The 70-Something Blog is now The 80-Something Blog. Stay tuned in ten years for The 90-Something Blog!

What Ails America?

One of the readings for this week’s meeting of a class I am taking on “What Ails America?” was about the U.S. war on drugs and the mass incarceration that ensued.  ( See  https://to.pbs.org/2OfRbkX )

Incarceration has devastating consequences for the incarcerated:  broken families, poverty, few employment opportunities and loss of the rights of citizenship including the right to vote, to serve on juries, to be free of legal discrimination in employment and housing, and to have access to public benefits.

The number of incarcerations in the U.S. grew by 600% from the mid-1960’s to 2000.  President Nixon’s 1970’s tough war on drugs was one of the culprits.  But President Reagan was even tougher. 

While today’s crime rates are at historical lows, incarceration rates are still increasing.   Can we change this?  I’m looking around for reasons to be optimistic.


Sweets for the Sweet

When I met Peter in 1965, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he liked sweets.  We were working at the same place and although I didn’t want to pursue him too aggressively, I spent a fair amount of time walking by the candy bar machine.  I know that if I got the timing right, he would be there buying an after-lunch Snickers bar.

Fifty-four years later, he still can’t pass by a bowl of candy without grabbing some.  And now, because we know it’s so good for us, we always eat a square of dark Belgian chocolate after dinner.

The other night I offered to hang up Peter’s jacket when we got home from an errand.  It felt extra heavy.  Sure enough, a bulging pocket contained a large bag of licorice sticks.

The sheepish look on his face as I pulled out the bag was priceless.  My eighty-nine-year-old husband looked like the little kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.


Educated

Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, may be the most compelling book I have read in years. It has been on The New York Times’ Best Sellers list for eighty-eight weeks and has sold two million copies in the U.S.. 

On Tuesday night I joined an audience of 750 to watch her interviewed at Harvard where she is a visiting fellow. Questioned first by Nancy Gibbs, former Managing Editor for TIME Magazine and current Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and then by audience members, Westover was direct, and charmingly unpolished.  She was self-aware and impressive as she spoke against shunning people because of their political views.  Find something that you can agree upon and learn from each other was my takeaway.

Most of the audience had read her book, according to raised hands, and judging by the crowd around her after her interview, many of them brought their copy for Westover to sign.

I am very impressed by this woman who had never been in a school room until she was seventeen and now holds a doctorate in history from Cambridge University.

At age thirty-three, we haven’t heard the last of her.


Reconnecting

Sixty years ago, I astonished my parents by moving to Boston.  I had graduated from college and didn’t have a job.  Most of my friends were either married or teachers (or both). I liked Pittsburgh, but I was looking for some adventure (and a husband).  It all worked out—great husband, kids, career.

But nobody knows you like your longtime friends.  In the last ten days, a childhood friend I’ve known since I was four visited us from Washington, D.C., the person I shared an office with in my first Boston job flew in from Los Angeles, and I was in touch with three high school classmates who live in Massachusetts.

At eighty-one, the people who knew me “when” are increasingly in my thoughts.  I feel a sense of anticipated loss that makes me want to check in with them.  The days are going by so much faster now. 

 

 

 


A Conversation about Ageism

On Wednesday morning I joined a small group convened by the Encore Boston Network to talk about ageism.  We met--eight strangers and two facilitators-- in a Peet’s coffee café conference room in downtown Boston.  I’m not sure why I was invited. Although I have been known to make disparaging remarks about the elderly myself, I am concerned about ageism.

When one of the leaders left the “e” out of ageism as she wrote the topic of our discussion on a white board, I thought I might be wasting my time.   But it got better. 

    I had read a lot about ageism, but some of these people experienced it.

One woman had been job-hunting for months.  She told us that an interviewer had asked her whether doctors’ appointments might affect her attendance. A fifty-three- year-old male had been laid off by a startup and was struggling to get interviews. 

We talked about the benefits of intergenerational workplaces, and how to get employers to see their advantages. We talked about volunteering strategically.  A woman from the State’s government talked about relevant innovative programs underway in Massachusetts.

