. I collapsed in relief. He had just walked over our snow-covered, eight foot deep swimming pool.