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March 2020

Gratitude Expressed

I am a caretaker now. I did not envision myself in this role even when we learned that my husband Peter had Parkinson’s Disease a dozen years ago. I am grateful that I am able to do it.

I usually don’t mind that I have to do things that Peter used to do. Fortunately, we don’t have a yard to care for anymore and we don’t have to worry that a snowstorm will cancel school or make us late for work. But I do most of the planning and the cooking, and all of the grocery shopping for us. I take Peter to doctors’ appointments and drive him to his classes when he can’t walk to them.       .

But every once in a while, I feel taken for granted. So the other night, I suggested that it would be nice to feel appreciated. I forget what I had just done for him, but I didn’t get thanked. So I thanked myself out loud in his presence.

Peter looked up at me and said, “If I thanked you for everything you did for me, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else.”



In these difficult times, I try to focus on the moment. It’s too hard to think about what next week might bring.

So on my walk the other afternoon I was focusing on the signs of spring—crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils, budding trees--when some little kids and their father came toward me on scooters or other wheeled devices. I stepped aside to let them pass and heard the dad call out “Corky!” to one of the children.

Suddenly, it was the late 1940’s when “Corky” was the riding instructor at Camp Wingfoot and riding was my favorite activity. I visualized the path to the stable. I could see the horses’ stalls with their names carved in wood above them. I could remember the horses’ names: Blueberry, Blackie, Ginger, Ghost and more. I learned how to jump on Blackie, and saved the blue ribbon I won with Ginger for decades.

I smiled all the way home.

Our New World

On Wednesday, our daughter-in-law Katrina used her neighborhood listserve to trade a carton of cream for a neighbor’s can of beans. Last month, that would have sounded ridiculous. But that was before the coronavirus changed our lives.

On Thursday, I decided to make some lentil soup. With everything cancelled I had all day. I had a bag of lentils. I had carrots and onions. But I was missing crushed tomatoes, a key ingredient.

I debated, but I decided that if I kept my distance from others and never took my gloves off, I could chance a trip to the supermarket. It was surreal—people looking at each other suspiciously, trying to keep their distance from one another. The prepared foods and salad bar were empty for good reason. But people had been working very hard to keep our supermarket shelves relatively full.

And the lentil soup was delicious,


If I know what to expect, I can usually deal with it. But I’ve never seen anything quite like the coronavirus. It’s spreading quickly, and the rules are changing by the minute. On Saturday, the Governor of Massachusetts banned all gatherings of more than 250 people. On Sunday, it was down to gatherings of more than 25.

A friend wrote on Facebook that with all the happy birthdays he’s wished himself while washing his hands he’s now 286.

What about all the weddings that were planned? The vacations? The Graduations? The marathons? What about so many things?

The potential loss of lives could be staggering with the people of my generation bearing the brunt of it.At at our age, we know we are not going to live forever but not knowing what to expect is worrisome.

Celebrating Peter

Considering the state of the world, there’s not much to be joyful about these days. But when the man you have loved for fifty-five years turns ninety, and old and new friends come to honor him on a March Sunday afternoon, life is good.

To get Peter to agree to be the center of attention was a miracle. We got a chance to celebrate that we are alive and well. That so many friends came for a piece of cake and some Prosecco and  to tell him how he enriched their lives was gratifying.

The day after the party, Peter had three doctors’ appointments…

The Poem's the Thing


A few years ago, I tried to cure my life-long lack of love for poetry by taking a poetry class.  Alas, I am still not a huge fan of poetry, but I admire those of you who are. 

When I was a child, my mother signed me up for elocution lessons.  We had to memorize poems.  Maybe that got me off on the wrong foot, poetry-wise.  None-the-less, I can still recite the first several lines of Kipling’s “IF” and the last lines of Ogden Nash’s “So Pensoroso”.

The latter came to mind last week as politics dominated too many conversations, and the coronavirus loomed.  So if you are looking for support for a bit of bitching, here it is, courtesy of Ogden Nash.


So Pensoroso

…Melancholy is what I brag and boast of,

Melancholy I plan to make the most of.

You beaming optimists shall not destroy it,

But while I am at it, I intend to enjoy it.

Go, people, stuff your mouths with soap,

and remember, please, that when I mope, I mope!*


On Turning 90

The following is Peter Kugel’s annual contribution to 80-something.

On Tuesday, I’ll be 90.  People will congratulate me and I’ll thank them.  But I’ll be puzzled.

What they’re congratulating me for (having stayed on this side of the grass for ninety years) is mostly the work of others.  So why are people congratulating me?

Why aren’t they congratulating the author of the 80-something blog, my doctors, my friends my genes or my luck?

 In 1936, Peter Kugel was a 6-year-old boy living in Berlin, Germany.  He spoke German, collected stamps and, like any German 6-year-old, adored Adolph Hitler.

That boy is gone.  He stopped loving Hitler when he found out how Hitler felt about him. Today’s Peter Kugel can’t speak or understand German. If he met the six-year-old Peter Kugel, they wouldn’t understand each other.

I’m not the 6-year-old German. And that’s probably a good thing. The stamps that fascinated the 6-year-old would bore me today and the discussions about medical procedures that fascinate the 90-year-old that I’ll be on Tuesday, would have bored the 6-year-old boy.

As I brushed my teeth this morning I wondered what I would do if I was given the chance to live one more day and I had to decide to live it as either the young boy I was in 1936, knowing only what I knew then, or live it as the old man I am today.

I think I’d ask them to bend the rules and let me have both.

I Could See This One Coming

Peter will turn 90 next week.  When we met 55 years ago, I didn’t give a thought to what he might be like at 90.  (For that matter, he didn’t know what I’d be like 55 years later either.) 

He’s still handsome and smart and has a wicked wit.  His Parkinson’s Disease has taken away his ability to move around easily, but he still gets himself to class and elsewhere with the help of his bright red walker.  Last week he took the subway on his own for the first time.  It wasn’t all that easy, but he managed.

Once in a while, he is less than perfect.  I can’t recall what my display of displeasure was about the other day, but I wasn’t surprised by his response.

“What do you expect from a 90-year old?” he replied. 

After 55 years, I could see that one coming.

Moving On

We’ve been back in Cambridge for eighteen months now and our failed nine- month experiment with retirement-home-living in Washington, DC rarely occupies my thoughts except when friends considering their retirement living options ask me about our experience.  I tell them that it didn’t work out for us, but for many people, it does.

It’s hard to admit that you’ve made a mistake, and it took me a while to admit that one, especially because the one thing we loved (and moved for) was being near our grandchildren.  I hoped that I would adjust, that it was just a matter of time.   But I didn’t.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I heard from a friend in our Washington retirement home that a couple who had moved there from New York City left after only eight days.  They found that Washington was much more difficult to negotiate, much less accessible than they had anticipated.  Luckily, they had kept their New York City apartment so that unlike us, they had place to go.  Our friend thought we might find that news “amusing.”

We did, but we have moved on.