By 2050, 3.7 million Americans will be over sixty-five.  There is a lot to be done.

 


A Plethora of Barbara(s)

We had two consecutive out-of-town weekend visitors this month, both named Barbara.  There are three Barbara(s) living in our apartment building.   Barbara was my next-door neighbor and close friend as I was growing up.  My brother’s high school love was a Barbara.  My sophomore year hallmate and senior-year roommate were both named Barbara.  And so was our next-door neighbor while our kids grew up.

I was a fan of Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Walters, Barbra Streisand, and Barbara Bush. If they had been born today, they would have been Madison Stanwyck, Ashley Walters, Olivia Streisand, and Sophia Bush. 

Now that I am forgetting people’s names, I am grateful that I know so many Barbara(s).


Re: Collecting

When I was a pre-teen, I collected autographed photos of movie stars, such as Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Cary Grant and James Stewart.  I ordered them from movie studios. I’m pretty sure they were free.

Our younger son Jeremy collected TV guides—those sections that used to come with Sunday newspapers.  (Remember?)  Every time someone I knew traveled, I would ask them to pick up a Sunday newspaper and bring back its TV guide, so Jeremy had TV guides from all over the world.  When we moved out of the house he grew up in, there was no Craig’s List or E-bay that we could use to offer them to the world so he reluctantly (and we happily) recycled four computer paper boxes full of them. 

Jeremy and his older brother Seth both collected soft drink bottle caps, the kind you used a “church” key to open.  I particularly remember one time in the Atlanta airport when our connecting plane was delayed.  The boys, who ordinarily would have been bored, had the chance to look for bottle caps on the floors of the Atlanta airport  because there were so many they didn’t already have. (Bottling plants were local then.)

The other night, when Seth texted from the Atlanta airport where he was waiting for a connection to Rio,  I asked him if he was looking for bottle caps. I was surprised when he replied that he had no idea what I was talking about.

I still can’t get over it.

 

 


Groan

More than a dozen years ago, we went out to dinner with our pals Gordon and Christa after a long day of biking somewhere in France.  As we took our seats at the table each of us let out a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a sigh. 

First, we giggled. Then we realized we had made a sound that older people make. We decided that that could not be possible, and we agreed to make an effort not to make that sound when we sat or stood in the future.

I thought of that the other day in class when the woman next to me made a similar sound as she got up for our ten-minute break, and when she sat down again.

I smiled. 

As part of my weight training, I do a sit-down and stand-up exercise holding twelve-pound weights for fifteen repetitions.  It’s the only part of my weight routine that I hate. 

But I sit and stand silently.


Ancient History

My new friend Jenny, invited a mutual friend and me to lunch.  As we enjoyed her delicious lentil soup, Jenny asked me how Peter and I met.  I told her that in 1965 when I was starting a new job, my red VW bug hadn’t arrived and there was no way for me to get to work by public transportation. My new employer told me that if I could get to Harvard Square, someone could give me a ride to work until my car arrived.  Lo and behold, on my first day of work, a red VW pulled up in front of the Out-of-Town Newstand in Harvard Square and the driver asked if I was Judy.  That driver was Peter.

Almost three years later, I grew tired of “dating” and I told Peter that my lease was going to self-renew in a month and that I was either going to break it or break up with him. 

I had been spending my weekends at his apartment. (My mother died in 1989 so I guess I can say this in public now.)  One Sunday, shortly after my “ultimatum,” Peter went to buy a newspaper.  Unbeknownst to me, he had taken my key from my purse, used it to get into my apartment and “borrowed” a ring from my jewelry box.  He took it to a jeweler the next day who used it to size the engagement ring that Peter had commissioned.

He presented me with that ring and a marriage proposal the evening that Bobby Kennedy was shot.  So happy and so sad all at once.

However, the ring that Peter “borrowed” from my jewelry box was a fake gold band that I had used with a previous boyfriend, and it was about three sizes too large.

I haven’t told that story in ages. It’s still a good one.